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Bennett back in classic style

Shane Archbold, riding for Team Deceuninck, in France this year. PHOTOS/GETTY IMAGES

CYCLING

Jorge Sandoval said the “stacked” New Zealand National team, led by national champion George Bennett, is the strongest team ever to contest the NZ Cycle Classic.

Cycling New Zealand announced on Wednesday that Bennett (UAE Team Emirates) is part of a five-strong team featuring 2019 national champion Shane Archbold (Bora Hansgrohe); 10-year World Tour veteran Sam Bewley (Team Bike Exchange); development rider in WorldTour Laurence Pithie, and exciting prospect Xander White.

“This is the strongest team I’ve seen contest the New Zealand Cycle Classic,” said Sandoval, race director for the five-stage elite men’s road cycling race in Wairarapa and Wellington from January 5-9, 2022.

“As a former yellow jersey winner of this tour, I’m excited to welcome George Bennett back to Wairarapa and look forward to seeing him tackle our big hill stage, which sees riders climb a total of 2784 metres of altitude. With George racing alongside Shane, one of the best lead-out sprinters on the WorldTour and Sam, one of cycling’s most enduring and respected domestiques, it is outstanding.”

George Bennett riding for Team Jumbo crosses the finishing line during the Tour of Britain in September.

Bennett, who moved from Dutch team Jumbo-Visma to UAE Team Emirates, has ridden in 14 grand tours and has three professional WorldTour wins to his credit.

He has returned to his hometown of Nelson for the summer after completing a stay in MIQ and is keen to race in the NZ Cycle Classic, an event he won in 2011. He said it would act as a great springboard for a busy 2022, including racing in February’s UAE Tour in the Middle East.

“Early January is pretty early for me in terms of my racing season. However, it will be a great opportunity to test how my pre-season training is going. While I am taking a relaxed approach to the NZ Classic, my objective is to race aggressively, get my heart rate up, work hard in my legs and if that achieves some great results either in the sprints, a stage win, or overall, I’ll be happy,” he said.

Bennett was also looking forward to having a rare opportunity to ride alongside good friends Archbold and Bewley.

“Shane is most likely going to make an impact in the sprints while Sam will try and light the race up – having a crack at the break-aways.”

The New Zealand National team is one of 14 teams lining up for the only Union Cycliste Internationale-sanctioned stage race to be held in New Zealand in 2022. It will take place in

Wairarapa for the first four days with the final day being held in and around Lambton Quay in central Wellington.

Bolton Equities Black Spoke Pro Cycling, who have made a huge impact in this tour over the past two years thanks to Aaron Gate and Campbell Stewart, is returning next month with a new-look team. Lead by Michael Vink, who won the yellow jersey in 2014 and took out this year’s Tour of Southland, Black Spoke features Regan Gough, who won the 2021 Club National Champion Road Race; Joshua Kench, whose career highlight to date is third place in the U23 Tour of Norway; Scottish track cyclist Mark Stewart; Ryan Christensen, who won two stages in the 2021 NZ Cycle Classic before recording a series of top 10 finishes in Europe this year, and upcoming rider Mitchel Fitzsimons.

Black Spoke team manager Scott Guyton said his team was excited about returning to Wairarapa.

“It’s a really nice way to start the year and it gets everyone focused. We’ve got a new-look team racing the NZ Cycle Classic with a couple of guys on debut, but also led by Michael and Regan, both who are really great riders and if things play into our hands, have the potential to win it.”

Sam Bewley, riding for BikeExchange in this year’s Benelux Tour.

The NZ Cycle Classic begins on Wednesday, January 5, with a teams’ time trial held on a flat, 10km circuit beginning and finishing at Mitre 10 Mega Masterton. It continues the next day with riders racing through rolling hills and farmland from Masterton to Alfredton return, in a 158km stage that finishes outside the Masterton Golf Club in Lansdowne.

Stage three (127km) will have riders head south from Masterton to the vineyards of Martinborough while on Saturday, January 8, riders will complete the 137.2km Queen stage including its new hilltop finish on Te Wharau Hill, one of the steepest climbs in Wairarapa.

The fifth and final stage is a circuit around Wellington’s streets, including along Lambton Quay. Before this, there will also be an opportunity for recreational riders to participate in a fun event called Cycle the Golden Mile, which debuted this year and was very successful with riders of all abilities taking part on a variety of different bicycles – including a penny-farthing.

New in 2022 is the Premier Beehive Gran Fondo, being held on January 8, where “every-day cyclists” will be given the opportunity to ride part of the same challenging circuit as
the elite riders.

“Having the New Zealand Cycle Classic and this community event held simultaneously will give everyday cyclists the chance ride on the same route as the likes of George Bennett, Shane Archbold and Michael Vink – that doesn’t happen every day,” said Sandoval.

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