New Zealand will boast arguably its strongest team across the board in recent memory for September's UCI Mountain Bike World Championships.
Mountain Bike New Zealand has named a short list squad for the championships to be held in Austria in August-September. The downhill and four cross will be staged at Leogang from August 31 to September 2 with the cross country and trials at Saalfelden from September 6 to 9.
The initial New Zealand long list has been whittled down to 24 confirmed selections with a further 10 riders selected pending further confirming results. Five selected riders have taken up the option to defer attendance this year as they focus on a longer term campaign next year.
The short list squad comprises 15 riders currently ranked in the top 30 in the world.
It's led by the powerful group of New Zealand downhill riders, with five currently in the top 20 on UCI world rankings. Hawkes Bay rider Brook Macdonald (MS Mondraker), 20 is ranked fourth; national champion Justin Leov (Trek World Racing) is at rank number 10, while Wellington's Sarah Atkin is 16th in the women's rankings.
In cross country, Whakatane's Karen Hanlen and Wellington's Rosara Joseph (Rabobank) are 23rd and 27th respectively on world standings.
Wellington's Samara Sheppard is sixth among under 23 riders and 54th overall in the elite women's rankings while outstanding North Canterbury prospect Anton Cooper (Trek World Racing) is seventh among the junior men.
"The quality at the top end of our sport in both downhill and cross country is probably stronger than it has ever been," said Andrea Murray, Performance Director, Mountain Bike NZ.
"They include not only some of our experienced professionals but some outstanding young prospects given that Brook Macdonald is just 20, Anton Cooper is 17 and Samara Sheppard only 22.
"It is very exciting that we have a number of young riders in the sport and the focus is on nurturing their development to the highest levels.
"We have put in place a clear performance structure and plan for the future and have raised the bar on our expectations and our riders seem to be responding to that.
"Some have taken the step to defer their representation this year so they can get all their ducks in a row for a major effort next year and beyond.
"We are still looking for further international results from some other riders before we confirm their selections."
The short list team for the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships is below.
New Zealand Cross country team for 2012 MTB Worlds
Elite women: Rosara Joseph (Wellington), Karen Hanlen (Whakatane)
Under 23 men: Dirk Peters (Rotorua), Brad Hudson (Christchurch), Tom Bradshaw (Wellington)
Under 23 women: Samara Sheppard (Wellington).
Under 19 men: Anton Cooper (Woodend), Nigel McDowell (Rotorua), Sam Gaze (Cambridge)
Under 19 women: Mary Gray (Dunedin)
New Zealand Downhill team for 2012 MTB Worlds
Elite men: Justin Leov (Dunedin), Brook MacDonald (Napier), Cam Cole (Christchurch), Sam Blenkinsop (Wanganui), Matt Scoles (Alexandra)
Elite women: Sarah Atkin (Wellington)
Under 19 men: Leo Sandler (Nelson), Louis Hamilton (Rotorua), Reece Potter (Takaka), Jake Robinson (Rotorua), Lawrence Cawte (Rotorua), Tom Burns (Dunedin), Dan McCombie (Dunedin).
Under 19 women: Sophie Tyas (Auckland)
The following riders selected pending further results:
Junior cross country: Tom Filmer (Nelson), Amber Johnson (Rotorua), Samantha Hope (Dunedin)
U23 cross country: Matt Waghorn (Palmerston North).
Elite downhill: George Brannigan (Havelock North), Wyn Masters (New Plymouth), Kieran Bennett (Nelson), Matt Walker (Kawerau), Sophie Marie Bethell (Auckland), Veronique Sandler (Nelson).
The following riders have deferred selection.
Junior cross country: Craig Oliver (Christchurch), Brett Stokeman (Taupo)
U23 cross country: Katie O'Neill (Rotorua)
Elite cross country: Carl Jones (Rotorua), Mike Northcott (Tokoroa)