Kiwi mountain bikers pay tribute to lost friend

Last updated 07:27 14/09/2012
James Dodds
Getty Images
REMEMBERED: James Dodds competes in the NZ Downhill Cup in 2011.

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New Zealand's elite gravity mountain bikers will pay a special tribute for one of the big Kiwi names of the sport, James Dodds, when they compete in the seventh and final round of the UCI World Cup in Norway at the weekend.

The funeral for Dodds, a prominent figure in the sport in this country, was held in Rotorua yesterday after he was accidentally shot while hunting.

The four leading BikeNZ riders, all ranked in the top 15 in the world, have yet to decide on the nature of their tribute to Dodds, but a place on the podium may be most fitting mark of respect.

Brook MacDonald (Hawke's Bay), who won the last round in Val D'Isere, leads the New Zealanders, currently ranked eighth in the world. He will be joined by Cameron Cole (Christchurch) 12th, Sam Blenkinsop (Wanganui) 13th and George Brannigan (Hawke's Bay) 18th.

The Norwegian alpine village of Hafjell boasts one of the best downhill courses in the world, with a vertical drop of more than 800m, and also played host for slalom racing at the 1994 Winter Olympics.

Missing from the Kiwi line-up is national champion and world No 18, Justin Leov. The race was to be the last world cup for the Trek World Racing rider, who was to officially retire after the weekend after a decade at the top of the professional tree.

But the 27 -year-old was a close friend of Dodds, and felt compelled to bypass his last World Cup to attend the funeral.

Leov was among the speakers at the funeral, stating he was "representing the international downhill community racing in Norway".

An emotional Leov read a letter from Cole, another close friend, who described Dodds as "his inspiration".

The riders had a look at the course on foot today, ahead of tomorrow's first practice.

"At first look having walked through the start hut and at the first jump, it looks awesome and I can't wait to ride the track tomorrow," said Blenkinsop.

The Lapierre International professional is one of only two Kiwi downhillers to win a World Cup.

"Hopefully I can do some nice jumps and have some fun riding the course.

"This is the final and I want to do well. It is always good to end the season on a high so hopefully I can do that. For me I would like to finish on the podium again. I would be really happy to do that."

There is practice tomorrow with qualifying and racing at the weekend.

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