The 2011 Australian Mountain Bike Championships begin in a few days in Adelaide, and four-time national champion and current national series leader Chris Jongewaard is out to prove he has what it takes to take out his fifth national title and to represent Australia for the first time at the 2012 London Olympics.
It's been a long road for the Olympic hopeful whose career was put on hold after a tumultuous couple of years. In December, Jongewaard, 32, returned to the elite scene in promising form taking out round two of the Australian Mountain Bike Series in Hobart followed by a convincing victory at Mt Buller earlier this month.
His success in the national series has marked a giant step forward in the Adelaide rider's bid to compete at the London 2012 Olympic Games.
"The nationals are a really important time for me, particularly with the lead up to the Olympics next year. It's a good indication that I have made a successful return to cross country," said Jongewaard, who is fresh of victory on Saturday at the Otway Odyssey.
"I'm feeling positive and training hard to do well in key races to keep selection close to being achievable. My preparation for the international circuit is on target. After sitting out last season, I am really motivated to get the green and gold stripes back again and to feel like I'm one of the leading riders in the bid for 2012."
Often referred to as Australia's biggest contender, there is a lot at stake for Jongewaard with each performance between now and London sure to leave a lasting impression on the minds of national selectors.
Jongewaard is believed to be the only Australian athlete previously selected twice for the Olympics without getting to the Games. After being selected for Athens, he was replaced by another rider who appealed on performance grounds. Then he lost his place as a mountain biker on the Beijing Olympic team. Jongewaard was jailed after a conviction for involvement in a hit-and-run accident in 2007. He was found guilty of aggravated driving without due care and leaving the scene of an accident after hitting his former training partner Matthew Rex following a night of celebrating Rex's 22nd birthday.
It's anyone's race with a stellar line up of talent competing in the cross country races which will take place on Friday, February 25 followed by the short course on Saturday, February 26.
Jongewaard's main challenger, Athens Olympian and three-time Australian champion, Sid Taberlay is expected to apply the pressure in what will be a tightly fought contest.
Beijing Olympian and national champion, Dan McConnell has been forced to withdraw from the competition due a broken wrist that he sustained whilst racing last Sunday, consequently robbing him of the chance to defend his title.
"Taberlay is a dark horse, he can turn it on unexpectedly and is one to watch. I know what he is capable of because I have raced on the same team as him and competed against him"
Also amongst the mix is reigning national series champion Lachlan Norris, who has impressively stepped up to the elite ranks, and Ben Henderson remains a strong contender.
In the women's category, Tasmania's golden girl and defending national champion, Rowena Fry is chasing her third consecutive national crown and will start as the strong favourite.
However, Fry won't be given a free reign and is expected to face fierce competition from fellow rider Jenni King, who crossed the line just seconds behind her at Mt Buller, and Victorian Katherine O'Shea, who won the national series in 2009.
Canberra's Gracie Elvin is another main contender after her third place finish in round four of the national series at Mt Buller as well as Heather Logie.
In the U23 category, Canberra rider Rebecca Henderson remains unbeaten and Victorian Paul Van Der Ploeg is expected to start strong after a convincing victory at the Mt Buller meet.
The 2011 Australian Mountain Bike Championships will be held from Tuesday, February 22 through Saturday, February 26 at Eagle Mountain Bike Park in Adelaide, Australia.
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