New Zealand mountain bikers aim for the top at Oceania Championships

A 25 strong team of New Zealand's elite and junior mountain bike athletes are in Thredbo, Australia, this weekend competing at the 2009 Oceania Mountain Bike Championships. The team comprises 18 cross country and seven downhill athletes, with competition scheduled for Saturday for the cross country and Sunday for the downhill at the popular, chairlift-serviced resort in New South Wale's Kosciuszko National Park.

At stake in the Oceania Championships are spots for the New Zealand National Team for the 2009 UCI World Championships. As extra motivation, any athlete who wins a title in their category automatically qualifies themselves as an additional position for their country at the World Championships.

Lower Hutt's Stu Houltham, fresh from winning his sixth New Zealand National Championship elite cross country title, will renew his rivalry with Mangakino's Mike Northcott in Thredbo. Houltham and Northcott have traded wins all summer during the New Zealand Cup and will be looking to not only gain the upper hand over each other but will also work together to counter some of Australia's best cross country racers.

A strong elite women's field will also be on course Saturday with Christchurch athletes Sara Taylor and Jeanette Gerrie, Hokitika's Cathy Hamer and Dunedin's Sara MacDonald all seeking a top performance.

2009 Under 23 New Zealand cross country National Champion Ashley Hough will be well supported by Rotorua's Scott Green, with first year Under 23 athlete and 2008 World Champs representative Samara Sheppard looking for a win on Australian soil after an up and down domestic, summer season. Three Under 19 athletes will take on Oceania's best on Saturday; Adrian Retief is going into this event with high hopes and confidence, after a very solid third place at the Australian National Championships at the end of January.

The downhill component of the team carries a strong development aspect in the form of the Under 19 athletes. Elite athlete Wyn Masters leads the team as the newly signed Ancilotti professional on his way to his World Cup team's Italian base. Masters was a regular top-30 World Cup athlete in 2008. Claiming an Oceania elite title on his way to Europe would boost his confidence and prospects no end. Of the four Under 19 athletes, 2008 National Champion Richard Leacock carries NZ's best hopes of a win and will be suited to the long Thredbo race course, good for those with a high level of fitness and strength.

Cross country
Elite men: Gavin McCarthy, Tim Madgwick, Stu Houltham, Mike Northcott, Jon Richardson
Elite women: Jeannette Gerrie, Sara MacDonald, Nicole Swain, Sara Taylor, Cathy Hamer
U23 men: Ash Hough, Scott Green
U23 women: Michelle Bellamy, Samara Sheppard
U19 men: Connor Corbett, Locky MacArthur, Adrian Retief
U19 women: Sasha Smith

Elite men: Wyn Masters
Elite women Amy Laird
U19 men: Tom Matthews , Bryn Dickerson, Richard Leacock, Daniel Heads, Cam Johnson

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