Rotorua and Wellington next stops for New Zealand MTB Cup

The RaboPlus New Zealand MTB Cup continues this weekend on January 17-18 in Rotorua and Wellington. Rotorua will host round two of the North Island Downhill Cup in the Whakarewarewa Forest, while cross country racers will head to Wellington for the third and final round of the North Island Cross Country Cup.

Sam Blenkinsop will make his return to domestic racing at Saturday's downhill race. He hasn't raced since winning the final round of the 2008 UCI World Cup in Austria in September, opting instead to enjoy a rest period in his hometown. His return to competition is not only eagerly anticipated, but welcomed by a high quality elite field.

Round one winner Ben Cathro, seasoned local charger James Dodds, 2007 World Championship bronze medallist Matt Scoles and junior phenoms Aari Barrett and Brook MacDonald will be looking to best Blenkinsop on the challenging and technical Whakarewarewa downhill course. Harriett Harper will make her first appearance of the New Zealand Cup and will square off against another local Gabby Molloy in the elite women's race.

Sunday's cross country race in Wellington will roll on the Mt. Victoria circuit. Clinton Avery suffered a nasty knock to the thigh in Rotorua two weeks ago, but should be well this weekend to challenge current National Champion Stu Houltham. Local advantage may play into Gavin McCarthy's hands, while first-time elite racer Edwin Crossling could provide that "dark horse" component in the men's race.

Jeanette Gerrie and Nic Leary will make their first Cup appearances, adding real depth to the elite women's field in which Monique Avery will look to extend her advantage into North Island series win. Samara Sheppard will be racing on her home turf and will compete with what will no doubt be a large and vocal Wellington crowd, while aiming to reverse the result from last week's Auckland race in which Avery pedalled away from her in the closing stages to take the win.

The U19 racers will be on course along with the elites. Dirk Peters has been circulating at the elite pace in the previous two rounds but will have a bunch of other youngsters right on his heels.

Stay tuned to Cyclingnews' for coverage of the New Zealand MTB Cups.

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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.