Elite races blown wide open, while world champion gears up for title defence

BIG OMISSION: Olympian Bec Henderson won't race in Orange this year, which blows the elite women's section wide open. Photo: MATT FINDLAY
BIG OMISSION: Olympian Bec Henderson won't race in Orange this year, which blows the elite women's section wide open. Photo: MATT FINDLAY

The opening two rounds of the 2017-18 Mountain Bike Australia (MTBA) Cross Country Olympic (XCO) National Series, at Kinross State Forest this weekend, have been blown wide open after the confirmation Olympians Bec Henderson and Dan McConnell won’t race.

While Henderson and McConnell, the reigning elite men’s and women’s champions, are expected to suit up in the series’ remaining rounds, their absence at Orange’s double-header opens the door for other contenders to get a jump on the field before the Christmas break.

The pair dominated the 2016-17 series’ corresponding rounds – also held at Orange, in early January – with Henderson winning one of the two women’s elite races and McConnell triumphing in both of the men’s equivalents.

Queensland’s Anna Beck, who rode alongside Henderson for Australia at the world championship in September, won the first round last year, but at time of print on Wednesday she also hadn’t registered for this weekend’s double-header – however, she could have been a late entry, nominations closed on Wednesday night.

Reigning junior world champion Cam Wright, also from Queensland, is a confirmed starter for this weekend’s first two rounds though.

The 18-year-old is fresh from claiming the UCI World Championship title in Cairns three months ago, and also dominated the XCO National Series last summer as well.

He went unbeaten through all six rounds last summer on his way to the junior title, including back-to-back wins at Orange, and will be looking to extend that winning run this weekend.

He’ll have a target on his back though, literally, with this weekend’s double header acting as the debut for the rainbow jersey, which is – and has been since 1927 – worn by the reigning world champion in any given cycling discipline.

WORLD LEADER: Cam Wright will don the rainbow jersey in this weekend's double-header, thanks to his world champion status. Photo: MATT FINDLAY

WORLD LEADER: Cam Wright will don the rainbow jersey in this weekend's double-header, thanks to his world champion status. Photo: MATT FINDLAY

He’ll don that across the Kinross State Forest loop, which is reportedly in pristine condition after the recent rain and has been altered slightly from last year’s races heading into this weekend’s rounds.

“Saturday is a contemporary course, short and punchy, keeping riders at their red line and throwing in some features,” race director Rod Farrell told MTBA.

“While on Sunday it’s an old school course, shortened from the 2017 loop, with the second half a world away from berms and super flow.

“Sunday is all up, then all down.”

More than 200 riders, from 15 years old right up to 65, from all over the country will compete. The series’ remaining rounds are at Nerang, Pemberton, Canberra and Armidale.