New Zealand crowns national champions

New Zealand crowned its national mountain bike champions this past weekend in Wellington. Pre-race favourite Stuart Houltham (Palmerston North) led from the start of the elite men's cross country race to claim the national championship while Commonwealth Games representative Sonia Hill (nee Foote) of Rotorua scored a comprehensive victory in the elite women's race.

Houltham, who opened a two minute lead after three laps and eventually finished four minutes clear of runner-up Mike Northcott (Mangakino), winning in 2:04:06, was ecstatic with his win. "I really wanted to win here today. This has been my main focus of the season. It was a course that really suited me with lots of short, sharp climbs," Houltham said.

Hill took her win by four minutes to finish in 2:06:05 with Brenda Clapp in second.

Glenn Haden captured the national downhill men's championships by just two seconds ahead of Cameron Cole, while Wyn Masters came home in third. Meanwhile, Sheryl McLeod firmly announced her return to the elite women's national scene after a few years break with a comprehensive win. Harriet Harper was in second ahead of defending champion Scarlett Hagen who lost her tyre part way down the track.

A new addition to the championships schedule was the short track event. Held in the lunch break from the downhill, riders took on the dirt criterium and provided spectators with a thrilling finish in the open men's class with Mike Northcott and Jack Bauer fighting throughout for the lead. A sprint finish up the final climb saw Commonwealth Games representative Northcott narrowly take the win. Under 19 rider Monique Avery finished off a successful weekend with a win in the open women's class ahead of Sara McDonald and Sara Taylor.

Elite riders from New Zealand and Australia will next contest the Oceania Championships March 14 - 16 in Nelson, New Zealand.

See full coverage of the New Zealand National Mountain Bike Championships.

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