Rotorua mountain biker Tuhoto-Ariki Pene (Te Arawa) has been rewarded for an outstanding year, claiming the Te Tama-ā-Ranginui (Junior Sportsman) award at the 2019 Māori Sports Awards last night in Manukau. He joins the likes of previous winners Reiko Ioane, Nehe Milner-Skudder and Storm Uru.
"How to describe it, I'm full of pride and happiness. Everyone at home is very proud of my achievements this year and it’s been a big year. I’m focused on moving up to the pro level next year, so I'll put in more training and keep going but I am very humbled to get this taonga," Pene told Te Ao at the Vodafone Events Centre.
The 18-year-old won a bronze medal at the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships in Canada in September, capping off what Cycling New Zealand boss Sam Thompson described as a “brilliant season”.
"It's pretty cool to see him handle what is a brutal and physical course here at Mont Sainte Anne," Thompson told Stuff at the time.
Pene has attributed a great deal of success to the support he has received from his whānau, telling the NZ Herald that:
"As a junior rider, let's be real, it's much harder to be able to travel, race and afford the expenses. But because of the people that support me, it has been much easier.
"Therefore, I'm more focused on my goals. I'm not going to lie, I've slacked off every now and again but just having that ear full from my partner, my whānau and friends - I stayed on track.
"Definitely having a good support crew wherever you race will benefit you. In this sport, everywhere I've gone I've made friends that become whānau. That is what helps me feel more comfortable being away from my home Aotearoa."
The highlight of Pene’s year was a first-place finish in the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup in Italy. The course was described as one of the toughest on the circuit.
Pene was back in action just last month in his home town of Rotorua, winning his first elite title.
If all goes according to plan, he will be able to compete in front of a local crowd again in January, as Cycling NZ have announced that the Oceania Champs are to be held in Dunedin.