Not since World Champs in 2006 has the steep and treacherous Rotorua DH been in the international spotlight with a who's who of World Cup racers fighting for $5000 and bragging rights heading into the World Cup season.
In the Women's event Rachel Atherton made a return to Crankworx competition and was the obvious front-runner. Tracey Hannah was the obvious challenger and has been showing renewed speed and confidence we have not seen from her the past two seasons. Both riders proved they are in top form this season and racing would most likely come down to the wire in Rotorua.
Always a danger on tracks with big jumps, Casey Brown was also one to watch as she floated the tracks biggest gaps near the finish with ease. One of only two women to do so.
As racing got under way it was Emily Siegenthaler who set the fastest time early and her first real challenge from Casey Brown never materialized after she punctured near the bottom of the track. Up next Rachel would blaze down the track, almost losing it in the off camber above the finish to move into the lead with only Hannah left to go.
Tracey looked smooth and fast and coming into the finish it was obvious it would be a close one. Tracey opted for the go around on the big jump giving up precious time and eventually crossing the line .75 back in second spot.
For the men all eyes were on George Brannigan as he was recently won NZ Champs on this track a few weeks ago and was riding full gas in every practice run. Gee Atherton and Sam Hill who had finished 2014 on top looked good in training but would fall short come race time leaving the door wide open for other to slide into the top spot.
Surprisingly to many Eliot Jackson set the bar early and would remain in the hot seat as Hill, Branigan, Atherton, and MacDonald came down the track. It wasn't until Loic Bruni stormed down the hill and into the top spot that Eliot would finally be pushed back to second spot where he would remain until the very end.
Loic was never challenged and Neethling and Mick Hannah both punctured and former teammate Sam Blenkinsop would come just off the pace for third behind Jackson. With the first World Cup just a few weeks away in Lordes there are a few riders who need to find a bit of pace, while Blenki, Jackson, and Bruni will look to carry on the momentum and confidence from Rotorua into the season. Results
3-Sam BlenkinsopPro Women
1- Rachel Atherton
2- Tracey Hannah
3- Emilie Siegenthaler
Full results here