2011 New Zealand Mountain Bike Cup kicks off this weekend

Justin Leov (New Zealand)

Justin Leov (New Zealand) (Image credit: Tour of Japan)

The New Zealand mountain bike series begins this weekend in Tauranga. Round one will be hosted by the Cycle Obsession Mountainbike Park in Welcome Bay, with downhill racing on Saturday, January 8 and cross country racing on Sunday, January 9.

Each year, the series runs in January and February on both islands, with the national championships forming the highlight of the summer race programme at the end of February. A full schedule of the six downhill and four cross country rounds, two of which are UCI-categorized races, is below.

New Zealand's top mountain bikers will be in attendance at the national series, in which they will race against some of their peers from Germany, Ireland, Great Britain, Australia and Tahiti.

At the opening Tauranga round, the downhill racing is attracting domestic pro stars Justin Leov of Dunedin, Sam Blenkinsop of Wanganui, Cam Cole of Christchurch and Brook MacDonald of Napier.

New Zealand has been doing well in international downhill competition. In September at the 2010 Mountain Bike World Championships, the nation earned a top ranking in the under 19 junior men's category, a number two ranking in the elite men's category and a number three ranking in under 19 junior women's category.

Spectators in Tauranga will benefit from a full-size digital screen at the finish, where live footage will be streamed during both days of the downhill program - a technical service not seen at downhill races in New Zealand since the 2006 World Championships in Rotorua.

Sunday's cross country race is the first at this level on the Cycle Obsession Mountainbike Park race course. Many entrants have been scoping the course out during the week, with excitement building about its racing potential.

New Zealand's top athletes will be in attendance, building up to the all-important UCI Category 2 events in Napier and Nelson, where Olympic international ranking points are on offer. Like the downhill discipline, several highly promising juniors have progressed through to the under 23 and elite category in both the men's and women's classes. They'll get their first shot at mixing up the well established order in this highly competitive race field at Tauranga.

New Zealand Mountain Bike National Series

RaboDirect New Zealand Mountain Bike Cup - Downhill
January 7-8: Round 1 - Tauranga
January 14-15: Round 2 - Napier
January 22-23: Round 3 - Rotorua
February 5-6: Round 4 - Nelson
February 11-12: Round 5 - Nelson
February 19-20: Round 6 (finals) - Christchurch

RaboDirect New Zealand Mountain Bike Cup - Cross Country
January 9: Round 1 - Tauranga
January 16: Round 2 - Napier (UCI Category 2)
February 13: Round 3 - Nelson (UCI Category 2)
February 19: Round 4 - Christchurch

New Zealand Mountain Bike National Championships (UCI Category CN)
February 24-27: Dunedin

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