Top NZ Downhill MTB professionals Justin Leov and Sam Blenkinsop raced to strong top ten results at the second round of the UCI MTB World Cup in la Bresse, France yesterday.
Blenkinsop (Yeti) was 9th, five seconds down on race winner Steve Peat (UK) and continues to improve back to his World Cup winning best form after a largely dissappointing first World Cup round in South Africa. Leov (Trek) was mere hundreths of a second behind Blenkinsop in 10th.
Saturday's qualifying went well for the large NZ contingent at la Bresse, in the Vosges mountain region in France. Blenkinsop's confidence got a big boost for Sunday's race with a fifth in the top 80 qualifying run. Also making the top 80 cut were Leov, Cam Cole (Maxxis), Kieran Bennett (X-Fusion), Matt Scoles (privateer), Brook MacDonald (Ancillotti) and Nathan Rankin (Playbiker).
Aari Barrett (Scott) produced split times in the first third of his qualifying run that had him at top Junior pace, but crashed on the lower sections of the course to miss the top 80 final. MacDonald's team mate Wyn Masters also missed the cut after injuring a hand in practice, while Hayden Lee's World Cup debut saw him qualify 112th out of 195 starters.
Leov occupied the race leaders hot seat for a good period during Sunday's race, being dislodged by his teammate on the Trek World Cup Team, Andrew Neethling. Top qualifier and last starter Peat took the race by a half second over former World Champion Sam Hill.
Leov and Blenkinsop were well supported by the rest of the NZ qualifiers. Nathan Rankin continued his evergreen form on the World Cup circuit finishing eight seconds behind Peat in 39th. MacDonald was next best NZer in 47th, and this result positioned the Hawkes Bay 18 year old as second best Junior at la Bresse, moving him to 3rd Junior on the World Cup standings. 2006 Junior World Champion Cole was 48th, and 2007 World Championship Junior bronze medallist Scoles was 52nd. Kieran Bennett completed the NZ presence in the top 80 final in 72nd place.
The NZers move across the border to Vallnord, Andorra for the third World Cup round this weekend, May 16/17th.
Results UCI MTB World Cup, la Bresse, France: Men 1 Steve Peat (UK) 2.07.14; 2 Sam Hill (Aus) 2.08.41; 3 Michael Hannah (Aus) 2.09.00; 9 Sam Blenkinsop (NZ) 2.12.15; 10 Justin Leov (NZ) 2.12.28