The nation's best mountain bikers will descend on Canberra this weekend, March 12-14, for the finale of the 2010 Australian Mountain Bike Series. After three rounds of thrilling action, the series will come to its crescendo at Stromlo Forest Park, the home of the 2009 UCI Mountain Bike World Championships, where bragging rights are on the line for the winner of the series title.
In the men's cross country, series leader Lachlan Norris has one foot on top of the victory dais ahead of this weekend, however Canberra-local Ben Henderson will be keen to knock him off his perch.
Henderson has had enough of finishing second. The 24-year-old played bridesmaid to Norris in the last two rounds of the series in Shepparton and Thredbo and currently sits second on the standings.
This Saturday, with a change of tactics and bit of luck, Henderson is hoping things will finally go his way.
"Since the national championships my last two races have been pretty close to perfect. I was unlucky in Thredbo, when I got a flat on the second last lap, otherwise it would have come off perfectly," said Henderson.
"This year I've changed my race tactics slightly. I've been holding back at the start, keeping tabs on how much energy I'm expending and leaving enough to come home strong. It's made a big difference, I'm more consistent and in a better mindset. With two laps to go, I've got more in the tank to wind it up again, which will hopefully worry Norris this weekend if he's in front of me and running out of steam.
"I think (national champion) Dan McConnell will be a big threat as well."
Henderson is hoping that the home ground advantage, along with the local course knowledge will also play its part.
"It's a pretty big advantage knowing the lines and rocks on your home course, and being comfortable in the environment," said Henderson. "With all the rocks and steep climbs and descents, the Stromlo course will test everyone's technical skills. Without the technical confidence it's pretty hard to be up there with the front guys."
Henderson has been one of the big improvers this domestic season and he credits his new coach Mark Fenner with his rapid rise up the ranks.
"My new coach Mark Fenner has played a big part in my improvement. He identified a few weaknesses in my fitness and has had me doing quite a lot of specific internal training, longer intervals with sustained efforts. I haven't trained harder, [I am] just preparing a lot better. I'm making sure I've covered all the other aspects of riding, such as staying on top of my strength, nutrition and physio sessions.
"I'm a plumber by trade, but I've been able to get enough time off to prepare properly. I work for my dad, so he's pretty lenient! Also my girlfriend is a physio, so it's quite handy having a physio on call 24 hours a day! She's got me doing a lot of core work, which has been lacking in previous years."
Henderson is one half of the super siblings of mountain biking in Australia. His younger, 19-year-old sister Rebecca is the leading under 23 cross country rider in the country, and one of the nation's most promising young talents.
"There's definitely a bit of sibling rivalry. It keeps our motivation high and drives us both. Having Rebecca on the circuit is an advantage. It's great to be able to talk about the course and race tactics with someone you're not actually racing against."
This weekend, Rebecca Henderson will look to consolidate her position on top of the women's under 23 cross country table.
In the women's elite cross country category, national champion Rowena Fry almost seemed unstoppable, until Heather Logie dethroned the Tasmanian in the short track event in Thredbo last month.
Although Fry comfortably leads the women's rankings, the title is not secure just yet.
The tussle for the series victory in the men's downhill will go down to the wire.
Twenty-seven year-old Canberra local Ben Cory, who won in Hobart and Thredbo will start as favourite on his home track, however the ever consistent Shaun O'Connor and Shepparton winner Chris Kovarik will be snapping at his heels.
Kovarik's wife, Canadian Claire Buchar, will be aiming for the husband-wife double in the women's event. In the absence of fellow Canadian Leigh Douglas, Buchar, who won in Shepparton and Thredbo, will start as clear favourite, however Queenslander Sarsha Huntington will be out to cause an upset.
Things are just as tight up the top of the table in the men's four cross series standings, with just two points separating Richard Levinson and Ryan Hunt. Although neither have secured a win in the series, both men have displayed consistent form throughout the year.
Canberra's great hope on Friday night will come in the form of 22-year-old Leigh Darrell, a multiple world junior BMX champion, who conquered in Thredbo last month.
The action kicks off with the finals of the four cross at Stromlo Forest Park on Friday night.