Sam Blenkinsop leads Kiwi challenge at Mt Hutt

MATT RICHENS
Last updated 05:00 14/03/2014
Sam Blenkinsop
BEJON HASWELL
TOP RIDER: Sam Blenkinsop.

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Downhill mountainbiking is the poor cousin of cross-country but a bunch of talented Kiwis, including two from Christchurch, are keen to put it on the map.

This weekend's Oceania Championships at Mt Hutt is the perfect chance for the top New Zealand riders to prove just what they can do. 

Unless you're in the sport, it's easy to miss just how good New Zealand is at downhill mountainbiking.

Four New Zealanders sit inside the top 32 in the world on the UCI rankings list, including Christchurch-based Sam Blenkinsop, the world No 6. Hawke's Bay's Brook MacDonald and George Brannigan are 20th and 31st while New Plymouth's Wyn Masters is 32nd.

Add in Cam Cole, also from Christchurch, who is further down the rankings, but that's because of a nasty run of injuries and a big crash last year.

The former world champion is another likely to feature on Sunday in what is expected to be a battle of the Kiwis, though  a couple of Australians have entered. But Blenkinsop is the favourite. 

''We want to do well to reinforce to people about the sport and how New Zealand has a number of really good riders,'' Blenkinsop said.

''At World Cup events we can have four guys inside the top 10.''

Cross-country mountainbiking is a Commonwealth Games and Olympic sport and that attracts the funding and a number of the top young riders.

Because of that, the likes of Blenkinsop - a fulltime professional with the Lapierre team - goes out of his way to help juniors with advice, time and even gear.

''It's a shame we don't get the same treatment because there are so many people into it here. I went for a ride with Cam this week and there were heaps of people up on the Port Hills riding.''

The recent Christchurch leg of the national series was the most popular with downhillers, but there is a gap after the current crop in terms of promising next tier riders coming through.

Blenkinsop and Co hope this weekend's event will provide an opportunity to show there is a career in the sport and show off the pathways. And also entertain the crowds.

''If you like anything with speed, jumps, probably a few crashes, come along. Hopefully, the weather holds up, but if it doesn't then there might be a few more crashes too.''

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