Hill and Buchanan ready to rock at Australian nationals

The Australian Mountain Bike National Championships will kick off at Eagle Mountain Bike Park in Adelaide on Thursday, January 14 with the team relay, and then the elite racing gets going on Friday. Current four cross World Champion Caroline Buchanan and two-time downhill World Champion Sam Hill are among the favorites competing in the gravity events.

It was at the 2009 World Championship in Canberra that Buchanan claimed her first world title in the four cross event. When she lines up for the four Australian Championships, it will be the unveiling of her rainbow jersey in her first mountain bike race since winning the world title.

"I'm feeling pretty confident and excited for the race as I'm pretty proud to be wearing the stripes (of world champion)," said Buchanan, who expects her main rival to be Sarsha Huntington.

Looking ahead to the 2012 Olympics, much of the attention will be on the cross country races being held on Saturday. The men's race will be a hotly contested affair with Beijing Olympian Daniel McConnell aiming for his first senior Australian title.

His main rivals are expected to be Athens Olympian and three-time Australian champion Sid Taberlay along with last year's Under 23 Australian champion Lachlan Norris, who now steps up to the elite ranks.

In the women's race, defending champion Rowena Fry is the clear favourite, particularly after the good early season form she showed in winning the opening round of this season's national series just before Christmas.

The main challengers for Fry are expected to come from Katherine O'Shea, who won last season's national series, local favourite Therese Rhodes and newcomer Heather Logie after her impressive second place finish behind Fry in round one of the national series.

On Sunday, current world number one ranked Sam Hill will be the one to beat in the men's event. The 24-year-old Hill may not be in peak fitness after a long season, however, he knows the campaign to snatch back the rainbow jersey starts now.

"I really want to get back the rainbow jersey, this is my main focus for the year," said Hill. "Unfortunately I am not in the best shape. However I am going to go to nationals with the outlook I always have and that is to do the best I can on the day."

In the women's downhill race, Claire Whiteman comes with a perfect record at Eagle Mountain Bike Park and will be among the favourites along with last year's silver medallist Julia Boer.

However, the fastest time on the course may come from Canadian born, Tasmanian resident, Leigh Douglas who won't be eligible for the Australian champion's jersey but had a very impressive win in round one of the national series in December.

A short track will also be run on Sunday with the top cross country riders expected to excel in it.

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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.

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