World junior champion Anton Cooper and former world champion
Cameron Cole headline the stars on display for the opening
round of the national series in Southland this weekend.
Riders are braving the unseasonal weather as Bluff Hill plays
host venue for the national round of the championship for the
Both Cooper and Cole will ride with their new team colours
and new machines for the 2013 season.
Cooper, who won the junior world title last year, has moved
to the Cannondale Factory Team for 2013, while Cole, the 2006
downhill world champion, will line-up for Yeti Cycles.
Cole, who was 11th overall on the world cup circuit last
year, recently signed a two-year deal with his US-based team,
although this weekend is more about some fun for him.
''I've only just received the new frame and don't have the
full kit yet so have borrowed some bits to get me racing,''
the Christchurch rider said.
''My aim is later in the year but I like to support the New
Zealand races and it's a chance to have a ride on the new
bike in competitive racing.''
The downhill riders had their first look yesterday at the
1.37km track that was rebuilt by the club in 2011 and
upgraded late last year, in readiness to host its first
national event. It features a 218m descent from a rock
drop-in at the top of Bluff Hill.
Main competition is likely from Oceania champion Matt Scoles
(Alexandra) and the trio of Zerode riders Kieran Bennett,
Nathan Rankin and Reuben Olorenshaw.
Women's racing is wide open, though Nelson's Veronique
Sandler is a favourite after her top-30 placing at the world
championships. Sophie Tyas, of Methven, and Christchurch's
Amy Laird will provide strong opposition.
The racing has also attracted some international riders from
Great Britain, the United States and Canada.
Local fans will get to see the remarkable Cooper in action
for the first time in his new colours. The Christchurch
teenager signed for Cannondale last month and is preparing
for his first full season on the world cup circuit in the
Cooper is likely to dominate on the testing cross-country
course on Bluff Hill, featuring nearly 300m of vertical
climbs at more than 7% average grade on each of the 6.76km
Rotorua's Dirk Peters, a top-30 performer at the world
championships, is expected to be prominent.
It could be a double for young riders with junior star Mary
Gray, of Dunedin, who was eighth at the world championships,
a favourite in the women's racing.
The under-15, under-17, senior and masters riders are set to
race from 10.30am tomorrow, with the under-19, under-23 and
elites from 2pm.
Cross-country riders will face three rounds in the series at
Bluff, Mt Victoria (Wellington) on February 1-3 and Hunua
(Auckland) on February 8-9, before the national championships
in Rotorua from February 15-17.
Downhill rounds are set for Bluff, Mt Hutt next weekend,
Wellington, Levin on February 1-2 and Hunua, as well as the