Race favourite Aaron Gate effectively shut the gate on his opponents by winning stage three of the Mitre 10 MEGA Masterton New Zealand Cycling Classic with a gutsy uphill sprint at the end of the gruelling 126km stage.
Dubbed the “Queen Stage” because it has often determined the winner of the five-day tour, the victory consolidated Gate’s lead in the general classification, leaving him perfectly placed to repeat his 2019 victory with two stages to run.
With the final two stages likely to suit the sprinters and his New Zealand National team expertly controlling the peloton, it would take a massive turnaround for the track points world champion and four-time Commonwealth Games gold medallist to be usurped.
Gate can again thank his New Zealand teammates for controlling the pace of the peloton and positioning him for the final sprint at the end of the tortuous 10km climb up Admiral Hill.
After several breakaways had been hauled in and with 16km left to ride, the Southern Cross Racing Academy and MitoQ NZ Cyclin Project teams had control at the base of the final ascent. New Zealand and BridgeLane then took over, with a group of 10 riders breaking away approaching the finish, setting it up perfectly for Gate, and he again showed his incredible power, surging over the final 200m uphill for his second stage win of the tour.
Elliott Schultz [Team BridgeLane] was second, and Ollie Jones [Southern Cross] was third. Liam White [CCACHE x Par Kup] retained the King of the Mountain jersey, Campbell Pithie [Couplands] was awarded the most aggressive jersey, and Finnegan Murphy [Southern Cross] is the tour’s new U23 leader.
Earlier, the race was all about breakaways, with a group of six including USA’s Brenda’s Rhim, Bentley Niquet-Olden [CCACHE x Par Kup], Eli Tregidga [Rush Velos], Pista Corsa’s Oliver Grave, QFS Cycling’s Eliot Crowther, and Pithie.
The sextet built a lead of two minutes and 20 seconds before Tregidga dropped off, leaving a group of five before Pithie made a bold solo attempt about 90km. The effort told, though, and he was hauled in at the 110km mark, but his brave bid was enough to earn the most aggressive jersey.
After that, it was all about New Zealand setting up Gate for one final charge, and he didn’t disappoint.
Should Gate complete the victory, he will become only the fourth rider to win the NZ Cycle Classic more than once, following in the bike tracks of five-time winner Brain Fowler [1988–92], Ric Reid [1994 and 1996], and Hayden Roulston [2006–7].
Today’s fourth stage returns after a nine-year absence from the tour. The stage in rural Carrington involves five laps of a 26km circuit and is described as fast and hilly with tight twisty turns, making it a very technical ride. The cyclists will leave Copthorne Solway Park at 10 am.
The five-day event will finish tomorrow with a criterion based around Lambton Quay in central Wellington, starting at 1 pm.