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2012 UCI Oceania Mountain Bike Championships about to launch

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Kiwi mountainbiker, Rosara Joseph (Rabobank) in the bunch

Kiwi mountainbiker, Rosara Joseph (Rabobank) in the bunch (Image credit: CJ Farquharson)
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Women's runner-up Karen Hanlen

Women's runner-up Karen Hanlen (Image credit: John Cosgrove)
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Cross country star Chris Jongewaard at the top of the course on Mt.Major.

Cross country star Chris Jongewaard at the top of the course on Mt.Major. (Image credit: Shane Goss)
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Sid Taberlay leads the elite men

Sid Taberlay leads the elite men (Image credit: Russ Baker)
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Dan McConnell

Dan McConnell (Image credit: Russ Baker)
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George Brannigan

George Brannigan (Image credit: Bruce Wilson)

The 2012 edition of the southern hemisphere's most important mountain bike race is all set to go this weekend, in the Whakarewarewa Forest in Rotorua. The RaboDirect Oceania Mountain Bike Championships, presented by Nature Valley returns to New Zealand every second year, and its status continues to grow as the highest level domestic mountain bike event for all of the Oceania countries represented.

The Oceania super D has also drawn Taupo's John Kirkcaldie out of retirement - Kirkcaldie was a trailblazing downhill racer in the late 90s and early part of this century, retiring from competition at the conclusion of the Rotorua world championships. A multi-time NORBA champion, the lure of Rotorua and competition couldn't be resisted, and the racing community will welcome back one of its own this Friday.

Being deep into Olympic qualification for both countries adds another dimension to the competition, and especially in the elite women's race, where the head to head rivalry between National Champion Karen Hanlen and Beijing Olympian Rosara Joseph will be front and centre again. Australia's Chris Jongewaard and Paul van der Ploeg return to New Zealand this summer, having raced at the first New Zealand MTB Cup event in Dunedin mid-January, but bring with them Lachlan Norris, Sid Taberlay and Daniel McConnell - creating a formidable challenge for Mike Northcott, Carl Jones and the rest of New Zealand's top elite men. Guam's Derek Horton may be the dark horse in this field, and some brutal racing will sure to be on offer. Also worth following will be the Under 23 men's event - National Champion Dirk Peters leads New Zealand's charge, with a number of quality athletes also making the trip from Australia.