The peloton on the streets of Martinborough in Friday’s third stage. PHOTO/JADE CVETKOV

Cycle Classic rated a success

CYCLING

CHRIS COGDALE
chris.cogdale@age.co.nz

Race director Jorge Sandoval deserves all the plaudits for a successful New Zealand Cycle Classic, despite difficulties getting the event off the ground because of the covid-19 pandemic.

The five-day tour was limited to New Zealand-based riders with the border closure preventing international teams entering the country. That had its benefits though with World Tour riders George Bennett [the 2011 Cycle Classic winner] and Shane Archbold competing, along with Scotsman Mark Stewart, who has been based in New Zealand since the first lockdown.

NZ Cycle Classic winner Mark Stewart. PHOTO/DAVE LINTOTT

Stewart, riding for Bolton Equities Black Spoke Pro Cycling, went on to win the race after claiming the yellow jersey on Thursday’s second stage and never relinquishing it.

“I’m very happy the way everything went,” said Sandoval.

“The safety of the riders is the most important thing for us, we had a magnificent traffic management plan, we had a magnificent media manager and people helping me, so everything went really, really well.

“I’ve got a lot of documents in my office from different agencies on what we had to do in order to get this event off the ground, and to meet all that was required.

“I agreed with all of the conditions and some of them were very severe, and I managed to get the event off the ground when so many events in New Zealand and around the world have been cancelled, so I’m very pleased in that respect.”

Despite the lack of international riders Sandoval was rapt with the quality of racing, and the impact of having the calibre of Bennett and Archbold race against the up-and-coming New Zealand riders, many who were in their early teenage years when Bennett first raced in the Tour de France.

“George Bennett wants to come back next year, and I talked to a lot of the young guys, and they said it was a privilege to be racing alongside him.

“These young guys really enjoy it, and they know they’re not going to win the tour but they’re having a good go every day and they carry on and finish the stage and get ready for the next day and that’s a hard thing to do.

George to be fair was very good with those boys, talking to them after the race and congratulating them and giving them encouragement, so it was good.”

Bennett was also impressed with what he saw from the younger riders, but said it was important not to go easy on them and point out when they do something wrong.

“You’ll see guys like Shane and me get stuck into these kids because it was the best thing that happened to us, and we got taught how to race that way and it really helped me as a young guy to race the pros,” said Bennett.

“It’s the responsibility of all Kiwi pros when they are home to try and support these races and try and get these young guys out racing, and the level is really high, and I’m really impressed with what I’ve seen this week and there’s a good future for New Zealand cycling.”

Bennett, who finished fourth, 56 seconds behind Stewart, was using the race as the start of his build-up for a taxing European season ahead and felt he achieved everything from the five days that he wanted to.

“It was perfect. At the start of the week, I was hanging on for dear life and just got stronger every day. Obviously, I’ve got a huge amount of work to go before I’m ready to race against the best guys in the world but I’m really happy with what I got out of the week and actually where I’m at for January.”

Sandoval was full of praise for tour winner Stewart, the 2018 Commonwealth Games points race gold medallist, who he said was all class on and off the road.

“In all my 35 years I have never had a rider so educated, so eloquent, and the respect he showed for the riders and the event was amazing,” he said.

“Mark did what I expect from every bike rider to be determined and try really hard and that’s what Mark did.

He had to work hard, and the other riders made it really hard for him and he was the best rider on the tour, and he was so determined to win, and it was his day, and he really deserved it.”

Sandoval is looking forward to the borders opening to attract international teams next year, but he cautioned that the tour, New Zealand’s only UCI 2.2 event, has to be financially viable.

“We have to get the support from a lot of people, and a lot of companies to make sure the event does reflect what we want to do, so we might be able to have all the riders we want but if we don’t have the financial support, we can’t do it.”

“To me it was a really, really good event for Wairarapa. We feature on websites around the world with pictures and reports every day, and our videos every night get to thousands around the world.

“The tour winner [Stewart] said to me he didn’t realise how much interest this event generates. It has to be one of the top events in Wairarapa.”



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