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Australian MTB Championships - CN

Eildon, Victoria, February 27-29, 2004

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Day 3 - February 29: Downhill, Short course XC invitational

Downhill National Championships.

By Mikkeli Godfree

Sam Hill
Photo ©: Mikkeli Godfree/CN

Sunday brought a change in the weather and as the DH lads and lasses headed up to the start for qualifying. A muck up with the registration meant that the start-times were delayed by about an hour and as the crew waited up at the top, the weather looked to be closing in, with dark clouds overhead and a few drops of rain coming down. But as the first riders, the junior men, got under way, the weather had stabilised with sunny but windy conditions prevailing.


The junior men's field was chock full of incredible talent, the top nine posting qualifying times quick enough to put them in the elite final! Sam Hocken was the quickest of the young guns with a time of 2:54.37, which would have seeded him 16th in elite field.

The elite women were up next and their field boasted some top international quality with 2003 World Cup Champion Sabrina Jonnier (France), 4X star Tara Llanes (USA) and multi-time World Cup race winner Fionn Griffiths (UK) all making the trip down under to contest the national champs and take advantage of the southern-hemisphere summer weather. After qualifying, Jonnier and Fionn had taken the top two spots with 15 year old Tracey Hannah in third! This quiet young girl, brother of elite rider Mick, tore up the dry and dusty course to be the first Aussie qualifier, seven seconds up on the next Australian, Emma McNaughton - an ominous sign for the final.

Speaking of the Hannahs, Tracey's brother Mick smoked the elite men's qualifying with a time of 2:47.07, but with thirty riders spread out over the next 12 seconds, it was going to be a tight final.


Sabrina Jonnier
Photo ©: Mikkeli Godfree/CN

When the junior men hit their final run, they absolutely cranked. As opposed to the elite men, these guys threw caution to the wind and hung it out with some ballsy runs being put together. The fastest qualifier, Hocken, must have been a little hyped because he never appeared near the bottom of the course and posted a DNF. In the end it was Amiel Cavalier who recorded the fastest time with a hot 2:54.77, half a second up on Tylah Breeze and two seconds up on Ezra Bartholdt.

The elite women's final saw internationals Jonnier and Fionn dominate, but with the Aussie jersey still up for grabs, all eyes were turned toward Tracey Hannah and Emma McNaughton. Hannah put in a rocking run to come in third, only 1.33 seconds behind the seasoned Euro pros! This obviously gave 15 year old Hannah the green and gold jersey.

Less than three seconds back, a very happy Emma McNaughton was fourth, not bad considering it is less than a month since she broke her wrist in training.

The winner, Jonnier was very happy to have won considering her pre-race nerves, "It is my first race of the season and I was very nervous, too nervous. I had a few bad corners at the top but I recovered and put together a pretty good run."

Second placed Fionn seemed to have similar problems as she nearly flipped herself on the start line, "I have never raced on such a dusty course and when I went to accelerate out of the start I lost traction and went over the front of the bike." These problems aside though, the Euros showed their class to take out 1-2.

With the coveted elite men's green and gold still up for grabs, the lads tore it up really impressing the spectators who jammed themselves in the trees for a close-up look at many of the fastest guys in the world. The men did not disappoint and came through with some ultra-quick runs. The boys were laying it on the line and ripping through the enclosed canopies near the bottom, sending up plumes of dust. Although spectators were getting coated in fine dirt, they packed the singletrack in their hundreds to get close-up to these unbelievably quick guys.

Winner Sam Hill
Photo ©: Mikkeli Godfree/CN

When defending national champ and 2003 junior world champion, Sam Hill (Mad Catz - Iron Horse) posted a 2:43.58, jaws dropped as he had shaved four seconds off Mick Hannah's qualifying time. Indeed, when 2003 World Cup champ Rennie (Santa Cruz) put down a 2:47.17, Hill looked to have it wrapped up, but Hannah was still to come. When Hannah came down though, his chain was flicking out the back of his bike, having broken about half way down. This didn't stop him from posting the fifth fastest time at 2:48.57!

Hannah, the newly appointed 4X national champ was not too distressed by his misfortune, preferring to take solace in the fact that he was putting together an extremely fast run before his mechanical.

"I was going pretty quick. I know people say they felt fast but I know that I was smooth and that I could have pushed Sam [Hill] all the way today."

Hill, on the other hand, was his usual relaxed self after the race, commenting that his run had been trouble-free with the exception of a tree that he just skimmed near the bottom of the run. It didn't slow him down much though as he still won by 3.41 seconds over Jared "stains" Graves who was racing his first race for Yeti.

With the jerseys having been dealt out the riders dispersed and in the coming weeks will make their preparations for the World Cup and NORBA circuits where they will surely continue their rise to the top of DH mountain biking.


Images by Mikkeli Godfree/Cyclingnews.com



Elite Men

1 Sam Hill (Mad Catz - Iron Horse)  2.43.58
2 Jared Graves (Yeti)
3 Nathan Rennie (Santa Cruz)
4 Jared Rando

Elite Women

1 Sabrina Jonnier (France)
2 Fionn Griffiths (UK) 
3 Tracey Hannah
4 Emma McNaughton (Answer Manitou) 

Junior Men

1 Amiel Cavalier                    2.54.77
2 Tylah Breeze 
3 Ezra Bartholdt

XC Short Course

Elite Men
1 Sid Taberlay (TIS/Cyclingnews.com)
2 Chris Jongewaard
Elite Women
1 Anna Bayliss (Team Ghost)
2 Claire Baxter (Mascot Cycles)
3 Lynne Vaughan
4 Emma Colson (Topbike.com.au)
5 Janna Corso