Make New Zealand Downhill racing great again. That has been the unanimous call from clubs and racers alike throughout the NZ Downhill community.
Disaster struck late 2016 when the governing body for Mountain Biking in New Zealand, MTBNZ, communicated that they were canceling all National Series / National Cup racing going forward effective immediately. The news was a shock, coming the very evening of a successful start to the season where over 150 keen racers had turned out for a NZDH North Island Series race, in late winter Rotorua conditions. Hopes were high already for what the end of 2016 and summer of 2017 racing would be like, but it was not to be.
Leading into the 2017 season, MTBNZ took on the task of rethinking and overhauling the National series. As a whole, across both DH and XC, interest in the series and its perceived value had been on a steady decline for years. Following a public survey and subsequent executive meetings, MTBNZ proposed a new format. Clubs and venues were approached and asked for an expression of interest as to who would be willing to host a national cup round for Downhill and XC in early 2017.
Proposed format changes:
- Two day event per round
- Run over the weekend
- Adjacent or close together weekends
- Practice Saturday / Racing Sunday
- Two events per Island (Four Races Total)
- Two day event
- Separate races each day
- Suggested that it was to be during the weekdays and two rounds within the same week.
- Two events per Island (Four Races Total)
The response to the proposed format was not met favourably by clubs, organisers, or riders. For riders, there would be no time between races to repair broken bikes or bodies plus there were severe demands on travel time between races. For clubs, the new format would be restrictive and logistically challenging. The format proposed was unworkable for most and as a result, only one club put their hand up to host a race.
With no word on reforming the proposed format, MTBNZ declared that without club interest, the series would be canceled.
After the initial shock, Kieran Bennett, ex-world cup racer and one of the fastest men in country, suggested the clubs unite and create their own national series and utilize the same successful single day format as the NZDH North Island series. The movers and shakers of DH agreed, and less than 3 days after the MTBNZ announcement, 9 clubs had put their hands up to host the independent community driven series.
Quietly supporting in the background was the services of NZ Crown, a comprehensive national ranking system developed back in 2013, and funded by ex-Olympic XC rider Kashi Leuchs. Currently, the NZ Crown is managed by Mark 'Cabin' Leishman, a passionate and still competitive XC racer who has been part of the New Zealand Mountain biking scene for the last 25+ years. Leishman and his team set up a non-profit organisation as a way to recognise and reward the efforts of riders, clubs, and event organisers across the country. Registering and tabulating all results, from all forms of racing, to create a comprehensive points based national ranking system.
And thus the plan was forged for the DH Clubs of New Zealand (DHCoNZ) National tour. A club collaboration, run on a single day format with minimised load on the hosts. Significant event and series prize money, a logistically friendly schedule, and a nationally recognised and respected ranking system.
A high-quality nationwide series by the people, for the people!
The single day format meant that it was an early start for riders. Rego opened at 8 am and practice kicking off from 9 am.
Riders traveled from all over the country this weekend in preparation for what was to be the biggest change in New Zealand Downhill Racing thus far. A totally reworked series, over a single day and put together by riders. The first round of the series saw FourForty MTB Park in Auckland turn it on with stunning weather, dry and dusty trails and a course full of features and variation. 119 riders entered on the day with a 19 rider strong elite men's field.
Lloyd Jenks showing off what would have to be the ugliest race plate in the history of NZ downhill racing.
Plate for Liam Jackson.
All smiles, all day long from everyone. This was the second dry and dusty race we have had this summer out of six races.
The Bulldog was proudly repping his #Vanzacs
Chainless from the get go for this brave racer.
True kiwi-style shuttles.
The hecklers were slow to get start in the morning, but were in full force by late afternoon.
Nathan Rankin letting the back hang out in early morning practise.
Lloyd Jenks is one of the men responsible for many of NZ's finest trails, and is lightning quick on a big bike. He rode a safe race in the dust and finished just short of a podium step.
Louis Hamilton has been racing since he was a young ankle biter and has developed a name for himself due to his consistency season after season. Once again Louis had a strong day on the bike and would finish in 4th place.
Keegan up high in the natives early morning. Keegan is known for going 100% all day long, and that clearly helped him get the result he had today.
Brook and Wyn tearing through the natives.
With both Brook MacDonald and Wyn Masters turning up to race, most expected that the two would be dueling it out for first place. However, the current standard of elite level local racers isn't to be taken lightly. The bar is constantly being pushed higher and if you make a tiny mistake or have an off day then your not going to be able to challenge for a podium step. Brook didn't have the day he wanted and would finish the day off the podium in 6th Place, Only seven seconds back on Wyn who took first.
Peter Bethell, local Aucklander has been a consistent top five finisher previously. To see him out there riding sections of trail faster than World Cup racers was impressive and looked like he was on form to place well.
Amanda Monk is at home on steep, native tracks. She and partner Logan Jensen build their own, wildly steep trails on their property in Whakatane so the light gradient at FourForty was of little challenge.
Liam Jackson putting the dark days of MTBNZ drama behind him and riding into the light.
Masters men and U15 boys heading up for their seeding run.
Patrick Hale entering the steepest part of the track.
Finn Parsons continued his unstoppable run and cleaned up U17 Boys.
Guy Johnston may only be 13 but his BMX race background has helped him with a smooth transition over to racing downhill. He finished the day 1st in U15 boys, expect to see him take out the series overall, he is quick!
James Carley ripping his way to a credible 6th Place in U19 Men's.
Ross Flexman broke his hand late last year but came back this weekend.
As expected Peter Bethell rode a smart and well-calculated race and finished the day 3rd overall.
Josh Reilly is one of New Zealand's fastest rising enduro stars and likes to keep race downhill also to keep his pace up! One of few men racing a trail bike on the day.
Connor Hamilton has never been one to shy away from good showmanship.
Carson has always been a threat on the hill at FourForty. He is the local park rat, last season's breakthrough talent from U19 and has more fire in his belly for racing than most. Not his day today, though, racing up a grade in elite men but will for sure be one to watch over the rest of the season.
Jack Fisher KO'd himself a month ago at the 2W Enduro in Rotorua and this was his first race back. He still smashed all the race lines, but his fitness was not there and he struggled to push hard on the physical sections of the track.
Skye Follas breaking the beam and getting the afternoon's race runs underway.
Shania Rawson raced her first international race last year, World Champs in Val di Sole and placed first in the last timed training before finals. Not able to put a clean run together during finals she finished off the box but came home faster than ever. This weekend was Shania's first Elite Womens win at a National race and I'm sure it won't be her last! She has bright future ahead of her.
|I had clean practise runs all morning, got all my lines dialed and was feeling strong. The track changed a lot over the course of the day because of the dust and I came unstuck in my first race run. I still placed first though so knew I just had to have a solid second run and not crash to take it out. Stoked to take my first Elite Nationals win and kick the season off on a high note! - Shania Rawson |
When you haven't ridden for a year and your mates pressure you into racing on a borrowed bike, your chances of doing well aren't great, but you can still tweak it out for the media.
Cam Dodd ripping the finish berm to pieces.
Ashley Bond dug deep and gave it her all today. It's her first season racing downhill and to be mixing it up with some of the countries fast women is no easy task.
Brook destroyed every high line in site.
It was just not Cole Lucas's day, He crashed in his first race run after hitting a tree in the native section and then rode too conservative during his second.
|I liked the race and the new format. Good vibes from everyone and pretty decent numbers made for a good race. More prize money up for grabs for everyone and way cheaper entry fees makes it good haha. - Cole Lucas|
Keegan Wright laid down an absolute blinder of a first run and was only one second back on Wyn going into their second race run.
|I think the one day race format is awesome, gives the people who work another day to do stuff and hangout before Monday rolls around. I had a wicked fun day, just tried riding smooth and having fun. Taking this season slower and not push it to hard before the overseas season. The track was fun, not a whole lot of lines to choose from but it was good fun. Was good to have some more competition come up for this race, lets hope it stays like this throughout the rest of the series to help make for some wicked racing. - Keegan Wright|
Wyn Masters found an extra 3.1 seconds on Keegan in his second race run and would deny Keegan of the top step.
|Amazing conditions out there today, it was a bit slippery in sections with all of the dust but I managed to hold it together. Keegan was only a second back on me after the first race run so I had to turn up the dial a few notches and hang it out. We got it done, though. - Wyn Masters|
Louis Hamilton committing the biggest fashion crime of the day, socks and jandals.
The next Joe Bowman. I'd say it will still be a few years before his #raw
videos are up to standard though and he points the camera in the direction of the action.
Wyn was more than happy to sign and give away an old front triangle he had in his van for a group of young fans.
Elite Mens Podium.
Elite Womens Podium.
1st - Wyn Masters
2nd - Keegan Wright
3rd - Peter Bethell
4th - Louis Hamilton
5th - Emyr Davis
1st - Shania Rawson
2nd - Amanda Monk
3rd - Agata Bulska
|Long day... The day ran smooth, the transport side of the race is easy for us as it's something we do every weekend anyway so we have that pretty sorted. The FourForty staff know how to keep shuttles running fast and efficient. Great to have a solid elite category with good depth of field. The new DHCONZ series is proof that DH is alive and kicking in NZ, it's a real pity MTBNZ cannot see this potential and how important it is to continue the series to help support a new generation of keen downhillers. With some tweaking we will have an awesome series we can deliver to the riders every summer and help grow the sport. - Byron Scott, FourForty MTB Park Owner|
Next weekend we head to Napier for the second round of the Series for what should be a very interesting race. The track is the most pedally on the circuit and takes no prisoners, forget the legs or lungs and riders can kiss their dreams of a podium place finish goodbye.
Full results here