Competitive Cyclist
Full Speed Ahead
3T Designs

MTB world championships - CM

Rotorua, New Zealand, August 22-27, 2006

Wintry World's gets started with sheep trial!

By Rob Jones on Rotorua

2005 XC champion Gunn-Rita Dahle (Norway)
Photo ©: Marek Lazarski
Click for larger image

The 2006 Mountain Bike World Championships will get underway in Rotorua, New Zealand on the afternoon of August 22 with the Team Relay. Teams from over 35 countries have registered for the world championships, with 12 scheduled for the Team Relay.

It is the end of winter in New Zealand, so the weather is still on the chilly side, with regular downpours sweeping through the area. The south island had snow scheduled for today, so a little rain doesn't seem too bad on reflection!

Rotorua, close to the eastern coast of the north island, and two and a half hours south of Auckland, is known for its sulphur hot springs, and the scent of sulphur and clouds of steam are pervasive in the town, along the south shore of Lake Rotorua.

The world championships themselves are just north of the city, on the slopes of Mount Ngongotaha - literally, "To drink from a calabash". A calabash is a fruit similar to a gourd, and the Maori legend is that the explorer Ihenga ascended the mountain and met a fairy woman. The woman gave him a drink from her calabash.

The organization has purpose built most of the cross-country and downhill courses, trying to take advantage of the natural terrain while doing as little damage as possible to the ecosystem. The 5.9 kilometre cross -country begins with a long switchback climb to the highest point of the course. The climb is wide enough for much of its length that passing shouldn't be a problem.

2005 XC champion Julien Absalon (France)
Photo ©: Marek Lazarski
Click for larger image

Once at the top, riders traverse along a ridge and pass under the downhill, before a steep drop into the Sugarbowl gully. They immediately climb back on a wide grassy climb and then head into the trees for a twisty downhill back to the finish area. The downhill is not too technical - except for a few added jumps - however, rain could make it slick, and riders can getting into trouble if they carry too much speed into one of the many switchback turns.

Current expectations are that the men will do six laps and the women four, but that could change, based on weather and how fast the Team Relay riders cover the circuit. The favourites for the Team Relay are Canada, Poland and Switzerland at this point. Spain lost its favoured status after Jose Hermida left the world championships to head home to Spain. No reason has been given yet for Hermida's departure, other than "family reasons".

In other news tidbits, as riders start to trickle in:

- Lado Fumic of Germany will also miss the Worlds, after injury his shoulder in a crash two weeks ago.

- A world first event was held on Sunday: bike sheep herding. Eight teams of three riders lined up for the chance to win $500 (NZ$) for being the quickest to herd three sheep through two sets of gates and into a pen. After watching a sheep dog demonstrate (in a little over four minutes), the Australian junior squad attempted to do so (in the now pouring rain), failing dismally.

After seven minutes of determined efforts with little reward defeat was conceded. A quick meeting of the tournament referees resolved that teams would now only need to move the sheep from their pen down 70 metres to the bottom section of the enclosure and into a waiting pen. Score one for the sheep...

Australian Juniors in action
Photo ©: Rob Jones
(Click for larger image)

A brilliant sheep trialling performance then ensued with the second Australian junior team gating their three sheep one minute and fourteen seconds after being released. This was to be the best time of the day. However, they still had to fend off a late bid from crack entry, the local Rotorua team who penned their sheep in exactly one minute and thirty seconds. The Great Britain team including top downhiller Tracey Mosely, was third in three minutes and twenty nine seconds.


For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here

Images by Rob Jones/www.canadiancyclist.com