Just one week after the national championships in Adelaide, the 2010 Australian Mountain Bike National Series returns this weekend, with world four cross champion Caroline Buchanan, Beijing Olympian Daniel McConnell and Oceania champion Rowena Fry leading the charge at the second leg of the series in Shepparton.
Kicking off on Friday night, Australia's best four cross riders will test their skills and speed on the newly-opened Kialla track, before the action heads down the road to the challenging course at Mount Major in Dookie.
Fresh from winning his first national cross country crown at the Australian Championships in Adelaide last weekend, McConnell arrives in Shepparton bursting with confidence. Although the 24-year-old Gippsland rider has earned the right to be labelled favourite, it will be fellow Victorian Lachlan Norris from Castlemaine who will be looking to burst his bubble on Saturday.
Norris, who celebrates his 23rd birthday Thursday, finished just adrift of McConnell in his first year in the open elite category at the national championships, and although they are good mates off the track, the heat is sure to be on as soon as their wheels hit the dirt this weekend.
"We push each other so it's great competition. Off the bike we're good mates, but on the bike, it's hell for leather," said Norris, the former under 23 national and Oceania champion. "Dan's one of my good mates. We've been through a lot together over the last four years and have lived together when we've been competing overseas. I pulled up well after Adelaide and I'm in good form, so I'm pretty keen for a win this weekend."
The challenging course on Mount Major is dominated by a start hill that will take more than 11 minutes for most to climb - a feature will which set the pattern for the rest of the race.
"I haven't ridden on the course before so it will be a mystery. I heard it's pretty fresh so it will be rough," Norris said.
In the women's event, Launceston's Rowena Fry will start as the one to beat.
Having secured victory at the first leg of the series in Hobart, followed by a comfortable win at the Australian Championships in Adelaide, the Oceania champion should have no trouble accounting for her rivals this weekend.
One of Australia's best prospects for London 2012, Fry is one of only a handful of elite mountain bike riders to retain her funding from Cycling Australia.
On current form Heather Logie, who has finished second to Fry in their last two outings, will provide the strongest challenge.
The four cross track at Kialla will make its debut on Friday night, and Canberra's Caroline Buchanan will don her World Champion's rainbow jersey for just the second time this year.
Victory is almost a certainty for the 19-year-old, who is also one of Australia's brightest hopes for BMX gold in London 2012.
The men's four cross event will have an international flavour, with Diego Alvaro from Andorra and Barry Nobles from the United States featuring in a fairly open field. Ryan Hunt and Ashley Grey are likely to be amongst the contenders.
A favorite for riders and spectators alike, the downhill event is not for the faint-hearted. On Sunday all eyes will be on one of the nation's brightest young prospects, 16-year-old South Australian, Troy Brosnan who blitzed the field to win the under-19 national crown on the weekend.
Despite admitting to making a few mistakes, Brosnan continued to add weight to his growing reputation with an extremely swift time that put him up amongst his more senior and experienced peers in the elite category.
In the open elite categories, defending series champion Leigh Douglas from Canada (who finished second at nationals and won at the National Series round in Hobart) looks to have the advantage in the women's event.
In a strong field, the men's race will be an enticing battle between in-form New South Wales riders Shaun O'Connor and Joshua Button, who filled the minor placings on the podium at nationals, and Hobart runner-up Amiel Cavalier.
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