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Student mountain biker takes national title

Friday, February 29, 2008

Student mountain biker takes national title

Taking out the national mountainbiking championship and receiving a Prime Minister’s scholarship has put third-year sport and exercise science major Stuart Houltham on track for both his Commonwealth Games campaign and completion of his study within the next year.

The 28-year-old sportsman is based at the Palmerston North campus, though he has completed many of his BSc papers extramurally while training and competing in Europe and Canada. A win in February at the national cross country championships in Wellington came after a near-perfect race, with Mr Houltham completing the five-lap race round Mt Victoria in Wellington four minutes faster than his nearest competition.

New Zealand’s poor ranking means that only one mountain biker is able to attend the Olympics in China, a hard fact for Mr Houltham as the likely holder of a second spot.

“So I decided to focus on study this year with the aim of getting it done and the aim of being selected for the Commonwealth Games in 2010 in India.”

Mr Houltham has about a decade to compete at the elite level. Already he has represented New Zealand in the World Championships in 2001-2004, 2006 and last year. He was national Mountain Bike Series winner from 2001 to 2004, and national champion in 2003. He took sixth place in the Oceanic Championships last year, and will compete in this year’s Oceania Championships in Nelson on March 14.

“So this year it’s about keeping carrying on, maintaining what I have built. As the racing scene has developed a lot in the past few years, I have to work harder and smarter in training to be competitive. When you are in a race with 50 guys on the start line together you need to be strong and aggressive, but your effort must be gauged for the two-hour duration.”

Though he is now in an established and tightly scheduled routine to allow him the 10 to 20 hours training he needs each week – all on the road bike around Palmerston North or his $10,000 Specialised mountain bike in the Kahuterawa Valley, Mr Houltham says the journey to study was almost by accident.

“I’d moved here and in 2005 just enrolled for one paper extramurally. I was really green as I hadn’t been at school for seven years so it really took a good year before I could get to a point of handling four papers each semester … but it does seem to have worked really well so far.”

A part-time job at local retailer Pedal Pushers is added to the mix. “As far as the study goes there’s no room for procrastination, it’s not a problem!”

Mr Houltham took the national title in 2003, but had a bad run through to 2005 and believes he is now again building his performance. Each year he spends two to three months competing overseas, with notable wins including the Quebec Cup in 2006 and the Idaho State Championships last year.

Mr Houltham was named a recipient of a Prime Minister’s Scholarship for elite sportspeople in December, receiving funding of up to $10,000 for course fees and associated living costs. Nominated by a mountainbiking colleague, he returns the contribution to the sport by himself coaching three Taupo teenagers.


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