James Oram timed his sprint perfectly and held off a strong late challenge to claim the yellow jersey on a shortened first stage of the Trust House New Zealand Cycle Classic yesterday.
The Bolton Equities Black Spoke rider was in a breakaway group of five riders, including New Zealand National teammates James Harvey and Xander White, 2022 Commonwealth Games mountain bike silver medallist Ben Oliver [Mito Q], and Australian Ryan Cavanagh, riding for the Japanese KINAN team, who held a 29-second lead over the peloton with 10km to the finish outside the Masterton Golf Club.
Although the peloton continued to push hard to close the gap, the five still had a good break. Halfway up the Manuka Street climb to the finish, Oram powered ahead to hold off a fast-finishing Cavanagh, with White in third place, and the 29-year-old reckoned past experience on the short but tough hill climb paid off to give his team their third straight win on the stage.
“This is the third or fourth time coming up this climb, and I knew if I went early before anyone could see the finish line, I would hopefully catch them by surprise, and they would hesitate, and they did. Ryan Cavanagh was so close behind me at the finish I thought he was going to catch me, but thankfully it’s number three for Black Spoke on this stage,” Oram said. Earlier, race director Jorge Sandoval and the race commissaires decided to shorten the stage by 34km to 124km by removing the second lap of the loop north of Alfredton because of heavy rain and surface water and debris, which resulted in 16 punctures in one section of the northern part on the course.
Oram felt the call was the right one, but it didn’t really suit his team’s race plan.
“We were kind of hoping there would be another lap just so we could try and split the race in the back section of the course, but it was a smart call because there was a lot of rain out the back there, and even the visibility was very poor, so a great call by the organisers.
“Once you get in the moment and you’re warmed up, it’s fine, but if there wasn’t so much water on the road, we probably would have done another lap.”
The race was the first of the year for Oram, and he admitted he didn’t really enjoy the unseasonal conditions.
“I was feeling the cold, especially being the first race of the year; you’re really used to riding in a bunch, so when it starts raining, everyone gets a bit nervous, but thankfully we had all the boys in front, so that
gives you a bit of confidence.”
Although Oram will wear the yellow jersey on today’s stage two from Masterton to Martinborough, he believes the tour will be decided on tomorrow’s stage three, which takes in several tough hill climbs, finishing with the tortuous ascent of Admiral Hill.
“We’ve got a small buffer over the bunch, but Xander White and Ben Oliver are pretty strong riders and good climbers, so it’s definitely not over, but we’ve got a really strong team here, and I’m feeling pretty confident.”
The presentation for the first stage also fell victim to the weather and is likely to be held before the start of today’s racing.
The 127km stage starts outside Hullena Park after riders leave Copthorne Hotel and Resort Solway Park at 10am. The riders tackle a lap of the popular Gladstone course before heading to Martinborough, where they will complete nine laps of an 8km circuit around the town.
Also, in Martinborough today, the Couplands Bakery Booth’s Group team, which has strong Wairarapa connections, are holding a sausage sizzle to raise funds to help Masterton athlete Josh Taylor achieve his goal of competing at the Special Olympics World Games in Berlin in June.