Trail blazer

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COMPETITIVE: Oli Nicholls pushing ahead for world series inclusion.
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Downhill mountainbiker Oli Nicholls of Ashburton is seeking new thrills on the international stage.

The 17-year-old was selected to compete in a team from New Zealand competing in the UCI Mountainbiking Downhill World Series Under 19 category.

It’s in Europe from May to September.

However, his team entry suffered a setback.

‘‘The team’s entry has been declined by UCI. Long story short we were one singular point off,’’ he said.

‘‘A bit annoying, but not the end of the world. To race in the world series as a junior you either need to be in a UCI MTB team, or through supplementary entry,’’ he said.

The passionate mountainbiker is now focused on securing a much-sought-after spot through supplementary entry with Cycling New Zealand.

‘‘This makes it harder than being in a team because Cycling NZ only allocate six spots, so the pressure is on to stay consistent throughout the domestic and international races.’’

He will find out if he is successful six weeks ahead of the series start.

Nicholls, who has a following on YouTube and Instagram, had a taste of international racing when he competed at the Crankworx Cairns world tour event in Australia last year.

The Downhill World Series is the world’s best riders competing in one race to be the fastest downhill.

‘‘Mountainbiking is racing yourself against the clock to see who is the fastest down the hill in the shortest amount of time,’’ Nicholls said.

TRAIL RIDER: Oli Nicholls gets in some practice. PHOTO SUPPLIED

He said Under 19 was the youngest category at the world series.

After about two years riders then move to into the elite category. The average age of those involved was about 29 to 32, he said.

‘‘There is a bit of a saying that once you are 23 is when you are the fastest.’’

Nicholls has competed against many of New Zealand’s top age group riders.

‘‘I’ve known them for a long time. The mountainbike scene is very communal … you meet people and hang out with people from all over the place.’’

He was inches away from taking a top three placing at the national championships last year.

‘‘I was fifth at national champs and if I (was) something like 0.8 faster I would have been third. So it’s very, very tight racing,’’ he said.

It’s also very competitive.

In the lead up to international racing, Nicholls is training up to 11 hours a week; nine hours on the bike and two hours gym work at his family home.

He is also still competing in national races.

The world series is a huge personal commitment. It involves a lot of self-motivation as Nicholls in charge of his own training, fitness, and funding needs.

He works 38 hours a week at Stoked Cycles in Ashburton, and has support from his parents.

SKILLS WORK OUT: Oli Nicholls gets some practice runs under his belt at the ACL Skills Park.

All going well, dad Anton will join Nicholls as support crew during the first leg of the world series.

Nicholls’ mother Tabitha Armour, and his younger sister Zoe, will remain supportive from home.

Nicholls was encouraged into mountainbiking by his mother, now a social rider. It was a family sport.

‘‘I’ve never really been without the bike,’’ Nicholls said.

‘‘Mum was one of the main faces of the sport when it started,’’ he said, of her younger days in Oamaru before a move to Christchurch.

‘‘She sort of set up some of the first nationals and single track riding, so that’s when they changed from racing down the 4WD track roads to more mountainbike tracks. She did quite a bit of stuff down in Otago.’’

Nicholls and his family lived in Christchurch until moving to Ashburton about 12 years ago.

He is still a member of Gravity Canterbury, which is where he started downhill racing aged eight.

Prior to that he was competing in Mountain Bike Ashburton’s chocolate fish races along the Ashburton River Trail from aged five.

‘‘The river trail was great for my fitness and skills but I got hooked on the downhill tracks at Mt Hutt,’’ he said.

His love of the sport has grown from there.

Nicholls’ parents organised a series of novice downhill races after his first novice race with Gravity Canterbury.

‘‘I surprised myself getting on the podium at every novice race and that continues to be my aim in the national age group events,’’ he said.

‘‘I’ve had some really good results over the last season but it is a very fine line between pushing too hard and making a mistake or crashing which puts you at the bottom of the leader board.’’

Novice races, progressed to junior races where he became known on the racing circuit.

He still travels to Christchurch for events.

He joins riders in the Tinwald Cycling Club during the week for fitness training, regularly hits the trails on Mt Hutt and has been able to ride and get advice from former world cup competitor Justin Leov formerly of Blenheim, now living in Mid Canterbury.

‘‘I’ve loved the sport for that long and been so enthusiastic about it for that long that there hasn’t been anything different really.

‘‘There is always new adventures, always a different hill to explore and a different trail to ride.’’