The 2009 Oceania Mountain Bike Championship in Thredbo heralds the final chance for Australian and New Zealand riders to race Down Under before heading overseas for the upcoming World Cup series starting in April. A majority of the World Cups will provide the perfect international run-up before many return to Australia later in the season for the UCI Mountain Bike and Trials World Championships in Canberra in late August and early September.
Racing got underway Friday evening with the four cross. Favourite and BMX Olympian Jared Graves proved he was back in form on the mountain bike by winning the Oceania title. Hot on his heels were two Canberra BMX riders; young 16-year-old Ryan Henderson slipped past Leigh Darrell for second while Darrel finished third. Australian National Champion Caroline Buchanan came out to win the women's four cross while Sarsha Huntington followed her into second. Young BMX rider Cherie Simpson closed in to finish a credible third.
Heading the Australian contingent in Saturday's men's cross country race will be Victoria's Dan McConnell, who represented Australia at the Beijing Olympics. Canberra's Dylan Cooper is also expected to force the pace along with New Zealand's National Champion Stu Houltham, who is reported to be in good form.
The elite women's cross country will again be a close battle between Launceston's Rowena Fry, the current Australian national champion and national series winner Katherine O'Shea of Victoria. O'Shea is hoping for an early birthday present before turning 30 on Sunday. Former Australian national champion Tory Thomas will be back on the racing track along with Bendigo's Joe Wall and Sydney's Zoe King. New Zealand's in form riders Sara MacDonald and Jeannette Gerrie will hope to upset the Aussie contingent.
The under 23 divisions hold vital importance with the winner gaining an automatic entry for the upcoming World Championships. With only Castlemaine's Lachlan Norris and Canberra's Gracie Elvin already assured of a spot, the promise of racing worlds could be just the incentive needed for Bowral's Charlton Durie or Adelaide's Therese Rhodes to get to the front. New Zealand's Samara Sheppard from Wellington has been flagged as a podium contender in the under 23 division after winning the Under 19 Oceania title last year.
Read the complete preview of the Oceania Championships.