March 3/06 9:18 am - Oceania Mountain Bike Championships Pre-race Report
Posted by Editor on 03/3/06
Oceania Mountain Bike Championships
Byron Dawson, a Canadian cycling enthusiast travelling in New Zealand, is providing coverage for us from the Oceania Mountain Bike Championships this weekend, in Rotorua. Normally, these championships would be open only to Oceania nations, however, Rotorua is the site of the 2006 Mountain Bike World Championships and this weekend is also being used as a test event for the Worlds. A number of pros are attending the event, including Geoff Kabush (Maxxis) and Kiara Bisaro (GearsRacing.com) - both of whom will continue on to Melbourne for the Commonwealth Games. Below is Byron's pre-race report and interviews with Geoff and Kiara.
Greetings from the 2006 Oceania Mountain Bike Championships in Rotorua, New Zealand. Lots of buzz has been circling the race as the courses used this weekend will be the same as those for Worlds in August. The cross country race in particular is getting a lot of attention, as the majority of the top contenders for the upcoming Commonwealth Games in Melbourne are here.
Friday's 4X and Sundays Downhill will feature Australian Sam Hill and Kiwis John Kirkaldy and Nathan Rankin. They will be challenged by the reigning World Downhill Champion Fabien Barel of France. Barel's countryman (and all around showman) Cedric Gracia is also present. On the women's side, local racer and world champion Vanessa Quin will be up against Frenchwoman Sabrina Jonnier and Brit Tracey Mosely.
Saturday's Elite Men's Cross Country Race features a strong and diverse international field including Canadian National Champion Geoff Kabush. Commonwealth Games racers Kashi Leuchs of New Zealand and Australians Sid Taberlay, John Jongewaard and Josh Fleming all are racing for the Oceania title. Kiara Bisaro leads an otherwise thin Elite Women's field. (Note: For Continental Championships riders representing countries outside of the continent are not normally allowed to compete. The UCI has allowed riders to start the Oceanias this year in order to allow them to prepare for worlds next year. They are, however, not eligible for the titles.)
I was able to catch up with Kiara, Geoff and national mtb coach Michel Leblanc at their rented house near the course.
Having spent his first winter away from Canada in New Mexico, Geoff said that his winter was certainly different from years past in Victoria BC.
"I only rode in a half hour of rain in the entire winter. At the same time I really didn't have a winter, I didn't get to go skiing or anything."
After a short 'Cross season Geoff raced the Xterra World Championships in Hawaii before taking a break from training. From early March through to the present he claimed he had a great winter with not a single crash or illness to set him back. Geoff's excited to put down a max effort this weekend prior to the heading over to Melbourne. Remarking that the basic grass climb and descent course is "certainly not my course" Geoff is choosing to run superlight and narrow Maxxis Maxxlite 310 tires.
When asked about his status as "the" favorite for the Commonwealth Games Geoff said "I know I'm a favorite and I usually come off winter well so we will see how it goes." He also cautioned that strong competition will be had from Leuchs, Scotsman Liam Killeen - who has been training in South Africa with teammate Christoph Sauser - and any of the Australians. Neither Geoff nor I know the shape of Seamus McGrath entering the season particularly after his little known car accident with Ryder Hesjedal last fall.
When asked about his participation in the road race at the Games Geoff said that he is really excited, maybe more so for the road than the dirt. When further asked about a possible transition to the road in the future Geoff clearly said that his passion for mountain biking is definitely greater than for the road.
Back on with Maxxis through 2008 Geoff's long term goal is certainly the Olympics in Beijing China. "It's always in the back of my mind on those long training rides." This season will see a definite shift in focus from Norbas to the World Cup circuit being the top priority. After third and second place finishes at the Mount Saint Anne and Angelfire World Cups last season, respectively, motivation is high for the European World Cups this year "I want to podium at least a couple World Cups this year." (Note: Under the new CCA high performance format our top men and women will receive full support for the European World Cups.)
Beyond the World Cup circuit Geoff will race the Sea Otter Classic, all of the Norbas with the exception of Deer Valley which falls on the same weekend as Nationals in Fernie. Both he and his team have expressed their displeasure with this conflict to the USCF. Geoff thinks "Norba is handicapping Canadians as they want an American winner." Canadians have dominated the Norba series for the last five seasons, first Roland Green, then Ryder Hesjedal and now Geoff Kabush.
Before I even had a chance to ask Kiara Bisaro a question, she piped up "I want to medal" referring to the upcoming Commonwealth Games. Having put in a good winter in Comox, BC she is very motivated for the upcoming season. Although she hasn't yet raced this year Kiara "tried to do mock racing in order to see where I am at."
"I will definitely go 100 percent here. There is no pressure so I just want to see how well I can do." When asked if she is a favorite for tomorrow's race she said "They (people from the southern hemisphere) have been racing and I haven't. It should be a hard race." Kiara was also not impressed with the grassy course, "it's just fast and not much fun, that's the sort of riding I always feel out of control on." Kiara had just received her new all carbon Specialized Epic which she is just getting used to.
Looking forward to the rest of the season Kiara, too, will focus on the World Cup circuit where podiums are certainly the goal. Praising the CCA's new high performance approach "It will give us some consistency, and allow us to better plan ahead." Kiara will be joined by Kabush, Seamus McGrath, Mathieu Toulouse, Alison Sydor and Marie-Helene Premont for the European World Cups. Also on the schedule is the Sea Otter Classic, select Norbas, Nationals and the Hardwood, Whistler and Mt. Washington Canada Cups, the last of which is in her home town.
All for now, expect a report following the Elite XC races tomorrow.