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Past world champion Sam Hill in second place
Round 2 of Australian National Series promises close racing this weekend
World champions Sam Hill (Chain Reaction Cycles) and Caroline Buchanan (Airbornee Bicycles) head to Thredbo this weekend, intent on retaining their leads in the Australian Gravity Cup National Series after solid victories in round one in Mount Buller in January.
The three-time downhill world champion Hill leads the elite men's rankings by 22 points over Chris Kovarik, with Connor Fearon (Kona Factory Team) a further 41 points behind in third place.
Likewise, Buchanan, the 2012 BMX time trial world champion and 2009 four cross world champion, leads over Claire Buchar by just 10 points with 2004 cross country Olympian Lisa Mathison (Planet Cycles) in third position, 13 points behind Buchanan.
Looking to challenge the two headline acts is the power couple of Kovarik and Buchar, with Queensland's Kovarik admitting the presence of Hill in the National Series only serves as motivation to train harder.
"It's great to have someone like Sam to challenge me as he races consistent fast times not to mention he's a multiple world champ," Kovarik said, nothing that the nature of downhill racing allows him to focus solely on his own race.
"I never look at trying to beat a certain person or the leader; I always look at the time and gauge how I can beat that time, or how I can find speed in myself and consistency."
"We all put pressures on ourselves to perform well against others but it really comes down to handling your own performance.
"If I can prepare myself and get in the right mindset, then I don't see why I couldn't have a faster time than anyone on the day.
Kovarik hopes his form will carry into the Australian National Championships, which will be held in Canberra from February 20-24.
"My season goal is to win the National downhill title, and I want to place as high as I can in every other event," Kovarik said. "It would be nice to win the national Gravity Cup Series for sure, but Sam would have to place third or lower at Thredbo for me to overtake him, and I don't see that happening.
"(But) it all comes down to who has it dialled on the day. That's why this sport is so challenging," he said.
Similarly, Canadian-born Buchar felt only excitement for Buchanan's return to the sport and enjoys the pair's healthy rivalry. "Everyone has their own journey, and Caroline is such an amazing athlete," Buchar said. "I am glad she is back in the sport, and I am grateful to have some good competition, it will help push me to be my best."
Recovering from a recent broken collarbone, Buchar's silver medal performance at Mount Buller helped to build the former Canadian downhill national champion's confidence.
"I was so pumped to be back on my downhill bike racing, and I think I did pretty well," said Buchar "I think I made some progress with getting back up to speed, and I'm working on getting my strength back every day," said the 34-year-old.
The couple work together for Korvarik's Rider Development Program, with the job providing a solid income for the pair, with the opportunity allowing Buchar to remain in Australia to race during the summer.
"We are helping out Max Warshawsky, Remy Morton and Phil Piazza (NSDynamics) and also with Zac Moss (For the Riders)," Buchar said. "We are working with them at the National Rounds with skills, tactics and mental development.
"It was a great chance for us to do what we love and to race and represent our sponsors at some pretty great events," said Buchar.
Thredbo is the second round in the Subaru 2013 Australian Mountain Bike National Series, with competitors heading Bright to conclude the series from March 15-17.