The Commonwealth Games mountain biking medals are to be decided in Scotland tonight and the Aussies are in with a best ever chance, writes Joe Ward
7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:38 PM

While some purveyors of snark ask "how is the Commonwealth Games still a thing", (looking at you John Oliver!) it's still a competition that throws up close and exciting racing albeit without the presence of notable European countries, most of Asia and the Americans.

The Games are important precisely because the fields aren't so stacked, which gives athletes of varying ability the confidence and self belief to aspire to excellence without the weight of expectation that they might just be making up the numbers? An example of which might be men's marathon winner Michael Shelley who not only beat some of the worlds best, the East African runners, but recorded a new personal best at Glasgow only days ago.

For cycling and mountain biking in particular, it's about the only competition open to Aussies that is smaller that a World Cup or Olympics but larger than the Oceania Championships, that's a massive difference in size, depth and prestige, pity an opportunity like this only comes around once every four years.

While we've had many great performances at the Commonwealth Games in MTB, (Mary Grigson's bronze in 2002 and Chris Jongewaard leading the Melbourne games race for many laps, but a few highlights), it is unfortunately the only cycling discipline in which we've never won a gold medal, male or female, and is the only men's cycling event in which we have never won a medal. In 2014, this could change.

The Women
London Olympian Rebecca Henderson, 22, will headline the female contingent of the #Glasgow2014 Mountain Bike team. She won the UCI MTB World Cup for Under 23 women in 2013 and now in the Elite category, she exceeded expectations early by placing 10th in the World Cup event at Cairns.

The Canberran is currently ranked third in the Commonwealth and is predicted to go head to head with two Canadians, Trek Factory Racing teammate Emily Batty and Luna Pro Team's Catharine Pendrel.

Multi-disciplinarian Peta Mullens, 26, will make her Commonwealth Games debut in 2014, taking a break from her road commitments with her Wiggle Honda Pro Cycling Team to focus on the dirt for Australia in Glasgow.

The reigning national eliminator (XCE) champion claimed her first UCI World Cup podium in 2014, placing fourth in the XCE at Nove Mesto. The Victorian's resume also includes national titles in Cross Country (2013) and Marathon (2012).

Tory Thomas, 36, is a four-time XCM and one-time XCO national champion and is also a dual 24-hour Solo MTB national champion. In between racking up these credits she's also a mother and had a year out of the sport in 2005 to recover from a very serious incident, then she was hit by a car when out training. To say she's tough and focussed is an understatement.

The Men
Daniel McConnell, 28, who makes his Commonwealth Games team debut in 2014, brings a wealth of experience from two Olympic Games cross country campaigns in London and Beijing.

The Victorian had a breakthrough season in 2013, where he finished runner up in the UCI MTB World Cup series following victory in round one in Albstadt, Germany.

Reigning National and Oceania champion McConnell has had strong start to 2014 and is currently ranked third in the world and first in the Commonwealth, making him a hot contender for a medal in Glasgow.

22-year-old Cameron Ivory has been a dominant force in the under 23 mountain bike ranks, claiming the under 23 national XCO title, the under 23 National Series and a second place at the Oceania championships. A name to remember, as his journey has only really just begun.

If there was a fairytale story of the games it would be Canberra's Andy Blair, who at 35 will be making his first appearance at the Commonwealth Games. He's far from a stranger to donning the green and gold stripes, having represented Australia at multiple world championships, his first in 1996 as a junior in Cairns but 18 years later, the reigning XCM national champion put in a stellar performance as the World Cup finally returned to Cairns, achieving his goal by finishing inside the top 30.

While I'll be cheering the whole team on tonight, I'll be giving Andy Blair a few extra fist pumps in front of the telly as his path to representing at the games has been far from easy having struggled with an illness that after a great deal of time was diagnosed as Coeliac disease, which very much to his credit, he has learnt how to manage and get back to the potential he showed much earlier in his career and across different disciplines, Cross Country, Marathon and Cyclo Cross.

The Women's and men's Mountain bike events kick off from 8.30 tonight.