By Sharon Payne
South Australia's new Eagle Mountain Bike Park will host its biggest event to date when the first round of the 2007-2008 Australian National Mountain Bike Series gets underway this weekend. Although the park was opened in December 2006, this will be the largest competition held at the venue. Over 400 competitors from around the country are set to race in the first round for cross country Olympic distance and downhill. The race will be the first national cross country event held in South Australia.
Saturday's elite women's and men's events will attract riders aiming for Olympic selection. Adelaide's Chris Jongewaard along with fellow Commonwealth Games rider, Sid Taberlay from Tasmania will headline the men's field.
National cross country champion Tory Thomas; national marathon champion and Adelaide state cross country and downhill champion Jayne Rutter (Adelaide); and last year's first series race winner Zoe King are among those who will mix it up in the women's cross country. A strong group of developing riders that are part of the "Dirt Roads to London" program including National Marathon Champion, Rowena Fry from Launceston could challenge Thomas's domination of last year's series.
The "Dirt Roads to London" initiative is in its second year and already the selected riders have shown improvement. One such rider, Terri Rhodes from Adelaide is elated to have the event in the Adelaide hills. "I can't wait to show my coach how much I've improved," she said. "The majority of the course is singletrack which I like. The climbs are technical and singletrack climbs which I like as well."
For Rhodes who rode her first mountain bike at the first testing session for the program knows her skills have improved dramatically since then. "I showed a bit of potential but in terms of mountain bike specific skills I didn't have any," she admitted. "I want to show my coach how much I've improved. I know this track so that will help."
With South Australia hosting other major cycling events such as the professional Tour Down Under and the BMX Supercross World Cup in 2008, the Eagle Mountain Bike Park will assist in raising the profile of mountain biking throughout the nation and in particular in South Australia. Two clubs, the Adelaide Mountainbike Club (AMBC) and Insideline Downhill Mountainbike Club (IL), along with the Office of Recreation and Sport are taking the venue to a new level of event hosting.
According to event manager, Nick Rudzki, this event will showcase some talented downhill riders like National downhill series champion Amiel Cavalier. "We have upcoming talent with enormous potential from 15 to 19 year-olds and some of them will certainly follow Sam Hill's path to becoming a World Champion," he said. "In fact I think one of the future World Champions will come from South Australia."
Over the past two years the discipline of downhill has seen an increase of 30 percent in South Australia. Adelaide riders have also claimed many high national rankings and elite riders such as Craig Yates and Dave West leading the state. West also claimed second place overall in last year's national series.
The younger ranks of downhill are swelling with talent with riders such as national under 15 champion, Troy Brosnan and Will Rischbieth. Rischbieth claimed the Oceania Championship title and also the under 19 national series title. He recently represented Australia at the World Championships in Fort William, Scotland.
With Australian downhill riders among the best ranked in the world, race times are expected to be close during competition on Sunday. "With top riders expecting to near the two and a half minute mark there could be a huge advantage for the local riders," claimed Rudzki. "For them knowledge of the local track and could save precious seconds."
Cross country racing starts Saturday morning. Downhill qualifying begins on Sunday at 1:00 pm local time with final runs starting near 4:00 pm.