By Sharon Payne
Over 500 mountain bikers arrived in Queensland Friday to compete in round two of the Australian National Mountain Bike Series. Olympic hopefuls and daredevil downhillers are converging on the Gold Coast Hinterland at Illinbah for a full weekend of racing. The host club, Gold Coast Mountain Bike Club opened courses for official pre-race practice and racing in four disciplines will begin Saturday morning with the Olympic discipline of cross country.
The elite women will race the Olympic cross country for four laps of the 5.5 km circuit known as tough climbing course with features like Dave's Drop, Sam's Section and Rhino Climb. The women will provide the largest field and close racing is again expected between current series leader, Rowena Fry and second in the series, Jodie Willett. Zoe King will be in the mix along with Imogen Smith while Terri Rhodes is the Under 23 favorite.
The elite men will cover six laps taking up to two hours with riders like Dave Whitney, Dylan Cooper, Shaun Lewis, Ben Mather and Aiden Lefmann fighting it out for the lead.
Four cross racing will happen Friday under the lights with a few BMX Olympic hopefuls testing their skills on the multiple lines on the mountain slope. Jared Graves will headline the field along with New Zealand's Justin Leov. Other contenders will be Michael Young and BMX rider Stevie Janssen. National four cross champion Caroline Buchanan will be challenged by Sarsha Huntington in the women's four cross.
Downhillers will get their turn on Sunday after the short course cross country event. They will chose from the A and B line courses with the A line in the elite men, under 19 and elite women's races with two drops of 50 feet then another 70 foot step down making it one of the most challenging on the national circuit. Riders will traverse a total of 2.3 km over an elevation drop of 520 metres. Times for the elite men are expected to come close to the three minute mark.
World ranked number seven, professional downhiller, Nathan Rennie will have his reputation challenged by Amiel Cavalier, the National Series winner from last season. Jared Rando will return to racing and will meet international rider, Brad Benedict from the US. Adelaide's strong riders Dave West and Craig Yates will throw down the challenge to local stars, Toowoomba's Lindsay Klein and James Maltman.
The Under 19s will highlight young talent with tight racing expected between Rhys Willemse, Will Rischbieth and Shaun O'Connor.
World ranked number three Tracey Hannah will make tough competition for Buchanan and Jane Rutter. Hannah will race for the first time in Australia after placing third at the World Championships in Scotland and third in the World Cup Series in just her first year in the elite class.