Smail and Leary face off at New Zealand marathon nationals

Some of New Zealand's toughest mountain bikers will line up Sunday in Rotorua for the 2009 National...

Some of New Zealand's toughest mountain bikers will line up Sunday in Rotorua for the 2009 National Marathon Championships. The long-running Bikevegas Highlander Mountain Bike Marathon will double as the national championship event.

The elite women's race is set to be a tough battle with Rotorua's Annika Smail using her local knowledge to take on the gruelling 80km. She will face her biggest challenge from Nic Leary, who finished second to Rosara Joseph in the New Zealand National Cross Country Championships earlier this year.

Former elite men's racer, Mark Leishman is the favourite to take the masters' men class. He was narrowly beaten at the cross country championships in Nelson.

The seven-year-old Highlander is an old school mountain bike marathon comprised of one lap on singletrack through the Whakarewarewa forest. National championship racers will compete on an 80km course although others may race on 20km or 40km courses. Titles will be awarded to juniors (under 19), pro/elite, and masters (30+).

Last year the championship was held at Mt Peel in the South Island, where Marcus Roy and Erin Greene won.

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