South Canterbury’s David Ashby-Coventry was the best of the young New Zealand riders on the opening day of the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships in Norway.
Ashby-Coventry (Timaru) finished 11th from a 99-strong field in the junior men’s cross country race on a demanding course in Hafjell overnight.
Big hope Ben Oliver (Rangiora) succumbed to a rear wheel puncture while Gareth Cannon (Woodville) also had his race cut short with mechanical issues.
Wellington’s Jack Compton fought strongly to finish 35th while in the junior women the national champion Harriet Beaven from Auckland had an excellent race for 21st.
“The course is gnarly and rocky with some sharp rocks about the place which makes it technical,” said coach-manager Sam Thompson.” The hills are quite steep and challenging. Most are enjoying the course and feeling good about it.”
Conditions were ideal for the start of racing today with Oliver and Ashby-Coventry pushing into the top 15 from the start of the five lap, 21kms junior men’s race.
Oliver was up into the top 10 when he flatted his rear wheel just after the technical zone, which forced him to run approximately 2kms carrying his bike to get back to the support area to change his wheel, which wrecked his hopes.
Ashby-Coventry eased back with the fast pace to be 22nd mid-race but impressed with a powerful final two laps, the fourth fastest of all riders, to force his way through the field to finish 11th.
Compton had a slow start after his draw of 89 from the 99 riders but moved up to 58th after two laps, with the Wellington rider also finished on strongly for 35th.
Beaven, the national champion, impressed in her first world championship. She had “a few offs” on the challenging technical course but overall rode impressively for her 21stplacing in a stacked field.
Tomorrow attention turns to the under-23 men’s race which features Commonwealth Games medallists Anton Cooper and Sam Gaze, who both placed in the top 10 in the World Cup in France two weeks ago.
Gaze, from Cambridge, said he was happy with his form after managing his second peak in five weeks.
“I had a little bit of time off after Glasgow before building-up again,” Gaze said. “I had one or two bad races then came right with a good result in the last World Cup so I am feeling good about things.
“For me it’s my first year in the under-23s so I am not putting any expectation on it, just making sure I enjoy it and do my best.”
Sunday will see the elite competition where another Commonwealth Games rider, Kate Fluker from Queenstown is looking forward to the challenge.
“I’ve had three weeks of good build-up into this. Training has been going really well. You don’t really know until you begin racing,” Fluker said. “It’s a really good mountain bike track. It is super technical and lots of steep climbing. It seems to be challenging a lot of people so should make for some good racing.”
Fluker has drawn 40 on the start but is hoping the wide opening and initial climb will allow her to push up to a more competitive position.
“I hope I can have a strong race and finish around the same as I have in the World Cups,” she said after finishing in the top 25 in her three World Cup starts this year.
Monday’s attention will turn to downhill with New Zealand has a powerful contingent, led by their top line professionals Brook MacDonald, Sam Blenkinsop, George Brannigan and Cameron Cole.
UCI Mountain Bike World Championships:
Cross country Junior men, 5 laps (21km): Simon Andreassen (DEN) 1:08.49, 1; Egan Bernal (COL) 1:09.26, 2; Luca Schwarzabauer (GER) 1:09.27, 3. Also: David Ashby-Coventry (NZL) 1:13.05, 11; Jack Compton (NZL) 1:16.51, 35; Ben Oliver 2 laps, 83; Gareth Cannon (NZL) dnf.