High Speed, High Drama, High Stakes

This seasons Moto GP World Championship has been many things – intense, dynamic, thrilling – to name a few.

But nothing could have prepared me for what happened this past Sunday at Phillip Island. I don’t think I have seen anything like it at a race track before.

Firstly, a brief synopsis of the season so far.

Reigning Moto GP champ, Spain’s Marc Marquez, has been the man for the past 2 seasons. Upon his Repsol Honda he was completely dominant. He had won virtually every race in those seasons – his first in the top tier championship.

He was the youngest world champ, the first since 1978 to win the premier championship in his first year, and won 13 of 18 races in the 2014 season.

But not this season. Only four wins, and a series of inconsistent results, saw him sitting in third place in the standings, and all but relinquishing his title.

Movistar Yamaha’s riders, double world champ Jorge Lorenzo and 6-time world champ Valentino Rossi, have been fighting it out all season long to claim the title. Neither have given an inch, and racing has been tight all season long. Sunday was no exception.

Valentino went in to the weekend with an 18 point lead over Lorenzo, but with Marquez and Lorenzo started on the front row, alongside Ducati rider Andrea Iannone, he would have his work cut out starting from the third row on the grid in 7th. Phillip Island is a fast track with speeds on the near 1km long Gardiner Straight reaching a massive 330 km/hour, something the Yamaha riders were struggling with. But what they lacked in straight-line speed, they more than made up for in determination, handling and, to be blunt – balls.

Initially, Lorenzo led the bulk of the race with the other three fighting out the minor places. And with only a handful of laps left to go, it looked like he would cut that lead down to single figures. Rossi looked set to take a hit in the points table, with Marquez and Iannone fighting over the scraps. Watching live on TV, you could be forgiven for thinking there were only four men racing out there, but between Marquez, Lorenzo, Rossi and Iannone, there was more than enough action with more than 50 passes between them, and even a dead seagull.

Lorenzo had it under control. At least, that’s what it looked like. Clearly, no one told Marc Marquez this. Entering the final lap, Marquez found another gear. He started that lap nearly a second behind Lorenzo. But in a brilliant display of high speed riding, set the races fastest lap – a lap nearly a second faster than any other rider – and made a lunge at Lorenzo entering the hairpin turn, three turns from the finish. He managed to hold his fellow Spaniard at bay to cross the line a mere 0.249 seconds in front.

A second covered the top four, with Iannone finishing ahead of a hard charging Rossi.

Words can not describe how intense the battle was. Racing like this is rarely seen in Moto GP, and rarely seen at speeds like we saw. In the end, Rossi walks away with an 11 point lead over Lorenzo, Marquez sits a further 63 a drift, but not for a lack of late season trying.

Two rounds remain – Malaysia and Valencia – before we crown the champ. Picking it will be harder to pick than a broken nose, but if racing is as exciting as it was in Australia, I am more than okay with that.

By Daniel Olander

Is Sage Northcutt UFC’s Next Poster Boy?

UFC 192 has come and gone. We saw a great championship bout with Daniel Corimer retaining over a very game Alexander Gustafsson with a tight split decision.

Ryan Bader overcame Rashad Evans and New Zealand boy Dan Hooker get narrowly beaten in a decision against Yair Rodriguez.

However, the real talk that’s been coming out of UFC’s latest Pay Per View has nothing to do with any of these fights.

They’re all talking about 19 year old Sage Northcutt – the young man labelled by critics and couchexperts around the globe as a ‘pretty boy’ who is more looks than substance.

Northcutt proved them all wrong to take his pro MMA record to 6-0 with clinching his first UFC win on his debut.

In his hometown of Houston, TX, he took apart his much more experienced opponent, Francisco Trevino (12-2) in 57 seconds – one of the fastest debuts in UFC history. This win comes just 323 days after his pro MMA debut and also makes him UFCs youngest fighter on the active roster.

The cynics are now his biggest fans. The haters are now singing his praises on the internet. Lets take a look at Sage Northcutt, the man that some are claiming will become the new ‘poster boy’ for UFC.

Sage started as a young child actor and part time model. But in his spare time, he was already doing what many couldn’t. At only 5 years old, his father would make him do 250 sit ups and push ups every day. Now this may seem drastic for such any child, let alone at 5 years old but his father was confident that his son enjoyed the challenge. By age 6, Sage was doing 1000 sit ups a day, pushing himself to the limit.

In 2014, he made his pro MMA debut and now, less than a year later he stands on the UFC roster. He looks like he’s carved from stone, more suited to be on a walk way than in an octagon. He moves well and has some surprising strength. He seems to have a slightly unconventional style of footwork which makes him unpredictable with spin kicks.

He didn’t get a chance to show off much of his ground work which I will be very interested to see. He has 2 wins via submission in his pre-UFC career so he has some form of ground game. He did take Trevino to the ground but it was more of capitalizing on a slip than a takedown.

His pre-fight hype was indeed massive which he managed to live up to-this time. Has he been over hyped? He managed to catch Trevino off guard when Trevino slipped. Certainly the sign of great reflexes but if that match happened again, who’s to say the result would be the same?

57 seconds is far too small of a time frame to judge a fighters calibre. Maybe he got lucky. Who can say for now?

The feeling among a certain core of fans is that he was given this opportunity over other more experienced fighters because of his looks. A fighter that looks good can bring in money – Dana White knows this. Was Sage Northcutt given an opportunity he perhaps hadn’t earned because of how he looks and not how he fights? Were the raging internet masses correct? Is Northcutt the pretty boy that will be given all the opportunities because Dana White likes him?

It certainly didn’t hurt Brock Lesnar – one of the most legitimate athletes to ever step foot in an Octagon. Lesnar was given a Heavyweight title match after only 2 UFC fights – 1 of which he lost. Many say that this was because White liked Lesnar and saw money in him (which was true as Pay Per View buys spiked when Lesnar was on the card). Are we seeing something similar here?

He had an impressive victory in his debut – will we see him pushed higher on the card because Dana White wants a new face for a new age of UFC fans? I highly doubt it.

White is a smart businessman. He knows that no one will pay to see an over hyped flop. Theres a method to all of this for Dana, to take a risk on a young talent and have him develop over time into a fighter that the fans can get behind. We have just seen the start of a long term investment for the UFC.

Where to now for Sage? He’s already said that he wants to get back into the octagon as soon as he can. He has no major injuries from his last fight and has mentioned that he would like to possibly be added to UFC’s upcoming cards with UFC193 in Australia and a UFC Fight Night in South Korea.

Will we see another name added to the already stacked UFC 193 card in Melbourne? Will we be able to look back at the results of that card in 10 years time and say: ‘Wow, Ronda Rousey, Mark Hunt, Antonio Silva, Uriah Hall and Sage Northcutt all on one night?’ Or will Sage be a flash in the pan like so many before him? Only time will tell and I cant wait to watch his journey from here.

By Cameron Corban

Bathurst – Paint by Numbers

This Thursday sees beginning of the greatest weekend of motorsport in Australasia, if not the world – The Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000.

Tens of thousands of petrol heads will descend on a sleepy little New South Wales town for 4 days of motorsport, music, camping and, well, sinking booze.

The annual Ford v Holden battle – a battle that has it originating roots at Mount Panorama – will again be fought on the track, and in the camp grounds.

Oh, plus there is Volvo. And Mercedes. And Nissan.

Last month I regaled you with the tale of endurance racing, and with the tams to watch. Much of that remains the same, so this month, I thought we would take a look at something a little different.

Each season, V8 Supercar teams use Bathurst as chance to mix up the paint schemes on their cars, normally driven by sponsors, and sometimes as a result of heritage. Let’s take a look at some of the more eye catching, iconic and out there retro liveries seen on the Mountain.

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Triple Eight Racing Team Vodafone / Holden Dealer Team Throwback

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Bathurst 1000, Triple Eight took it back to 1982 with a Marlboro Holden Dealer Team inspired paint scheme. Designed to look like Lowndes’ mentor Peter Brock’s winning car, there were slight modification made to the design. Obviously, the Marlboro logos were removed, as tobacco sponsorship is banned. But the iconic #05 that Brock raced with had been retired in 2006, as a mark of respect following his death.

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Ford Performance Racing / Moffat Ford Dealers Team Throwback

Harking back to the historic 1977 1-2 finish for Allan Moffat and Colin Bond, FPR went with the classic white with red and blue stripes. Sadly, their results did not match those of the ’77 team with Winterbottom finishing 11th and Will Davison 24th, some 18 laps down.

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Dick Johnson Racing / Tru-Blu Throwback

Few men have had the varied history at the mountain that Dick Johnson has had. 3 race wins, which could have been 4 if it weren’t for the Nissan Skyline of Richards and Skaife (and the rain) but also some terrible luck. This was evident in the 1980 editions where, as a privateer, Johnson came ever so close to winning, were it not for a clipping a rock in the Cutting. The Tru-Blu sponsorship was revived in 2012 on the Moffat/Davison #18 Falcon. So much so, that they even renumbered the car #17, like the 1980 car.

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Dick Johnson Racing / Shell Helix Throwback

2014 saw Johnson do it again with this retro paint scheme, designed to look like the ’94 Johnson/Bowe race winner, just with refreshed sponsorship. Dick Johnson Racing / Greens-Tuf Throwback This is a personal favourite, not because of the retro nature of the paint job, but for the story behind it. In 1983 Johnson, again a privateer, entered the race with his Greens-Tuf sponsored Ford Falcon. During qualifying, he had a horrific accident at Forest Elbow that he was incredibly lucky to walk away from. Rolling the car through the trees, the car was a near write-off. Were it not for an all nighter by his team, and the TAFE training students, Johnson would not have made the grid the next day.

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Holden Racing Team 1990 Throwback

Celebrating the 20th anniversary of HRT’s first team win for Win Percy and Allan Grice. Honourable mentions go to Nissan Motorsport and Bottle-O Racing for their cars over the years. And to Red Bull Racing Australia for their camp-themed cars from 2014. I deliberately left these out of the countdown as the last lap from last years race, with Jamie Whincup running out of fuel and costing himself another Bathurst victory still haunts my dreams. This year sees Holden Racing Team, Nissan Motorsport, and Erebus Racing all sporting either new or throwback liveries. Time will tell whether they will be classics or not.

By Daniel Olander

Biggest Rematch in Heavyweight History

Imagine every cliché when you hear the term ‘heavyweight fight.’

You picture two massive individuals, each built like a Soviet tank punching each other in the face until eventually one of them falls.

No fancy ground work, no contorted submission holds, just two behemoths smacking the crap out of each other to prove which one of them is the best to the thunderous ovation of a sell-out crowd.

It sounds like something out of a movie, does it not? Something that could only be contrived by the mind of a screen writer for dramatic effect; a clash of two gods among men throwing punches that would shatter bones of a common mortal man.

In 2013, on December 7th the world witnessed the real deal when ‘The Super Samoan’ Mark Hunt took on ‘Bigfoot’ Antonio Silva at UFC Fight Night 33.

They stepped inside the Octagon and proceeded to have what many consider to be the greatest heavyweight clash in history.

Both of these men, capable of finishing a fight with a single punch, were giving everything they could, putting every inch of their being in each punch landed on each other.

Yet it wasn’t enough to put the other away.

Silva took Round 1 with a beautifully timed hard right hand that would of finished anyone else.

Mark Hunts legendary iron jaw came into full effect and he shook it off and came right back at Antonio, foiling Silvas attempts to take it to the ground.

Silva also claimed the 2nd round on points while he systematically picked apart Hunts lead leg with some brutal kicks, trying to take Hunts kickboxing experience out of the game.

Mark Hunt took all Silva gave and came back looking for more.

Round 3 was the turning point when Hunt managed to knock Silva to the floor. The Super Samoan then proceeded to stalk Antonio and won the round with a ferocious barrage of short elbows and punches that would crack steel beams.

Silva endured and we went to Round 4.

The 4th round was where business REALLY picked up. It was bell-to-bell excitement with shots being thrown like two rhinos charging at each other.

Hunt seemed to be gaining the momentum until he slipped up on the canvas during one brutal exchange and was mounted by Silva, eating shot after shot.

For a brief second it seemed like Antonio was going to win via TKO but the ‘Super’ mentality of Mark Hunt kicked in and he did enough to survive to the final round.

Round 5 belonged to Mark Hunt as he dominated Silva, feeding off the crowd as Brisbane collectively rose to its feet in thunderous applause as these two legends battled it out, trading punch for punch in a display of freakish stamina unseen in the Heavyweight division.

As blood streamed from both gladiators, the final bell rang and for probably the first time ever, the crowd prayed that the judges would score this as a draw.

Both men were spent, having willed themselves to be the last man standing. Neither deserved to lose, both were winners that night and that’s how the judges saw it too.

It was a majority draw (leaning to Mark Hunts favour) and thus was the end to the greatest match in UFC’s Heavyweight division.

At UFC 193, it happens all over again.

Once again, Australia becomes the battleground for these two warriors.

After failing a post-fight testosterone test, Antonio Silva had his draw switched to a loss and will be looking to avenge that in a big way.

He’s already stated to media that he aims to finish this fight early with a KO-a big statement. With this fight set to go 3 rounds instead of 5, both men can look to adopt a faster pace.

Mark Hunt recently appeared on Submission Radio and doesn’t think it will go the distance this time.

“First round by knockout. First round”, the Super Samoan stated when asked about this rematch.

With confidence from both parties brimming, you can be sure that both men will be bringing their A-game for this colossal fight.

November 15th, 2015. At UFC 193, the greatest heavyweight fight in history happens again.

By Cameron Corban

V8 Championship – Wide Open

As the wise Andy Williams once said; “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” No, not Christmas time ya dummies – It’s Pirtek Enduro Cup time!

This Saturday sees the first of the endurance races in the V8 Supercars championship – the Wilson Security Sandown 500.

It is a race run over 161 laps at the historic Sandown Raceway, just outside of Melbourne. It is the first race of the season to feature co-drivers from around the world, followed by the legendary Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000 and the Castrol Gold Cost 600. And it often marks the turning point in the season for the top drivers.

So lets look back on the season so far, and take a look a the teams to watch over the next three rounds.

This V8 Supercar season has been, like many seasons before it, dominated by one team and it’s two drivers.

Unlike seasons before, it isn’t Craig Lowndes and Jamie Whincup of Red Bull Racing Australia. This has been the season of Prodrive Racing Australia’s Mark Winterbottom and Chaz Mostert.

In their new brand new Ford Falcon FG X’s, the two have dominated the ArmourAll Pole Position Award, with Mostert taking 10 of the available 23 pole positions this season, which has led on to 5 race victories and 2nd place on the championship table.

But leading the charge with 8 wins this season is Mark Winterbottom – the perennial bridesmaid of the V8 Supercars championship.

This season has seen Winterbottom dominate the Perth, Winton, Townsville and Ipswich races, but the last round at Eastern Creek was a disaster. A 2nd, an 8th and a 16th saw his lead in the series shrink with Mostert now only 174 points behind. These next 3 rounds could see a shake-up in the table.

Mostert is the reigning SCA Bathurst 1000 champion, and along with his co-driver Cameron Waters, will be looking to hold on to their titles.

But let us not forget the current series champion Jamie Whincup. He might be sitting 6th this season, but he hasn’t won 6 titles – 4 in succession – without just a little bit of talent. This season, as was the case last year, sees him paired with Paul Dumbrell forthe enduros. A partnership that saw them win the Sandown 500 and Gold Coast 600, and if it weren’t for running out of fuel, the trifecta of enduros would have been theirs.

But the points gained we enough to push Jamie to the top of the table. He stayed there. Expect him to challenge once again. He and Dumbrell are a formidable force, and co-drivers will play an integral part in these races.

In fact, co-drivers could be the winning or losing of races. For years we have seen “main game” drivers chances squashed by a co-driver mistake. Garth Tander never made the grid at Bathurst last year due to a massive crash in practice while hi co- driver Warren Luff was at the wheel.

In 2013, James Courtney was taken out of the race after his co-driver Greg Murphy crashed at the top of Reid Park. Even though he has years of experience, the fact he was out of consistent main game driving led to a lapse in concentration. The driver/co-driver pairings are vital.

Other than the Whincup/Dumbrell pairing, there will be a number of combinations that I reckon will push for the podium.

  • Car #888 with Lowndes and Steve Richards will be strong. Tonnes of experience between them, and some of the best strategic heads in their garage mean they will be strong throughout.
  • Cars #5 and #6 from Prodrive Racing Australia will be strong. Winterbottom and Mostert will look to keep the momentum rolling from their seasons. And with co-drivers Cam Waters and Steve Owen respectively, they will be hard to beat.
  • Car #2 from Holden Racing Team, driven by Tander and Luff, are always consistent, but luck will need to be on their side this year. The sister car #22 drive this weekend by Jack Perkins and Russell Ingall could be a dark horse. Normally driven by James Courtney, he has been sidelined by a freak accident at Eastern Creek involving a RAAF Helicopter and some poorly tied down signage. Expect him back for Bathurst and Gold Coast.
  • The Team Tekno Autosports team of Shane Van Gisbergen and Jonathon Webb in car #97 was odds on to win Bathurst last year, but a stall in the pits from SVG meant the dream was dashed. This year, he’ll be back for redemption.
  • And don’t count out car #33 – Scott McLaughlin’s Volvo S60. His form this season has been up and down (mostly down) but the car is fast, and paired with Alex Premat, these boys would be worth a bob each way.

Then there is Nick Percat and Oliver Gavin in the Repair Management Australia/LDM Holden Commodore.

Percat placed third last year, and won the race in 2011 on debut. Fabian Coulthard and Jason Bright from Brad Jones Racing are a chance, as are David Reynolds and Dean Canto from Bottle-O Racing. There are 6-10 teams that could win these races. Something other motorsports could do well to replicate. *cough Formula 1 cough*

These three rounds could shape how the championship plays out. They could be the making or breaking of a new series champ. They could see the resurgence of an old head. At the least, these three rounds will see me pressing a butt-shaped imprint into the couch, and consuming too much Onion Soup and Reduced Cream dip. But really, how much is “too much” anyway?

By Daniel Olander

The Fight for Down Under – UFC 193

Anyone who knows me knows how passionate I am for MMA.

I have watched the sport grow from its image as ‘brutal cage fighting’ into arguably one of the most popular sports in the world today.

I have seen champions rise and fall and I have seen legends cemented in history.

For years in New Zealand, MMA was very similar to Professional Wrestling in the early 90’s. People enjoyed watching it but weren’t open fans of the sport out of fear that they would be thrown in with the stereotypes that surrounded it.

For a long time it was – and to a minority of people today, still is – a blood sport, something that modern society shrunk away from, feeling that the brutality of it went against the progressive nature of the world around them.

Then in the mid 2000’s, the popularity of the sport took off in America (thanks to UFC 52 and its record Pay Per View buys) and like many things, it began to influence how people in New Zealand felt towards the sport.

In what seemed like a nearly overnight process, stores across New Zealand were suddenly churning out TapOut gear (even though if you asked half the people who actually wear that gear who Royce Gracie is, they probably wouldn’t have a clue-but that’s another column altogether).

Suddenly MMA was in demand and the UFC was the head of the juggernaut. It wasn’t long before fans in the Southern Hemisphere (myself included) were clamouring for UFC to bring their brand of combat Down Under to New Zealand and Australia and for a long time it felt like it was never going to happen.

As much as the hardcore fans wanted it, UFC didn’t seem to think that the trip down would be beneficial to them enough on a financial level. Then UFC 110 came along.

It was announced mid 2009: The UFC were finally going to come down south to Australia. Not only that but they were having a Pay Per View, live in Melbourne.

Even for the Kiwis that had to fork out the extra cash for travel, it was worth it for the experience.

UFC 110 was headlined by a heavyweight clash between Antonio Nogueira and Cain Velasquez and at that point was the 2nd fastest ever sell-out the UFC had ever had.

Interest in the combat sports had reached new heights on both sides of the Tasman and the UFC found a new untapped market for their product to reach.

Fast forward to 2015 and the intake for MMA classes are at an all time high. High schools are sending students to Greco Roman classes to improve their tackling skills for rugby. Mixed Martial Arts is recognised as the fastest growing sport in the world right now, breaking Pay Per View records left, right and centre.

The most well known female athlete in the world right now is a UFC Champion.

And now, after all the years of pushing for something that fight fans across the Tasman could really sink their teeth into, after all the online campaigns and hashtags imaginable, the UFC has given us UFC 193.

Arguably the most stacked card in terms of drawing power in a while, the UFC have put together a card that shows that they truly have faith in the appeal of MMA in Australia and New Zealand.

The card is headlined by the biggest superstar in sports today with the Undefeated Champion Ronda Rousey in probably the largest mismatch I have seen in recent memory with the number 8 ranked Holly Holm.

Rousey is on a hot streak of matches going under a minute against top contenders while Holm barely managed to win her last match via decision.

Holm’s evasive boxing skills may allow this one to go past the one minute mark but I honestly can’t see it lasting more than a round, especially if Ronda takes it to the ground.

A complete mismatch on paper but one that the live audience will be loud for.

The undercard should not be called so. It features two other matches that could be deemed ‘Main Event’ status fights when headlining in Australia.

Not only have UFC given us a ‘Rowdy’ Ronda Rousey match but they have also given us a rematch of arguably the greatest heavyweight clash in UFC history with Mark Hunt facing off once again with Antonio Silva.

‘The Super Samoan’ will be the home country favourite. The Kiwi-raised fighter, residing in Australia went the distance against Silva in their last epic fight with its being ruled a majority draw with one judge ruling it 48-47 in Hunts favour while the other two judges ruled it 47-47.

Antonio will be out to redeem himself after failing the post-fight test for elevated testosterone levels after the last match. This alone has all the drawing power of a headline Main Event and those fans that don’t want to see a one sided beat down with Rousey v Holm should be held over with this colossus heavyweight brawl.

The other match on the under card that could of potentially headlined UFC 193 is the UFC veteran Michael Bisping taking on another home country sweetheart, Robert Whittaker.

Whittaker is an Australian born fighter of Maori descent and is the underdog in this case of the young buck taking on the old stallion. A win over someone at the level of Bisping could shoot Robert into the Top 10 of the Middleweight division along with a possible future title shot.

Bisping at this stage of his career is 36, 12 years older than the young Australian. While not a spring chicken in the Octagon, Bisping still has all the fire power to take out any young fighter who is brave enough to try make a name for themselves at his expense.

This should be an exciting fight with interesting implications for the winner. A win may see the Australian go from #14 to the Top 10 but on the other side of the coin, if Michael is to defeat the home town hero, we may see the old guard get one more title shot.

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to UFC 193, happening November 14th at the Etihad Stadium in Melbourne. This card is not only a statement to how much the sport of MMA has grown in Australia and New Zealand but a thank you from the UFC to the loyal crowd of fight fans down here that fought for years against prejudice and stereotypes that have surrounded this great sport.

This is hopefully just a beginning for what is yet to come when it comes to UFC coming to the Tasman and perhaps in a few years, New Zealand may even get its own UFC Pay Per View.

One thing is for sure, looking at this amazing card for UFC 193, the fight for Down Under was well and truly worth it.

By Cameron Corban

Kiwis a Flicker of Hope in Tainted Cycling World

Cycling has had a bad rap for the longest time, and with bloody good reason.

Cheating has been rife for decades, whether it be steroids, blood doping and transfusions or cocaine use, cyclist have done what ever it takes to win; and win at all costs.

Between 1996 and 2010, only two of the eight “winners” of Tour de France have not been banned for drug use, or been striped of titles after admitting to cheating.

And in the case of the biggest name in cycling, Lance Armstrong, 7 titles lost and a life ban from cycling have all added up to tarnish the sport.

But the sport is more than that? It is more than the cheats, it is more than Tour de France, and it is more than road cycling? You only have to look to Andorra at the moment to see the good side of the sport, and it features a few Kiwis to boot.

The UCI Mountain Bike World Cup is currently being held (not that you would know) which features both Cross Country and Downhill disciplines. Both offer thrilling action, and now one of the offers a Kiwi World Champion.

Anton Cooper – already Commonwealth Champion – can now add the World U23 Cross Country rainbow jersey to his collection of accolades. A list that is only likely to grow in the future.

And in the Elite Men’s Cross Country Eliminator, Sam Gaze took out silver. Add to the mix the likes of Brook MacDonald, Sam Blenkinsop and George Brannigan, all world-class Downhill riders, and NZ’s chances of more success are looking strong.

Then there is our track cycling teams who have dominated the velodrome in recent times. NZ’s Mens sprint team of Sam Webster, Ethan Mitchell and Eddie Dawkins all-but won gold at this years World Track Cycling championships – if it weren’t for a few centimetres, they would have prevailed over France.

Dawkins also recently smashed the 200m sprint world record, previously held by cycling royalty, Sir Chris Hoy.

It’s not just those with big wheels that look good at the moment either. Sarah Walker is back from a very long injury break, having recovered from a broken arm and head injuries, and claimed a bronze at the recent UCI BMX World Champs.

Racing in her less favoured time trial, the third place is just the start of a long road back to the top.

And despite the all the doom and gloom surrounding road cycling, Kiwis litter the big professional cycling teams.

Greg Henderson, Sam Bewley, Jack Bauer, Jesse Sergent and Hayden Roulston all feature in some of the top teams.

Greg Henderson being an intergral part of the Lotto-Soudal, winner of lead out – the riders that set the stage for the sprinters – for Andre Greipel, winner of 4 stages in this years Tour de France.

He is widely regarded as one of the best lead out riders, and leads a strong mens, and womens, team to this years UCI Road Cycling championships.

All of these disciplines, with the exception of Downhill, will feature at next years Rio 2016 Olympic games. And all of the events offer many chances for us to take away silverware. Chances that I am sure we will snap up.

So there you have it. Despite all the hard work of a cancer surviving, drug taking, one testicled man and some of the biggest cheats the world has seen, cycling has never been in a better place. At least for us Kiwis. But there again, I might be just a little biased.

By Daniel Olander

Always the Bridesmaid, Never the Bride

You don’t have to be a fortune teller to predict that Scott Dixon will once again miss out on the Supreme Award at the Halbergs for 2015.

Sure, he has now equalled Dario Franchitti’s record of four IndyCar championship wins, won more individual races than any other driver since 1996, and is now arguably the best driver in IndyCar’s new format.

Unfortunately, Dixon was silly enough to achieve all of this in a Rugby World Cup year – so barring some catastrophe, the award already has ‘Sir Richie McCaw’ etched onto it.

Not that Richie doesn’t deserve the honour, as well as a knighthood and hopefully free physiotherapy for life – it’s a small consolation for the man who has carried the weight of an entire nation on his back for the better part of a decade.

But in the case of New Zealand’s top sporting top award celebrating the success of our athletes on the world stage, Dixon is always the bridesmaid, never the bride.

There are two main reasons for this, the first is that IndyCar suffers from having an undeserved reputation of being as easy as turning the steering wheel left to go around in circles a few hundred times. In reality, the sport requires insane levels of hand eye co-ordination, mental and physical strength, and the race itself has multiple changes in whose leading, and complex strategies around tire and fuel management.

IndyCar also includes street circuits, which are usually dominated by Dixon.

In contrast, Formula 1’s Monaco Grand Prix – considered the crown jewel of motorsport circuits – is largely a procession where in all but rare instances; the winner is decided by who qualifies first rather than what happens in the actual race.

IndyCar has to battle against some pretty bad PR which has resulted in Dixon’s recent victory occupying the front page of NZHerald.co.nz for about 15 minutes before inevitably being replaced by an article about a Bachelor or Dancing with the Stars contestant.

The second is the nature of the Halberg awards, its judging panel and the criteria used to judge the athletes. If you weren’t already aware of the criteria, here it is:

1. Regarding the achievement:

  • a. was it in that sport’s ‘pinnacle event’ (eg Olympics, Paralympics, Football World Cup)
  • b. was it a world record, or world ranking or recognition (eg ‘World Player of the Year’).
  • c. the quality of the field / competition.

2. The global nature of the sport.

And the judging panel is made up of 28 independent voters which are currently made up of 10 journalists, 4 olympians, 2 cricket, 2 rugby, 2 cycling, and one from netball, league, Paralympian, softball, motorsport, golf and field hockey.

Dixon met all of the criteria in 2003, 2008, 2013 and now in 2015. His best year was probably 2008 when he won the Indy 500 however he had to settle for Sportsman of the Year because it was an Olympic year and he was up against Valarie Adams.

His best shot at the top spot would have been in 2013 but the judging committee pre-emptively jumped on the Lydia Ko bandwagon and she received the Supreme Award.

Dixon was robbed that year. This isn’t suggesting that Ko isn’t a deserving athlete and she has certainly done New Zealand proud on the world stage, but back in 2013 she had only just turned pro at the end of the year and at that stage had only won 2 professional events.

Very little of her events were even broadcast on New Zealand television, so unless the judging panel went out of their way to stream the events then (aside from highlights packages) they would have never actually seen her play. It is more like she received the award on potential and the hype surrounding her age.

So despite being a four time world champion in a sport that is watched by millions of people around the world, Dixon will miss out again.

It is the same fate suffered by Sophie Pascoe and all of the other athletes that are dominating in sports that are less popular in New Zealand than they are in the rest of the world.

Dixon will just have to hope that 5th times the charm.

By Elisa Harris

The Not-So-Winning Formula

I am an unabashed sports fan. If there are teams competing, and a winner and a loser, then I’ll watch it. But there are two sports I simply cannot get enough of – Cricket, and Motorsports.

I can remember as a child falling asleep on the couch as Chris Pringle bowled a nigh on perfect over at Hobart to see “The Young Guns” over the line against Australia, as much as I can still hear Jim Richards calling the Bathurst fans “a pack of arseholes.”

But recently, my beloved motorsports have been unbearable. More specifically, the pinnacle of motorsport – Formula 1.

In days gone by Formula 1 offered the best drivers, the most advanced technology, and some of the hottest competition to be had. Names like Senna, Prost, Mansell and Schumacher fought hard. In the case of Senna and Prost, they fought to the bitter end.

They drove the most powerful cars. They raced the most dangerous tracks. They were on the ragged edge. But not any more. The tracks are tame, with massive run offs. The cars are tame – they are HYBRIDS! The ragged edge is more of a politically correct, SFW, playground filled with bouncy foam soft curve.

There used to be a time where as many as 8-10 drivers could win races or championships. Each race weekend would be different from the last. Teams like McLaren, Williams, Ferrari, Benetton or Jordan battled it out. Racing was tight.

You compare that to this season. Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg have dominated the 2015 season, and Mercedes has wrapped up the constructors title and we still have 8 races left in the season. Three drivers have won races this year, with only Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel the only one able to break the Silver Arrows stranglehold. In fact, in the last 5 seasons, only 9 different drivers have managed to win races.

To be brutally honest, it’s boring. The tracks. The races. The drivers. They are all boring. Which is why, in my opinion, there are far better options when it comes to getting your motorsports fix. If you want 4-wheel action, this years WRC has been thrilling watching. Sure, Sebastian Ogier has been dominant, but with the likes of Jari-Matti Latvala, Kris Meeke, Mads Ostberg and New Zealand’s own Hayden Paddon pushing hard all the way, racing is better than ever.

Then there is World Endurance Championship, INDYCAR and V8 Supercars. All of which offer nail biting, close quarters, wheel-to-wheel racing, and a smattering of our own talented drivers winning races or championships, all offering more exciting viewing than “the pinnacle” of world motorsport.

I mean, even NASCAR – redneck Americans racing full speed around banked ovals has proven to be more exciting. AND THAT’S SAYING SOMETHING!

Long story short – Formula 1 needs a shake up. They need to see that they aren’t the global force in motorsport they once were. They need to bring the thrill back to the track. They need to get rid of Bernie Ecclestone. And more than anything, they need to win back the disillusioned fans like me.

By Daniel Olander