Race director Jorge Sandoval at last week’s New Zealand Cycle Classic. PHOTO/DAVE LINTOTT

JAKE BELESKI

jake.beleski@age.co.nz

The wheels have only just stopped turning from last week’s New Zealand Cycle Classic in Wairarapa, and they will not be spinning here again in 2019.

After 31 years of staging New Zealand’s premier cycling event in Wellington, Palmerston North and Wairarapa, race director Jorge Sandoval has made the decision to take the event to Waikato next year.

The aim is to achieve his goal of making the Classic a UCI 2.1 event — a step up from its current 2.2 status.

In a 2.1 event half the field could be made up of World Tour teams, which would significantly lift the profile of the event.

The Classic returned to Wairarapa in 2016 after a four-year absence, and has been held entirely in the region for the past three years.

For Sandoval, the strain of making the difficult decision to move the event north had left him with mixed emotions.

“I was invited to a meeting in Hamilton about three months ago, where I was made the offer,” he said.

“When I came home that night, driving from the airport to Masterton on my own, I was gutted.”

He said in the end the increased funding and ability to progress his event proved too much to ignore, even though Wairarapa will always hold a special place in his heart when it comes to cycling events.

“I still believe Wairarapa has some of the best roads for an international bike race.

“The race needs to grow financially, and it’s not going to happen here . . . I was given an offer I could not refuse, and that’s what it comes down to.”

Sandoval said financial support from the Brian Perry Charitable Trust would enable the event to grow.

Despite the move, Mr Sandoval is not abandoning Wairarapa altogether.

He is hopeful of staging an elite women’s race here, similar to the 2015 Women’s Cycle Tour of New Zealand.

“I am going to work really hard to find a replacement tour to be staged in Wairarapa,” he said.

“Over the last three years we’ve seen a growing cycling culture emerge here and I hope to continue that in the future.”

Masterton Mayor Lyn Patterson said she was disappointed Wairarapa was losing a premier sporting event, but pleased that Mr Sandoval had some certainty around funding.

“It’s sad for the region, but we need to pull together as a region and make sure we can have the women’s elite race here.”

Catherine Rossiter-Stead, general manager of the Wairarapa Chamber of Commerce, said the Classic’s move to Waikato highlighted the need for better investment in cycling and cycling events in our region.

“It’s imperative we continue to work hard at attracting further public and private funding going forward.

“It’s been great to see the local community getting behind the Classic in the last few years, and I believe events like this help to inspire people to get on two wheels.”

Mrs Rossiter-Stead also organises the Huri Huri Bike Festival in Wairarapa, which owed its roots to the Cycle Classic, she said.

Mr Sandoval paid tribute to the Wairarapa businesses that had supported him over the years, and said informing them of his decision was the hardest part.

“We’ve done our best here, but the race will grow in another region and I’m looking forward to that.”