It was a European affair at the first round of the 2009 Raboplus New Zealand North Island Downhill Cup in Rotorua. Ben Lathrow from England won the elite men's category whilst France's Emmeline Ragot won the elite women's gravity race.
Race Organiser Dave Hamilton was pleased to see a good mix of international contingents as well as a lot of local competitors. "It is great to see a good international flavour alongside the many local riders in the race," he said of the 202 riders pinning it down a track in the Whakarewarewa Forest.
The sun turned up the heat on what would otherwise have been an incredibly muddy track after the previous day's intermittent heavy rain. The track was still sticky and changed throughout the day, forcing riders concentrate on their run to stay on their lines. With a time of 3:30.08, Cathro defeated Cameron Cole by a tenth of a second and Aari Barret by just under one second.
Frenchwoman Emmeline Ragot, racing for the first time in the series, enjoyed her runs and won by a comfortable 7.35 seconds over Gabrielle Molloy. "The track was great, with good technical sections, and I didn't mind the mud at all because I enjoy racing in these conditions," she said. Harriet Harper finished third.
The cross country opening round, held the day before, proved a more domestic affair and was won by Mike Northcott and Annika Smail.
Northcott's win came by just a bike length as he sprinted to the finish in heavy rain ahead of Stuart Houltham. The two had been battling it out with local rider and international road cycling talent and Classics' specialist Clinton Avery, who crashed out of his 20 second lead on a treacherously slippery descent just two kilometers from the end of the race.
In the women's race, Smail took the title by a large margin over first-year elite racer Monique Avery and Nicole Swain.
The next round of the North Island Cross Country series will happen at Woodhill Mountain Bike Park, near Auckland on January 10. Round two of the North Island Downhill Cup returns to Whakarewarewa Forest on January 16-17.