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Classic getting better and better

After 37 years, the status of the New Zealand Cycle Classic continues to grow.

That’s the view of race director Jorge Sandoval, who believes the quality of the riders and teams gets better each year, attracting a worldwide audience.

“Looking at the riders and talking to the riders and team managers, the race gets better and better; not just we’re working hard on our side of it, but the quality of the field is really good,” Sandoval said.

“For example, every year until this year at Admiral Hill, we’ve had one or two guys finishing and then about 20 seconds later another guy and then another 30 or 40 seconds another few guys and so on, but this year there were about 15 guys going for the line at Admiral Hill and that said a lot about the quality of the field.”

The Mitre 10 MEGA Masterton sponsored tour was dominated by four-time Commonwealth Games gold medallist and current track points race world champion Aaron Gate, who won four of the five stages, a feat that had not been achieved previously and is unlikely to be repeated anytime soon. His winning margin was only 33 seconds, a further testament to the quality of the field.

Gate also became only the fourth rider to win the race more than once, joining illustrious names such as Brian Fowler [1988-92], Ric Reid [1994 and 1996] and Hayden Roulston [2006–7].

Unsurprisingly, Sandoval was full of praise for the two-time champion.

“Aaron Gate is an amazing guy, and he trains really hard. For example, on Saturday, after the Carrington circuit presentation, he went for a ride to the top of Admiral Hill and then rode back to the hotel,” he said.

“He’s right up there. When you watch the Commonwealth Games road race final, and he was in a bunch with a bunch of top professional riders from the world tour, and he beat all of them in the sprint after winning three gold medals on the track.

“He’s very intelligent to position himself in the bunch for the finish, and he’s very skillful, very strong and a top-quality bike rider.”

As well as Gate’s efforts, Sandoval’s highlight was Saturday’s fourth stage around the “Carrington Circuit” on the outskirts of Carterton.

“Racing around Carrington was the highlight in Wairarapa for me because we’d never done it before, and to see the number of people on the circuit was very encouraging, and we didn’t have any issues, and to finish in front of thousands of people in Wellington was the icing on the cake.”

Sandoval said the NZ Cycle Classic also attracted widespread interest from overseas, with tens of thousands watching daily YouTube coverage.

As for Gate, his highlights of the five days were the second and third stages.

“It was really cool to see the guys come past me in the Martinborough stage [two]; we did text-book teamwork all day, and then for Kiaan [Watts] and George [Jackson] to take first and second was pretty special,” Gate said.

“Then for me, on a personal level, was to be able to win up Admiral Hill because I was pretty nervous about that one, that I was carrying a few too many beers from Christmas time in the gut. Still, luckily, I managed to show the climbers that a tracky can still go up a hill alright.”

Gate will now turn his focus to racing alongside Jackson for their new UCI Pro cycling team, Burgos BH, based in Spain, as well as racing for New Zealand on the track at the 2024 Paris Olympics.

Chris Cogdale
Chris Cogdale
Chris “Coggie” Cogdale has extensive knowledge of sport in Wairarapa having covered it for more than 30 years, including radio for 28 years. He has been the sports guru at the Wairarapa Times-Age since 2019.

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