Race Report: The Future's Bright at the New Zealand National Schools MTB Champs

Oct 15, 2019
by Matt Wood  

Photography: Jemma Wells, Kane Fleury, Matt Wood
Words: Cycling NZ

The National Schools Mountain Bike Champs, hosted by Mountain Biking Otago and presented by Evo Cycles, has attracted over 400 riders from an impressive 110 schools around the country.

The first event of the three-day championships featured Enduro racing for the first time, run over five timed stages at the Signal Hill Mountain Bike Park in Dunedin.

The event attracted 333 riders, staged in sunny conditions following several days of wet weather, which forced organisers to change the opening stage because of track conditions.

Todd Ballance (Nelson College), who was second in the amateur section of the New Zealand Enduro last summer, held off national cross-country representative and Youth Olympian Max Taylor (Palmerston North Boys) by just two seconds after the accumulation of the five downhill stages.

However,Indy Hawthorne (Shirley Boys High), who had ridden strongly throughout the accumulated five timed runs, had a mishap with his timing transponder which initially did not register a time. Officials had to recover the data from their system to determine that the Christchurch rider had registered the same accumulated time of 10:35 to share first placing with Ballance in the senior boys.

Jake Remon takes on the lower reaches of the Ginger Cougar trail on Signal Hill.
Jake Remon takes on the lower reaches of the 'Ginger Cougar' trail on Signal Hill.

Mia Cameron takes a direct route through Moustache Express on Signal Hill.
Mia Cameron takes a direct route through 'Moustache Express' on Signal Hill.

Fastest female today was the under-16 winner Rebecca Hufflett (Nelson College) who claimed the honours in 12:23 which was more than a minute faster than any other female rider. She is the current South Island Schools champion over all three disciplines – enduro, downhill and cross-country and is also defending her national schools titles in downhill and cross-country.

bigquotesIt was a bit tricky and I just tried to stay on, that was the main thing, but it was really cool fun. The course was wet in places but much better than in practice yesterday, and they were a lot grippier than I expected.Rebecca Hufflett

The under-16 winner Alex Wayman (St Bede’s College, Christchurch) impressed in claiming the honours in his age group in an accumulated time of 10:47, which was the third fastest overall.

National under-17 cross-country champion Ethan Rose (Darfield College) who held off North Canterbury’s Jacob Turner (Rangiora High) and Luke Hayman (Waitaki Boys) by five seconds in the under-17 category.

Sheridan King drops into Student track on the slopes of Signal Hill.
Sheridan King drops into 'Student' track.

Saturday’s racing turns to downhill at the outstanding Signal Hill complex where there is a sell-out entry, with cross-country set for Sunday.

Experience proved the key in the wet and slippery conditions for downhill competition on day two of the National Schools Mountain Bike Championships in Dunedin.

New Zealand under-19 champion Jess Blewett from Wakatipu High School in Queenstown claimed female under-20 title while Wellington’s Albert Snep (Scots College), who competed on the world circuit in Europe this year, won the male under-20 honours.

With riders facing the demanding test of Signal Hill, made more challenging with wet conditions overnight and some rain throughout the day. Jess Blewett held off the challenge to be five seconds clear of Mt Hutt College rider Caitlin Titheridge, who was third in the enduro competition on day one. Snep clocked the fastest time of the day with a 3:19.13 run to finish just over a second clear of Nelson College rider Todd Ballance, a joint winner of the enduro.

bigquotesIt was pretty good the whole way through. I had a couple of squirly sections and I slipped a bit at the bottom but besides that, it was really good. I am really happy to be up here racing and thanks to the people who have put it on.Caitlin Titheridge

Mount Hutt College rider Reilly Duff followed up victory in the South Island Championships to claim the under-17 male title in a tight battle with Riley Adlam (Wakatipu High) and Sam Weir (Riccarton High).

bigquotesI kept my cool and knew if I stayed on, it would be whoever got down the hill fastest and it worked out well. The track was a lot different than the seeding run when it was quite wet. It was a lot drier than I thought it would be and I could probably have pushed harder if I knew it was as dry as it was.Reilly Duff

Wanaka’s Kalani Muirhead made it two titles in two days in winning the female under-17 downhill to go with the enduro win on day one. The under 16 winner from last year and current South Island champion dominated her competition in the challenging conditions.

[QUOTE auhtor="Kalani Muirhead"]It started raining just before we went down which made it interesting. The tracks were ok in the rock garden and through the trees they were pretty dry but as soon as you got out into the open it was definitely muddier. I slipped everywhere when I touched my brakes. I had one crash which wasn’t too bad and got down in one piece.[/QUOTE]

Former world BMX age group medallist Sacha Earnest (AGC Parnell) impressed in winning the female under-14 title as did Leah Smith in the under-15 after finishing second in the enduro.

Kaikoura’s Oli Clark was the other double winner, claiming the male under-13 downhill in emphatic fashion after an impressive enduro victory.

Focus moves to the cross-country on the final day of competition in Dunedin on Sunday.

Auckland senior school champions Poppy Buissink and Sam Buckley took the step up to claim the under-20 cross-country honours on the final day of the National Schools Mountain Bike Championships in Dunedin.

Sam Buckley (Westlake Boys) scored the biggest win of his young career with victory in the under-20 male race today. He went boldly from the start and was never threatened, ultimately finishing 1min 30sec clear of second placed Matthew Wilson with a further 30 seconds to Palmerston North’s Max Taylor, a member of the Subway national mountain bike performance hub.

bigquotesI was second into the forest but managed to pass the leader about 200m in. I thought I would hammer it for the first lap like it was a one-lap race and see if I could string out the field.Sam Buckley

Poppy Buissink, who was runner-up last year, capped off a superb weekend with a dominant display in the cross-country to go with her win in the enduro and runner-up in the downhill. The Epsom Girls Grammar rider finished five minutes clear of school-mate Sarah Harvison with a further two minutes to Emma Cunningham from Taieri College.

bigquotesI wanted to get to the single track first which I did. I was happy with that, and then decided to see if I could break it up on the Big Easy which gave me a good lead,Poppy Buissink

One of the classiest rides came in the under-17 boys race with Darfield College rider Ethan Rose winning in 1:11.59. The New Zealand under-17 champion finished 1min 30sec ahead of Adam Francis (Palmerston North Boys) with North Canterbury’s Jacob Turner (Rangiora High) third.

bigquotesIt was a tough one with the three of us together for the first three laps. I decided to push on the steep climb and got a bit of a gap and managed to hold it to the end. It was good fun for a schools track, pretty technical and nice steep climbs. It dried out nicely and was really grippy today,Ethan Rose

Christchurch’s Amelie Mackay (Cashmere High) needed a major effort on the final climb of the last lap to haul in Greymouth’s Emma Wilson (John Paul II) to win the under-17 girls.]

In other notable performances, the Grey sisters from Cambridge made it a family double with last year’s under-14 winner and the national under-15 champion Seana claiming the under-15 title comfortably while sister Caoilinn claimed the under 13 honours by a whopping eight minutes.
Nelson’s Rebecca Hufflett completed a trifecta of results with third in the under-16 cross-country with her win in the enduro on day one and second placing in the downhill on Saturday.

The under-16 victory went to Christchurch’s Annabel Bligh (Cashmere High) to back up her strong performance in finishing second in the New Zealand championships in the under-17 category at Rotorua earlier in the year.

Other younger riders showed progression from last year, led by Milla Phipps (Rotorua Lakes) winning the under 14 honours after taking out the under-13 grade last year

One of the standout performances was the win by Motueka’s Ethan Woods in the under-15 race, despite three crashes during the race. He fought back to beat off the challenges of Maui Morrison (Cambridge High) and Max Preece (St Peters Auckland), who finished first and second in the under-15 race at the national championships.

bigquotesIt wasn’t my best start but I caught it up at the top and stayed in second until the rock garden when I had my first of three gnarly crashes.

bigquotesI managed to move up on the fourth lap back into second and I was so happy and on that last super steep climb by the rock garden, I managed to take Maui and into the lead. I floored it on the last lap and managed to hold them off.

Christchurch’s Zakai Hedges, runner-up in the South Island championships, scored an impressive win in the under-16 race over last year’s under-15 champion Cameron Beck (John Paul College) in an excellent race.

The leading overall school was Marlborough Boys High School ahead of Wakatipu High School and Shirley Boys High School.

Full results: https://schools.cyclingnewzealand.nz/results?fbclid=IwAR2tNXjXiTphM1IwrIZi7w6Nl2pIKHvza2UfulzJNdWEw9EBXDf7pyyw5c0

National School Champs

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