Included in the 29-strong New Zealand team to contest the UCI World Mountain Biking Championships in Cairns from 5-10 September is a group of secondary school riders in the junior races.
Western Heights High School rider Taylor Johnston has been selected in the New Zealand U19 Men’s cross country team and knows what to expect with the riders he will be up against, having recently returned from several weeks in Europe competing against many of the world’s top junior riders.
“The National Performance Hub team travelled over there and the juniors did four races, which were a great experience to be part of against all the top riders,” Taylor told College Sport Media.
The team started in London, moved on to Austria, then to Germany, and their last race was in Switzerland. “Two of them were junior world series races. “My best placing was 10th and the others I was in the top 30.”
The junior boys cross country team that travelled to Europe was Taylor, Eden Cruise from St Patrick’s College, Wellington, and Jack Wilson from Tauranga Boys’ College. They were joined by junior girls Jess Manchester from Howick College and Liv Bishop from Marlborough Girls' College.
The UCI World Championships in Cairns in September is what Taylor has been building towards. “It’s been one of my big goals, for sure. This season my focus has been on trying to get in the team for the World Championships and so I’m pretty pleased to be going.”
The Year 13 rider will spend the next two months training near home in Rotorua. “I will also look to compete in some races coming up to keep race-fit and help prepare for the World Champs.”
Prior to his recent trip to Europe, Taylor had a successful summer of cross country racing in New Zealand.
He finished second in the U19 New Zealand mountain bike cross country championship at the national championships near Wanaka, behind winner recent teammate in Europe Eden Cruise. “That was a good race, I was riding a lot with Cam Jones [Waimea College, two-day Coast to Coast winner] in that race and I was pretty lucky to get into second in the end.”
Before that Taylor finished sixth in the U19 division in a World Junior Series race, and 10th in an Australian national series race in New South Wales.
He also won the junior title in the two-round Nduro Summer Cup held in Palmerston North and at home in Rotorua.
Since last December, Taylor has been a member of Cycling New Zealand's Mountain Bike National Performance Hub, which is also based in Rotorua. The Hub has regular training camps and provides training programmes and support for the riders involved. Taylor is out there riding most days and also in the gym a few times a week.
As well as growing up and living in Rotorua with the Whakawerawera forest as his stomping ground, Taylor has no shortage of family support.
“My dad got most of my family into it; this is my fourth year riding competitively.” Neither is Taylor the first in his family to ride for New Zealand. “I have got an older brother and older sister who have also been over to race world champs and world cups. My sister in her first campaign about five years ago got a third and a first in a world cup in America.”
He also thanks others for ongoing support including the 4ever Racing team.
Cycling is Taylor’s sole sporting focus. Next year he is looking at university/study but he’s keen to carry on mountain biking and see where it takes him.
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