The Australians and New Zealanders took turns dominating the cross country and downhill competition at the UCI Oceania Mountain bike Championships in Nelson, New Zealand. The Australians came out on top in the cross country while New Zealanders took top championship honors in the downhill.
In the cross country, both Australian national champions won their respective races with Adelaide's Chris Jongewaard and Melbourne's Dellys Starr reconfirming their current positions as two of only four Australian riders on the shadow team for the Beijing 2008 Olympics.
Jongewaard had to fight for the lead which was taken by former Athens Olympian, Sid Taberlay from Tasmania. Multi-Australian titleholder Taberlay, who finished sixth at the Commonwealth Games, led convincingly during the first four of six laps of the 8.4 km course - eventually opening up a 20 second lead. Jongewaard later closed the gap and reclaimed the lead to win in a a record 2:00:19. Taberlay could not answer and placed second at 1:18 with Victorian Dan McConnell in third nearly four minutes down. All three riders are on Australia's shadow team for the Olympics.
Australian Dellys Starr, the only female rider to qualify for the Australian shadow team, was in a class of her own in the elite women's race. The 31 year-old spread-eagled the field to win her four lap race in 1:37:43, with New Zealand's Kaytee Boyd impressing with her second place, ahead of Australian Rowena Fry.
"I pushed up the climbs and pulled away and lead from the start," said the women's winner. "I always go out as hard as I can. I was happy with the win because my preparation and training is heading in the right direction." Starr said she had done some threshold training before this event however with a long season of World Cups ahead, Starr says she will return to strength training.
In the downhill, it was New Zealand's turn to stand on top of the podiums. In the men's race, a hometown rider Kieran Bennett gave the locals plenty to cheer about when he took out the downhill title. It proved a New Zealand double with Queenstown's Scarlett Hagen claiming the Oceania elite women's honours, although she finished a close second behind visiting Great Britain rider Tracy Moseley, who was ineligible for the title.
Bennett, third in yesterday's seeding run, upstaged his rivals to scorch down the course in 2'57"06. The 2007 national champion finished 14 seconds ahead of the in-form Christchurch professional Justin Leov, who won the South Island Cup round on the same course in January. Experienced Levin rider Nathan Rankin was third, 42 seconds behind the winner, while top seed Sam Blenkinsop completed a disappointing competition when he crashed out and finished well down in the finishing order.
English professional Moseley, the 2006 World Cup downhill series champion and runner-up last year, enjoyed a superb weekend to clock the fastest time in the downhill, after second place in the dual slalom and a win in the four cross. Hagen, who headed the seeding run, was happy to finish so close to Moseley and claim the Oceania title. Her margin was just 3.8 seconds. Hagen had little time to celebrate as she headed directly back to resume her university studies at Otago University tomorrow.
"I was pretty happy. Obviously it was good to top the seeding run but I am pleased with the performance today to finish so close to Tracy, who is world class," Hagen said. "I am looking forward to competing in some World Cup races later this year," she added.
See full coverage of all events at the UCI Oceania Mountainbike Championships.