All photos: Andy Rogers

Saturday at the 2022 AusCycling MTB National Championships at Maydena Bike Park dawned a lot clearer than Friday. While yesterday saw some rain, muddy trails and cool temperatures, today had great conditions for the XCO racing for U13, U15, U17 and the UCI categories with U19, U23 and Elite.

Sub juniors hit the trails

First up - the next generation. Piper Whitford was the winner in U13 women, while in the age group above, Alana Fletcher snuck in to win ahead of Lucie Johnston. U17 had a larger field and Maya Martin took this jersey home, beating Caitlyn Brazier.

In the young men's racing, the U13 title went to Hamish Retchford, while Connor Wright won U15 by nearly a 5 minute margin!. The U17 field was huge and Harry Doye snared the title with a clean set of heels. 

Full results are here.

Juniors go all in

The U19 category is always pretty intense. This is where future champions shine. Success beyond this category isn't a given, but the U19 category can be a vision to the future. It's also exciting as the junior burgers go ALL IN.

Four women lined up in the U19 women's race, but it was clear after the first lap that Ruby Dodson was in a league of her own. Jess Williams finished in second with Millie Chester in third.

The U19 men's race had 19 riders, and while the first lap went pretty wild, by the end of the race it was Joel Dodds who was victorious. Jack Ward and Cohen Jessen were second and third respectively.

You can find all the results and lap times right here.

Title fights in U23

The U23 category is a stepping stone from Junior to Elite, and one that some riders jump out of earlier than others. This is most common in the women's category, especially at a World Cup level. Still, in 2021 Zoe Cuthbert stepped up to Elite early, and this year Sam Fox and Matt Dinham were two riders who jumped out of U23 to Elite ahead of time.

In the women's U23 race, Katherine Hosking came through in the lead after the first lap and never looked back. As part of the winning Team Relay quartet, Hosking would beriding a wave of confidence. Just behind, Holly Lubcke was in second, and Izzy Flint was just a little further back in Third.

The men's race saw Cam Wright explode from the line - and after one lap he had nearly 30 seconds on the chasers. With a bit of a battle behind, Cam won the U23 title with Domenic Paolilli in second and Tom Cheesman in third.

Elite XCO Battles

In case you haven't noticed, we have one of the top women's XCO riders in the world amongst our ranks. Bec McConnell is a phenomenal athlete with accolades probably too numerous to list. But lining up against the likes of Peta Mullens, Zoe Cuthbert, Holly Harris and more - nothing is certain until you're over the line.

There's a lot to be said about having a clear run at a course, and McConnell made sure she had just that. Building a lead of about 40 seconds after the first lap, Bec just kept pushing. Zoe Cuthbert was in pursuit but was still over 5 minutes behind by the end of the race. Holly Harris was a few minutes further in third. All excellent performances, but another case where McConnell showed her class, rising to a purely dominant ride at the National Championships.

In the men's race, the result was anyone's guess. Would McConnell ride away again? Would Graves come back after his disappointment last year? Would Cam Ivory score another national title, so soon after his criterium title? What role would Sam Fox and Matt Dinham play, jumping into elite?

Turns out Sam Fox was one of the first who tried to turn the race inside out, with a blinding first lap. Although it was Michael Harris bar to bar with Jared Graves in the start loop! By the end fo the first lap Fox was ahead with Dinham, McConnell, Rees and others close behind. Graves was a little further back and by all reports crashed, although he pushed on before withdrawing after 4 laps.

As the race wore on, it looked like Dinham and McConnell would be duking it out. and come the final lap it was Dinham who won the Elite XCO title about 5 seconds ahead of McConnell. Cam Ivory closed out the top 3.

Dinham won the U19 title a few years back, and had a blinding start in the Junior Worlds race at Lenzerheide in 2018 before a crash. Not every race works out, but this one sure did for Dinham and it was a popular win.

Full results are online.

Downhill Qualifying

Eyes then turned up the hill, as the Downhill crew had their timed runs for seeding. The National Champs race week is funny, as so much racing is focused on XCO, while for downhill riders are finding their lines, finding speed and biding their time. Team relay this, short track that - XC hogs the headlines. But once qualifying is done, the line is in the sand for those who want to take home a title on Sunday.

In U13, Luca Defina has posted the fastest women's time while Jospeh Ianson is the fastest U13 bloke, although his time in the last sector was only 6th fastest. 

Matilda Henness set the course alight in her qualiying run in women's U15 - and it was around the 15 fastest women's time of the day, including U17, U19 and Elite as well! Oliver Colthup was fastest in U15 men but it's a pretty tight field.

In U17 women Georgia Henness kept leading positions in the family, and Carter Sloan was juuust the fastest in qualifying for U17 men. Both fields are pretty stacked so let's see how it plays out on Sunday.

Elise Empey was fastest Junior woman in qualifying, but the top 5 are all moving. In Junior men Remy Meier-Smith had a blinder, with almost 6 seconds in the bag. It could easily be a repeat of 2021 for Meier-Smith - but we all know what happens if you celebrate early.

Annie Ford in qualification

In the Elite categories, Sian A'Hern was the fastest woman on the hill. Troy Brosnan gave himself less than a second of breathing room from Connor Fearon with Jackson Frew just behind. These races will be hard to pick. Brosnan always lifts in a race run but with Fearon on a new bike - his motivation seems all time.

All the qualification timings are online, including for all age group categories. The turn out for the downhill racing is much larger than for cross-country, and it's going to be a big day at Maydena Bike Park on Sunday.