Australia's fastest mountain bike riders are headed to Eagle Mountain Bike Park in Adelaide this week for national titles and AUS$50,000 in prize money. The 2011 Australian Mountain Bike Championships will be held from Tuesday, February 22 to Saturday, February 26 for the disciplines of cross country, downhill, four cross, trials and dirt jumps.
Headlining the stellar cast is local junior downhill world champion Troy Brosnan, who will don the coveted rainbow jersey as he tackles the fast and thrilling Eagle Park terrain.
The elite men's downhill on Saturday will be one of the most tightly fought contests of the championships, with defending champion Chris Kovarik, 2006 world championships bronze medallist Nathan Rennie, Mitch Delfs, Shaun O'Connor and current national series leader Rick Boyer amongst those in the hunt for the national title.
All local eyes will be on young gun Brosnan in the under 19 downhill event. After taking out the junior title at the 2010 world championships in Canada at just 17 years of age, Brosnan has a promising future ahead of him.
The 2011 Australian MTB Championships will provide the perfect preparation as Brosnan looks to defend his title at this year's world championships to be held in Switzerland in September.
Men's downhill world champion Sam Hill has withdrawn from the event due to "personal reasons".
With the 2012 London Olympics just around the corner, much of the attention will focus on the cross country races taking place on Friday, February 25.
Four-time national champion Chris Jonegwaard has returned to the elite scene in promising form, and will battle for gold alongside Beijing Olympian and reigning national champion Lachlan Norris, Sid Taberlay, Ben Henderson and current national series leader Aiden Lefmann. However, another favorite, Dan McConnell, will be sidelined after breaking his wrist during training.
"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.
Jongewaard's main challenger, Athens Olympian and three-time Australian champion, Taberlay is expected to apply the pressure in what will be a tightly fought contest.
In the women's category, defending national cross country champion Rowena Fry will be chasing her third national title.
Fry won't be given a free reign and is expected to face fierce competition from 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 but will face a challenge from local Terri Rhodes, and Victorian Paul Van Der Ploeg is expected to start strong after a convincing victory at the Mt Buller meet.
World number-one ranked rider Jared Graves is geared up to tackle the brand new, purpose-built four cross track at Eagle Park in Adelaide. In his first appearance for the domestic season, the Queenslander will take to the start line of the highly contested elite men's race with high hopes of winning the national title.
A seasoned rider, the 28-year-old is no stranger on the world stage having represented Australia in BMX, downhill and his primary discipline, four cross.
2009 marked a hugely celebrated year for Graves who became four cross World Cup champion before going on to win the UCI mountain bike four cross world championships on home soil in Canberra. Graves said he is determined to snatch back the rainbow stripes after narrowly missing gold at the 2010 UCI Mountain Bike World Championships to Czech rider, Tomas Slavik.
"I have been working closely with my coach and training hard for the nationals," Graves said. "If I were to win, I would be a step closer to claiming back the world title at the championships later this year."
"I am feeling confident and hope to be up there with some of the fastest riders as the race progresses into its final stages."
Graves is well aware of the stiff competition he will face with some of Australia's most skilled elite riders including Graeme Mudd, current national series leader and state champion Blake Nielsen, Richard Levinson, Ryan Hunt and Ryan Chesney amongst the confirmed line up.
Although three-time national champion, Luke Madill recently suffered a minor hip injury during a training session, he is in fine form and will prove Grave's biggest rival. It is expected to be a tightly fought contest, and Graves knows he will need to start strong to keep the opposition well out of sight.
"Madill is definitely the one to beat this year after the success he has had over the past few years."
"Experience really counts here and Madill is certainly one of the most experienced riders out there."
"I think it will come down to who is best on the day and I hope I have what it takes to cross the finish line in first position."
In the elite women's category, four cross world champion, Caroline Buchanan will not be competing due to overseas commitments, leaving 2010 national championships bronze medalist, local rider Emily Hockey and Jayne Rutter with a good chance at securing their first national title.
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