The New Zealand Mountain Bike Cup will to Tauranga and Hamilton for round five of the downhill and cross country series. The six-event national series has already seen competitors racing at three events on the South Island in January. The three North Island Cup events in February will culminate in the National Championships at the end of the month in Wellington.
Tauranga is hosting the downhill on Friday and Saturday at a completely new venue that hasn't seen racing of any level to date. The 2Stage Mountainbike Park on the Welcome Bay road between Tauranga and the coast has been developed through the vision and drive of local businessman Tim Lawton and the Tauranga Mountain Bike Club.
The 2Stage park compliments the existing and adjacent Summer Hill Mountain Bike Park, with the new nationals-ready downhill race course eagerly anticipated by locals and travelling competitors alike. The development of this venue completes a rapid journey for Lawton and his supporters - originally intending to work this project through in time for the 2011 season, the project was fast-tracked due to the opportunity to host this year becoming available late in 2009.
Most of New Zealand's top downhillers will be racing at Tauranga, and local elite racer Hayden Lee has a point to prove after almost winning the fourth round of the New Zealand Cup last weekend in Rotorua. Lee missed out on the top podium spot at that race by fractions of a second to Wanganui's Glenn Haden in what was by far his best performance on New Zealand soil. He'll be looking to go one better on a course that he has helped design and build, against competitors who he knows will not give an inch.
Tauranga-based Daniel Heads, in the senior category, is also likely to hold his ground. Heads was a member of the 2009 New Zealand Mountain Bike Team as a junior, but has been just off the pace this summer in a highly competitive senior field. Heads will utilise all of the advantage he can from being involved in the course building to try his hand at a win this weekend.
On Sunday, the New Zealand CUp travels to Hamilton's Pukete Mountain Bike Park for round five of the cross country. While the Pukete trails have been in place for several years and are well used by the Hamilton community, a national-level race of this kind has not been held here before.
Pukete will challenge the age group categories and elite fields alike. Unusually for a multi-lap race of this kind, there is very little climbing and the nature of the course will require racers to maintain an incredibily high intensity throughout. Any lapse in concentration will be punished quickly on any one of the dozens of fast, sweeping corners.
Rotorua's Under 23 athlete Dirk Peters hasn't experienced anything like this before - and has been travelling to ride Pukete from Rotorua as often as possible to work out tactics while getting familiar with the unique nature of this course.
Spectators at both venues are in for a real treat. Both downhill and cross country venues offer the opportunity to get up close to the racing with visibilty of large sections of race course easily accessible.
Downhill racing will happen on Saturday beginning at 10:30 am while cross country racing will occur on Sunday starting at 10:30 am for the amateurs and 2:00 pm for the elites, under 23s and under 19s.
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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.