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Student Stories

There’s no stopping NZ’s MTB Downhill Champ

Hurtling down trails covered in rocks, roots and jumps at breakneck speeds would be a recipe for disaster for most of us, but for ACG Parnell College Year 10 student Sacha Earnest, it’s a formula for pure success.

After an incredible summer season, the talented fourteen-year-old not only won the Mountain Bike New Zealand (MTBNZ) Downhill National Series, but also collected gold in the MTB Under 15 Girls NZ National Championships and took top honours in the Oceania Under 15 Girls MTB Downhill Championships.

Riding (and racing) since she was four years old, Sacha initially began her cycling relationship in BMX before moving to the challenges of MTB in 2017. And it seems there’s no stopping her adrenaline fuelled journey.

With her two-wheeled travels covering the globe since 2013, including six consecutive BMX World Champs and numerous MTB competitions across Europe and North America, Sacha is currently concentrating on her preferred Downhill MTB discipline. However, she credits her time in BMX for providing a huge amount of her bike skill, alongside her ability to focus and deal with pressure.

“I am stepping more onto the MTB side of cycling, but BMX will always be a fun change at local club-nights or the odd race meet. My focus on MTB is getting more serious, and I am finding that an amazing challenge, as it could be something that I can pursue in the future.”

A standard Downhill race means a fearless descent of split-second timing, which lasts between three to five minutes depending on the length and technicality of the track. When preparing for competitions, Sacha first priority is to understand the course and then plan how to tackle it in a way that best suits her riding style.

“I never really keep track of my speed, for me it’s just all about finding the best way of getting down the hill as fast as I can.”
This focus on adaptability is clearly reflected in Sacha’s training regime which centres around seeking as many different riding opportunities as possible to help her recognise how her bike reacts.

“I ride as much as I can and just learn to feel how the bike moves and rides, as Downhill is about holding speed. With Downhill I generally haven’t seen the track before the race, so I don’t know what to expect. This is where general riding on all sorts of different things helps. The gym isn’t my forte, but I’m starting to work with weights a bit more as this helps with strength to hold on to the bike in rougher tracks.”

Biking is a family affair within the Earnest household, and Sacha is lucky enough to benefit from the guidance and support of older brother Jake, a Year 11 student at ACG Parnell. A skilled BMX and MTB rider himself, Jake’s invaluable input provides constant encouragement for his younger sibling, helping to progress her skills and boost her confidence.

Additionally, there is a strong camaraderie between competitors within the world of MTB, and this social side of racing is extremely important to Sacha. So, the opportunity to ride with friends combined with her love of travelling provides an ideal fit for the young rider.

“The highlight of my season was my trip down to the South Island for the first half of the 2020 MTB National Series. I got to ride at a different location for a week with my friends, race in the weekend and move to the next town to ride the next one.”

As with any sport, there are always trials to conquer and for Sacha it’s all about building self-belief and gaining experience.

“My biggest challenge for Downhill is finding confidence when riding something new. I have to get used to it, get into the flow and up to speed quickly. And dealing with crashing is always a challenge. I rarely crash, but when I do I hit the ground hard so it’s a matter of building experience and setting a risk versus reward strategy – finding the balance of going 98% or 100% or 110% and still not overcook it.”

Buoyed by the ongoing support of her family and her love of the sport, Sacha sees MTB featuring prominently in her future plans.

“My aspirations would be to make it to Junior Elite (17-18 years) and Elite (19 years onwards) to represent New Zealand at the MTB Downhill World Champs and then hopefully get signed with a pro-team for UCI World Cup events. My goal is to have fun and travel the world, going from place to place to ride with new people and at new events.