With the Rio 2016 Olympics Games less than four months away, the world cup provides an opportunity for riders to gain valuable qualification points for their national Olympic team in the cross-country mountain bike discipline.
Australia is on track for two men’s selections for the August Games from the maximum of three. Trek Factory Racing's Daniel McConnell, who represented Australia in Beijing in 2008 and London in 2012, is eager to secure a third Olympic team selection.
“The Olympics is something special and something that I would love to do again,” said the 30-year-old from Bruthen, Victoria.
Cameron Ivory (Specialized Racing Australia), Scott Bowden (Focus-4Shaw) and Brendan Johnston (Trek Racing Australia) are also vying for a seat on the plane to Rio for the elite men’s competition.
Ivory, who finished second to McConnell at the recent Australian cross-country championships, understands the tough road ahead if he is to secure his maiden Olympic selection.
“I want to go as well as I can against the rest of the world in the world cups, but I’ll also be mindful of where I am compared to the other Aussies such as Brendan and Dan,” said Ivory.
“I think staying in the top two Australians throughout the first three world cups is key and will hopefully help me gain selection for Rio.
“I’ve been happy with how I’ve raced for the last two European seasons, so I aim to carry that form and consistency into this season.”
Tasmania’s rising star Bowden, 21, is the Australian under-23 cross-country champion. He is chasing selection after a bronze medal in the recent Oceania MTB Championships where he was granted permission to race in the Elite field.
Johnson, who had two third-place finishes in the national cross-country series, successfully defended his marathon national title last weekend, showing he is also in top form leading up to Cairns.
In the women’s cross-country event at Rio, Australia ranks 15th on the current UCI Olympic Qualification Rankings, qualifying for a single rider from the maximum of two. Reigning Oceania and Australian champion Rebecca Henderson (Trek Factory Racing) is aiming for her second Olympic selection.
This summer Henderson achieved four consecutive wins in the national cross-country series, decimated the field at the national cross-country championships, then took out the 2016 Oceania cross-country title in Queenstown, New Zealand.
“It’s very early in the selection process and I can only do my best and hope that I get the nod,” said Henderson, knowing that despite her dominance on local soil, results at the opening rounds of the world cup series are key.
Peta Mullens (SRAM Focus Racing), Jenni King (Canyon SRAM) and Karen Hill (Rocky Mountain) will also be racing at Cairns, keeping the pressure on Henderson.
With a place on the start line at Rio still up for grabs, every rider fronting up to compete on the Smithfield Mountain Bike Park trails will be hoping for the race of their lives.
SBS will be broadcasting the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup LIVE from Cairns on SBS2 and online on Saturday 23 April from 1300 to 1700 and Sunday 24 April from 1300 to 1600 (all times AEST).