Black Spoke are back to defend their New Zealand Cycle Classic [NZCC] yellow jersey, but will do so without last year’s champion.
Scotsman Mark Stewart won the 2022 tour for the Bolton Equities-sponsored team and isn’t returning to defend his title. However, the team will start as one of the favourites when racing gets underway tomorrow after being elevated to the Union Cycliste Internationale [UCI] Pro Teams ranks late last year.
Race director Jorge Sandoval said that means Black Spoke would become the first New Zealand professional team to contest the NZCC, and the team will line up with a good mix of experienced riders and talented up-and-comers.
“Even though Black Spoke began as an academy of sorts to help Kiwi riders get to the next stage of their careers, they’ve made a huge impact in this tour, winning the 2022 yellow jersey and taking multiple stage wins in 2021 and 2022, thanks to Aaron Gate, Campbell Stewart and Mark Stewart,” Sandoval said.
Headlining the team is accomplished sprinter Luke Mudgway, a 2014 Junior Track World Champion, winner of the 2022’s Gemenc Grand Prix in Hungary and stage winner in the 2021 NZCC. Mudgway will be supported by James Oram, Logan Currie, Ethan Batt, Ollie Jones, runner-up in the 2022 NZCC, and a new team member, 2022 Tour of Southland winner the talented Josh Burnett, who is joining the pro ranks for the first time.
Black Spoke is managed by former professional Scott Guyton, who looks forward to racing and seeing how the pre-season preparation has been going.
“It’s great to have a Tour that is on our home soil and with many familiar riders,” Guyton said.
“The structure of each rider’s program for the year is different, and they all have a slightly different race calendar. We have some of our key riders lining up in the NZCC – James Oram, Luke Mudgway, Logan Currie and Ethan Batt who have been with the team for multiple years now and will be enjoying this Tour as their first race of the season before a huge season as a new UCI Pro Team.
“Ollie Jones is new to the team but not new to the race, and this will be a great test with new teammates. Josh Burnett is a developing rider in the team, and we look forward to seeing how he gels in a race situation.”
Guyton said the NZCC is the start of a big season ahead for Black Spoke with a double program featuring 20 riders, including four non-Kiwis.
2019 NZCC winner Gate is currently in Europe preparing for the Black Spoke’s first World Tour start at the Cadel Evan’s Great Ocean Road Race being held later this month in Geelong, while 2022 winner Mark Stewart is preparing for the European season, with his first race being February’s Tour of Antalya in Turkey.
Sandoval predicts that having Black Spoke in the NZCC field of 15 teams will make things interesting.
“From now, this team will be up there with the other big teams on the Pro Tour calendar, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them getting wild card invitations to some of the big tours such as Tour of Spain, Tour of Swisse or even Tour de France,” he said.
“They’ve shown they’re a team who wants to win, racing very aggressively, and I’ve no doubt their inclusion in our event will make for such an exciting race, and I encourage as many spectators as possible to get out and watch this team, and the others, in action – they won’t be disappointed.”
The NZCC gets underway tomorrow with a 158km stage from Masterton to Alfredton and returns with the finish outside the Masterton Golf Club.
Stage two will see riders head south from Masterton to Martinborough, finishing the stage with an eight-lap circuit around the village, while on Friday riders will complete the 155km “Queen” stage with its famous hilltop finish at Admiral Hill.
The fourth day features a new stage around the Miramar peninsula in Wellington, with Sunday’s final stage around the streets of central Wellington.