A decision to concentrate his efforts on mountain biking has already paid big dividends for Marlborough teenager Cam Anderson.
Until recently the 14-year-old Marlborough Boys’ College Year 10 student enjoyed a varied sporting diet, dabbling in road cycling and triathlon, but at the start of this year he opted to focus his energies on mountain biking, particularly the cross country discipline.
The rewards have been swift. Last year he won his section in the New Zealand schools champs and was an integral part of the MBC combination which claimed the overall national teams title.
In early 2020 he upped the ante, taking out both the Oceania and New Zealand under-15 titles and underlining his status as one of the rising talents on the national scene.
The Oceania and NZ champs were staged at Signal Hill in Dunedin, the younger riders tackling the same demanding course used by the elite riders, an opportunity which delighted the young Marlburian.
“It was really cool, lots of fun watching the elites race and racing with more spectators on a World Cup course. It was a bit more technical than the schools racing which I had previously done.”
All five grades competed on the 4km course, the under-15s covering three laps, each taking around 15-20 minutes.
Against compact, but strong fields, Cam took out the Oceania title on Friday and backed up with the national title two days later. He was a clear winner on both days, finishing two minutes clear of the field.
His closest rival for the NZ title was fellow MBC student and best mate Finn McKenzie who finished second in the NZ champs and third in the Oceania event.
Cam’s strategy was simple, allowing him to lead both races almost all the way. “I just went hard from the start really. I sprinted early then just saw where everyone was at … but no-one was with me so I just went for it and I was comfortable in front.”
Next up is the South Island Schools champs at Methven in March, followed by the national schools champs in Kerikeri during October.
While he has Finn close at hand to train and race with, Cam has other rivals on the circuit.
“There’s a guy called Noah [Hollamby] who was going to race the Oceanias and nationals. We have raced against him in road cycling here and he beat us, so I was looking forward to taking him on … unfortunately he crashed in the practise laps and broke his collarbone. I’ll probably catch up with him at the South Island schools.”
When asked to name mentors or role models one name immediately springs to mind. “Craig Harper … he gave me a training programme for the national schools last year which really helped, plus some mental and physical strategy advice. What he did in the RAAM last year was pretty cool and inspirational.”
He also said [local coach] Mark Grammer had been a major influence. “Mark’s coaching over the past few years has really helped me form good habits and, although we work hard, the focus is always about having fun.”
Cam said his decision to leave triathlon behind and concentrate fully on mountain biking was not a hard one to make.
“Mountain biking is definitely my favourite. I like the thrill of riding fast, plus the training and all the commitment to the sport, and riding with my friends.
“You have got to be smart when you ride cross country – focus on the downhill and don’t push it too hard otherwise you’ll crash and maybe waste 20 seconds or so. I also enjoy the tactical side [of the race] … work out what the race is looking like as you go along.”
While there is a considerable risk of injury in a sport where bikes fly around narrow tracks at great speeds, Cam says he has other concerns on his mind as he sits at the start.
“Mechanical issues are my biggest worry. Breakdowns and crashes on the downhill [sections] can waste a lot of time and be especially annoying since I have been training for a long time … I just don’t want to stuff up really. You’ve got to pick the right lines and be smart about where you race or you will get breakdowns, lose a chain or get a puncture. They leave you feeling pretty bad.”
And the best feeling?
“Winning a race … just going across the finish line with your hand up, taking the victory. I like that feeling.”
Given the teen’s current rate of progress that feeling is likely to be repeated on many occasions as he chases his sporting dream.
“I want to try and be a professional [mountain biker] in the future, just keep chipping away at it. It’s great fun, but I guess it will take a lot of training, the right nutrition and exercise and just hard, hard work.”