Teen mountain bikers to compete in Europe

The world has opened up and Wanaka downhill mountain bikers Kalani Muirhead (18) and Nico Arnold (17) are ready to spin their wheels in Europe as privateers in top level competition.

Muirhead and Arnold are chasing professional sports careers and leave home in May for a four month tour of world cup and Crankworx races.

Yes, there’s Covid and the war in Ukraine, but the pair said they were “incredibly excited” about following their dreams.

“Covid has just become part of our lives but the war – it’s definitely frightening. But hopefully it won’t affect us,” Arnold said.

Muirhead said she was not keen to get sick and spoil her first international experience by not being able to race.

“I don’t think I am necessarily nervous but I am excited because it is something I have wanted and looked forward to doing for a very long time. I remember my Dad would wake me up when I was little at night and we would watch down hill races together,” Muirhead said.

Muirhead is ranked top three or four in the New Zealand elite women downhill category, while Arnold has been consistently ranked top five or six in under-19 men.

“It is huge – the best thing you could do as an athlete, get a good start to your career. My goal is to get onto a factory team and go pro,” he said.

The Wanaka duo are part of a nine member Kiwi youth team competing under the moniker YD Racing (Youth Development Racing).

The mountain bikers are all privateers – Mountainbike NZ has not organised the tour – and some are travelling with parents, while others intend to get a van.

Muirhead said she wanted to try some solo travel as well.

“I will be interested to see how I will handle my [two] bikes and my bag and my luggage. I will have to make it work.”

Arnold intends taking two bikes and will pick up a third from a German sponsor.

“I will be travelling with my Dad in a campervan. I am very thankful for him,” Arnold said.

The Wanaka duo are the only South Islanders in YD Racing.

The UCI downhill world cup series begins in France but the Wanaka teens will join the series in Scotland, before travelling to Austria and Italy for more races.

Arnold also intends to compete in North America, while Muirhead intends to head to Australia next summer.

After finishing her education at Mt Aspiring College last year, Muirhead has worked full time as a lifeguard to raise funds for the trip.

Arnold is a part time year 13 pupil at the college and a part time pizza delivery driver.

The duo have applied for funding from various organisations and have sponsors.

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