Winning Nationals is always easier said than done. Each year the competition gets stronger and the younger guys coming up through the ranks get faster. Staying on top is always a challenge but it’s one that I relish and keeps me hungry.
Having the opportunity to race a National Champs at home for the first time ever was pretty exciting for me. I’ve spent a lot of time riding and racing in the Halswell Quarry over the years, in fact my first ever MTB race about 15 years ago was there! To race in front of a large crowd for the first time in over a year was also special and made possible thanks to New Zealand’s efficient handling of the COVID-19 outbreak.
I’d felt fresh and strong in training so was brimming with confidence come race day. I was keen to put on a strong performance for all the supporters that had turned up and also for myself to start the year off in the right way. After the start I was second into the first single-track behind Ben Oliver who I expected to be my main challenger to the title. I knew I would have to drive the pace and set the tone for the race so I pushed on to take the lead up the first climb. Ben tried a couple of times to come around me in an attempt to control the pace on the start loop but I was able to fend him off and lead into the first descent.
I kept the heat on as we finished the start lap and entered the beginning of the first full lap of six. I could feel that the rest of the field was starting to get strung out and I was opening up a bit of daylight between myself and the chasers. I pushed on hard for another couple of laps to open up a gap that I was comfortable with and from there focused riding a smooth, fast and controlled pace to maintain that gap.
I was able to continue extending it until the end of the race to come home first and claim my 7th Elite National title and also my 5th in a row. My training partner and good mate Ben Oliver came home in second place and a great ride from Sam Shaw saw him claim the final spot on the podium.
It was a great way to kick off the season and I look forward to wearing the fern for another year on the World stage.