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Classic back with an old twist

New Zealander George Bennett, seen here racing for his Jumbo-Visma team in this year’s Tour de France, has forged a successful professional cycling career since winning the NZ Cycle Classic in 2011. PHOTO/GETTY IMAGES Jorge Sandoval.

CYCLING

CHRIS COGDALE
[email protected]

The Trust House New Zealand Cycle Classic is back for 2021, and with an old twist to finish the five-day tour.

Race director Jorge Sandoval confirmed on  Monday that New Zealand’s only Union Cycliste Internationale race, will be held in Wairarapa and Wellington from January 13-17.

With many international races being cancelled because of covid-19, most recently the Tour Down Under and the Cadel Evans races in Australia, the Classic will be the only UCI race staged in Oceania in January.

However, the biggest change has come with the tour to return to Wellington for the first time in a decade.

Four of the five stages of the Classic will still be raced in Wairarapa, with the fifth and final stage in the capital city.

The 2011 NZ Cycling Classic criterium on Lambton Quay. PHOTOS/DAVE LINTOTT

Sandoval said the fast-paced criterium on the inner-city streets would provide a real spectacle for Wellington sports fans.

“Long-time Wellingtonians will fondly remember when the tour was first held in Wellington in 1988 and then, the last time in 2011 when it was won by a young George Bennett who has gone on to achieve great things, most notably racing in this year’s Tour de France,” he said.

The first four stages will be raced over similar courses as last year starting with a teams’ time trial held on a 10km circuit on the west side of Masterton.

The second stage takes in a 121km course from Masterton to Alfredton finishing outside the Masterton Golf Club and the third stage will have riders head south from Masterton to Martinborough.

The 127km fourth stage – dubbed the ‘Queen’ stage – has the riders climbing 2784 metres and finishing at the top of the tortuous Admiral Hill.

“Admiral Hill is feared by some riders and revered by others,” Sandoval said.

“In some past tours, the rider who wins this stage has gone on to win the overall title. However, with the final stage held around Wellington’s flat, fast, city streets this time around, it will be fascinating to see if history repeats.”

Jorge Sandoval

Sandoval said the Classic would be open to all eligible riders but because of world-wide travel restrictions and quarantine rules put in place since covid-19, the event had the potential to be a boon for Kiwi riders with more of them getting the chance to chase valuable UCI points.

That could have several Kiwi riders who would traditionally be competing offshore, return to race in the tour.

Black Spoke PRO Cycling, New Zealand’s only UCI professional team, have already indicated their intention to return, after making their debut at the 2020 event, and having competed in the first race of the Trust House North Island team series.

Black Spoke would shape as leading contenders, with leading rider Aaron Gate, a former track world champion, winning last week’s Tour of Southland, with teammates James Oram third and Luke Mudgway sixth.

Sandoval will announce the remaining teams over the coming weeks.

“This is my 33rd NZ Cycle Classic, and despite all the issues we and the world have with covid-19, I have worked really hard to make sure that we not only have the event, but we have a top event,” Sandoval said.

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