Crash dents hopes of New Zealand worlds team

New Zealanders ready for solo races

New Zealand's chances in the cross country races at the UCI mountain bike worlds in Canberra, Australia, were dented on the eve of the competition when Rotorua's Monique Avery broke her arm after an accident on the featured, rocky step nicknamed "The Hammerhead". Fourteen members of the team will still compete in the junior and under 23 women's competition kicking off the solo cross country races on Wednesday.

"It was such bad news for Monique. She was definitely one of our top hopes," manager Chris Mildon said. "She was practising through this really tough technical section when she crashed. "It is a pretty nasty drop and it has claimed plenty of victims already."

The cross country course is a tough, but unusual course with a long rocky technical section as well as a demanding downhill run.

"It is not the usual course that the Europeans will be used to, and it's difficult to get into a rhythm. It will certainly stretch out the field and requires skill as well as strength, courage and endurance."

Mildon said there are hopes of a strong performance from Wellington's Samara Sheppard in the Under 23 women's class and Sarah-Kate McDonald (Clyde) in the junior women's division.

Sheppard said the course has improved but is still daunting.

"It has improved heaps since I was last here, the laps have been shortened and several 'dual slalom' type sections have been added to create more passing room in the singletrack," Sheppard said. "It's full on though, some real technical sections and heaps of drops and jumps. The course is not something you would want to do tired or half hearted as we found out. Crashing here is never going to be nice."

The weather has also improved markedly from the cold and wet conditions over the weekend with sunshine forecast for the rest of the week.

New Zealand will be looking for downhill professionals Sam Blenkinsop (Wanganui) and Justin Leov (Christchurch) to lead the way toward medals, with both riders ranked in the world's top-10.

With the retirement of cross country star Kashi Leuchs and unavailability of fellow Beijing Olympian Rosara Joseph, the elite cross country hopes rest with number-two ranked Kiwi Nic Leary, who has a top-25 finish in the recent World Cup in Canada to boost her chances.

Leary, who is also the national Xterra champion, got a look at the course on Tuesday with the traditional team relay competition which many countries treat as a training run, involving teams of four comprising an elite man and woman and junior and under 23 men.

The Kiwi combination of Michael Northcott, Leary, Brad Hudson and Ashley Hough finished 18th in the shakedown, seven minutes behind winners Italy who finished ahead of Canada and France.

The junior men will attack the cross country course on Thursday, the Under 23 men on Friday, and the elite men and women get their turn on Saturday. The four cross takes place on Friday evening with downhill on Sunday.

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