International-level field ready for South Island series openers

Justin Leov (Yeti Fox Shox Factory Racing).

Justin Leov (Yeti Fox Shox Factory Racing). (Image credit: Marek Lazarski)

As part of his domestic road trip, Olympian Kashi Leuchs will provide a significant challenge for New Zealand's top cross country riders this Sunday. The New Zealand Mountain Bike cup will kick off its South Island series of downhill and cross country events this weekend, January 31 and February 1, in Dunedin.

Signal Hill will host the downhill events while the Otago Peninsula will serve as the venue for the cross country. The latter is a 44km point to point race also known as the Otago Peninsula Challenge, a third-year event.

Leuchs is the favorite for Sunday's cross country, but he knows he'll have competition from teammate Marcus Roy and Jon Richardson, who specializes in point to point style events. The men's elite field also includes Brendon Sharratt and Tim Madgwick while the elite women's race will see both Sara MacDonald and Erin Greene competing on home turf, but challenged by race-it Samara Sheppard.

Justin Leov will make his return to domestic downhill racing on Saturday in the downhill. The highest-ever ranked New Zealander in the UCI's rankings, Leov has spent time since the close of last year's World Cup recharging and recovering from injury. James Dodds, Matt Scoles, Danny Hart, Ben Cathro, Gary Forest and Joe Barnes are his most likely competition while junior talents Aari Barrett and Brook MacDonald are expected to do well.

Former Junior World Champion Scarlett Hagen will return to national competition for the first time this summer and will face off against the Harriets - Harper and Ruecknagel - in the elite women's race.

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Sue George is an editor at Cyclingnews.  She coordinates all of the site's mountain bike race coverage and assists with the road, 'cross and track coverage.