Who to look out for at Mountain Bike Nationals | 7 local riders who will be tearing it up at Awaba

When you think of National Championships, the riders that come to mind are your Bec Hendersons, your Luke Meier-Smiths, your Sam Foxes and your Sian A’Herns. The elite riders who are riding for green and gold stripes to wear all year long as they chase the World Cups in Europe.

But Nationals isn’t just for elites, and there are race categories for us mere mortals ranging from U17 all the way up to Masters. Don’t get us wrong, this is still racing, and the folks signed up for the amateur categories are still out there to give it their all, but you don’t have to be competing for a pro contract to front up for a race with a Nationals Jersey on the line.

Here are a handful of folks who have signed on to compete in the 2024 GWM MTB Mountain Bike National Champs, courtesy of the Hunter Mountain Bike Association.


Paul Verkuylen

2024 will be the first time in many years Paul Verkuylen has tried his hand at nationals.


It’s been a few years since Paul lined up at Nationals, with his last birth at Majura Pines, back when 26in was THE wheel size, disc brakes were just for downhillers. Being a local, it was the fact that the big show was headed for Awaba that gave him the motivation to sign up and get fighting fit.

As a member of the Hunter Mountain Bike Association, he’s excited to see the legacy Nationals will leave, helping to grow the Club and the difference it will make for the local riding and racing scene.

His picks for riders to watch are Olivia Hicks — more on her below — who will be tearing up the U17 DH. On the XC side, Paul says he’s excited to see Archie Gibson and Amaya Shaw chase some green and gold stripes and thinks Chris Aitken is in for a shot in the elites.

Harper Nelmes

Young shredder Harper is happy to have some local knowledge under his belt before it comes time for a race run on Monkey.


Another local shredder, Harper, tells the Hunter Mountain Bike Association that he’s most excited to race in his hometown and in front of the family and friends who support him.

Having a few laps down Monkey already under his belt doesn’t hurt either. He says it’s quite a buzz for the locals to have this venue they ride every weekend that can challenge some of the world’s best — and a strong cohort in the area who want to test themselves against these high-calibre riders.

Harper expects the racing will be fast, and he says local knowledge will likely be a deciding factor. If he were a betting man, his money would be on Jack Moir, Luke Meier-Smith or Josh Arcus in Elite Men’s and Ellie Smith in Elite Women’s downhill.

Hank Duchateau

Hank says the competition will be stiff in the adaptive categories. This year adaptive riders get their own XC and DH tracks.


Hank is flying the flag for the adaptive riders. He says he’s most excited to promote Adaptive MTB on the national stage, and this part of the event as part of the main national run sheet.

He is stoked to see the Hunter Mountain Bike Association put its hand up to running the event, knowing all the work that goes into it. The adaptive riders will be getting their own XC and Downhill courses for 2024, and Hank says with the right build, there could be some proper black diamond singletrack.

He’s also aiming for his fourth nationals jersey but says there are some speedy younger adaptive riders hot on his tail, along with Glen Clark from the Maclay Valley Mountain Bikers in Kempsey.

Olivia Hicks

Liv Hicks will be racing her first Nationals on home trails — how good!


Young shredder Liv Hicks will be lighting up Monkey come March 16 and says she is most looking forward to being at the same event as the top riders in the nation and in her U17 age group. Lining up for her first National Champs event, it’s a bit more special that it’s on her home trails and put on by the local mountain bike club.

Knowing her way around Monkey, she’s expecting a fun, speedy and techy course, and says to have Katarina Carlsson and Beccy Sams on your radar for podiums, as they are particularly swift.

Amaya Shaw

Amaya’s message to folks headed for Awaba is to, “Send it and enjoy the ride.”


Just like Liv, Amaya will be racing her first Nationals at Awaba. She tells the Hunter Mountain Bike Association that it feels like home, and she’s most looking forward to showing riders from around Australia what they have in the Hunter.

With a strong contingent from the area, she expects that local riders will be competitive in the Elite and Junior categories, and her hot tip for folks coming to Awaba is to “Send it and enjoy the ride.”

Caleb Agostino-Morrow

Have you been practising your skatey flat corners? Because Caleb has been.


You may recognise Caleb from our recent adventure in Kempsey, but come March 17, he’ll be donning his stretchiest pants and a much smaller bike to mix it up in the XC.

Having put in a solid training block ahead of the big show, he is excited to test himself against the best riders Australia has to offer, and it will also be a relief after all of the build-up. With the race being local, he says it will be a real treat to not travel far and wide to the start line and for friends and family to be able to come in support.

Not knowing what the Club has cooked up for a course — despite his best efforts — he says that folks should be well practised riding skatey flat corners.

Tim Cox

Tim says to mind the Monkey as the classic downhill has teeth and is not afraid to use them


Tim wanted to let the out-of-town riders know that the Monkey does, in fact, bite if you’re not aggressive, and also mused that a bit of rain for race day would be the spice of life.

He tells the Hunter Mountain Bike Association he’s looking forward to seeing riders old and new having a crack at the infamous DH at Awaba. He’s also looking forward to showing off the top-notch venue they have here in the Hunter and the local talent that has developed because of it. As a knock-on of the spotlight being shone on Awaba, it will help to grow the park and continue to improve the infrastructure to help younger riders grow.

The 2024 GWM MTB Mountain Bike National Championships are set to run at Awaba from March 12-17. Entries are open now and selling fast. Head over to the AusCycling website for more info and to grab your spot. 

Photos: Hunter Mountain Bike Association, Flow MTB

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