As far as Australian and New Zealand battles go, this year’s UCI Oceania Continental BMX Championships are set to be one of the toughest on record. Almost 600 riders from both sides of the Tasman are ready to race at Bunbury BMX Club, Western Australia tomorrow.

The Oceania championship begin the racing schedule at the 2018 BMX Australia National Championships, which have returned to Western Australia for the first time since 2009.

Partnering BMX Australia to bring the marquee event back to the west is the WA State Government via Tourism WA, and the City of Bunbury.

 Leading Australia’s charge will be defending Oceania women’s champion Leanna Curtis, who will have a significant battle on her hands to hold out 2012 Olympic silver medallist Sarah Walker (NZ) and newly minted New Zealand champion Rebecca Petch.

“My preparation has not been the best this year, the aim is to get out there and have fun this week,” Curtis smiled.

“If I get a result it will be a bonus.

“In saying that, the women’s field will be tough. We have three high quality New Zealand riders in the elite field, including Sarah and Rebecca and Amy [Martin], so it is going to be a challenging race.”

Knowing all too well how hard the Oceania championships can be on limited preparation is Walker, who last year finished seventh to Curtis’ first in Bathurst, NSW.

“I’m coming into this year a lot more confident and I have been riding a lot more and got in more training than I did before last year’s Oceania race,” Walker said.

“When I feel more confident, I ride better. We’re on a fun track here in Bunbury, it seems quite technical, but flows nicely, which is cool.”

In the men’s event reigning Oceania champion Kai Sakakibara will be absent from the event, as he prepares for the first round of the UCI BMX Supercross World Cup that will be held in France in a week and half.

His absence won’t diminish the quality of the elite men’s field, with former Australian champions Corey Frieswyk and Alex Cameron entered in a class of 25, evenly matched riders.

The joker in the pack will be the only entered Kiwi Maynard Peel, who is contesting his first continental championship event as an elite men’s rider. The tall teenager won the junior men’s event in 2017, and in his first foray into elite competition at the New Zealand elite national titles, he took world number 26 Trent Jones and compatriot Cody Hobbs to a photo finish, eventually claiming third.

Peel’s promotion to the elite ranks will open the way for a new junior Oceania male champion. There will also be a new junior women’s champion with Australia’s Saya Sakakibara joining older brother Kai in Europe, as she too moves into the elite class.

Elite racing aside, age group riders from all over the country will also be in action as they attempt to win the Oceania title for their class.

Riders as young as five-years-old will take to the track in sprocket classes, with the youngest age making up a total of 30 riders entered into the event.

A whole host of defending Oceania champions will be back in action, including Fraser Vaughan in the nine boys, Cameron Gatt in the 10-boys, Vada Botfield in the 10 girls and Miller Ruks in the 11 boys.

Other defending winners taking to the gate are Cooper Fox (12 boys), Thomas Tucker (13 boys), Megan Williams of New Zealand (14 girls), Shannon Petre (15 girls), Corey Taylor (16 boys) and Cailen Calkin (recently moved to Junior Elite).

In 2017 Nathan Seal claimed the 17-24 men’s Oceania title, but is stepping into the elite men’s class for his 2018 assault on the event. New Zealand’s Toni James has travelled across the ditch (and some) to defend her title in 17-24 women. Sydney’s Michael Carruthers will aim to defend his 40-44 men’s title.

Racing will commence at 10:30am AWST with the 24-inch wheel cruiser classes, followed by the 20-inch classes race after.  Finals will begin prior to 2:30pm.