By PHILIP CHANDLER
Queenstown mountain biker George Brannigan flew off to Europe last Friday just five days after snaring his first national downhill title since 2015.
The ‘‘stoked’’ 29-year-old, who shared the limelight in Christchurch with another local, Jess Blewitt, who won the women’s title, says the win came after undergoing ‘‘a rough
period of injuries’’, then two years of ‘‘still struggling to really find like a comfortable sort of pace’’.
After breaking his collarbone four times in a row, over 2017 and 2018, ‘‘I just felt like I couldn’t ride without getting hurt’’.
However Brannigan, who’s been a pro rider since 2010, says he took time off after last season, has come back refreshed, and is excited about joining a new pro team — NS Bikes UR Team — after two years with Propain.
He left last week to prepare for the first World Cup of the season, on March 27, in Lourdes, France, and is warming up with a team camp in Italy, then a pre-World Cup race, also in France.
He’ll return to Queenstown late this month before returning to the circuit in mid-May.
Also racing in Lourdes will be fellow Queenstowner Toby Meek, 17, who was runner-up in the under-19s at the nationals.
He’s in his second year riding with pro team MS Mondraker.
Toby, who leaves for Europe today, says his Queenstown training this summer’s been ‘‘pretty ideal’’.
‘‘[Queenstown’s] got everything you really need to train for a World Cup event.’’
● Other Queenstown riders to podium at the nationals were Vinny Armstrong, who was second among the elite women, and Hamish McLeod, who was third in the elite men. Rotorua’s Tuhotu-Ariki Pene, who trained in Queenstown this summer, was second in the elite men.