Has there been a more dominant winner of the New Zealand Cycle Classic than Aaron Gate?
Not only did the four-time Commonwealth Games gold medallist and current track points race world champion hold the yellow jersey of the Mitre 10 MEGA Masterton sponsored event from day one, winning four of the five stages and setting up a teammate for the other, but he became only the fourth rider to win the tour more than once.
Gate went into yesterday’s fifth and final stage, a criterion around the streets of central Wellington, with a 24-second lead over Australian Elliot Schultz from the BridgeLane team, but his lead was never threatened.
Again, Gate’s New Zealand National teammates were in complete control of the pace of the race, and the yellow jersey wearer finished off in style, taking the final sprint for his fourth stage win of the tour, an almost certainly unprecedented achievement.
Like on the second stage in Martinborough, when Gate led out Kiaan Watts and George Jackson for a one-two finish, his aim for yesterday was to line up one of his teammates to take stage honours, but the final lap didn’t pan out that way, and it was left to the yellow jersey wearer to surge ahead and win the stage.
“It was a pretty hectic day, actually,” Gate said.
“I just wanted to get one of my teammates up for that final stage and had Kiaan [Watts] on my wheel coming through the last few corners, and then he just yelled, ‘Go!’ I thought he was there, but he actually had feathered his brakes a bit to open up for me to go, and I looked around and saw he wasn’t there and thought I’d better step on it as if it’s not him that’s going to be coming around me, it will be someone else and I just held on with Tom Sexton and Bailey [O’Donnell] chasing me down, so it was pretty cool to take a fourth one.”
Gate added that Windy Wellington lived up to its name.
“It was gusting between the buildings, and it was a pretty unpredictable gust, too. There were some sketchy moments for everyone, and there were a few crashes, and hopefully everyone walked away okay, and there weren’t too many expensive bikes broken.”
Although the 33-year-old put the icing on the cake with yesterday’s win in Wellington, it was on Saturday when his fighting qualities came to the fore, holding on in a nail-biting finish to take out the third stage, raced on the “Carrington Circuit” on the outskirts of Carterton.
Gate was supposed to be setting up his teammate Jackson for the stage win. However, Jackson crashed midway down the final straight, meaning that Gate had to hold his nerve and maintain his position in the final fast and furious bunch sprint.
Gate crossed the finish line in two hours 45 minutes and 3.1secs, just a whisker ahead of Bailey O’Donnell [Oxford Edge] and third-placed Adam Chapman [RushVelo-Ridley].
At the finish line, after checking in with his bloodied teammate Jackson, who had grazing to part of his body, Gate said, “It’s bittersweet today – we wanted to get George up for the sprint, and he unfortunately crashed. I was just lucky that I was able to hold on from the corner when I was just trying to set him up. No one else was able to come around, so luckily it was a nice bonus win for the boys for the week.”
Saturday’s 122km stage provided all teams with a bit of an unknown quantity, having not been part of the tour for several years.
With valuable points up for grabs for the classification jerseys and very little separating riders at the top of the General Classification table, the pressure was on from the get-go.
Although there were several breaks, the peloton was back together on the final lap of the stage, which Gate described as “relentless”.
“We had George slip into the first move, and they were absolutely motoring those guys; we were lucky we were able to sit back and let the other guys do the chasing,” he said.
“We had Ryan flying our flag, and again, we took up the chase but weren’t fully committed as we weren’t about to chase a teammate down, but we had to protect the Yellow Jersey also. We then had some help chip in, on the last lap, to really bring them back, and it was all on for the sprint.”
Gate’s victory puts him in illustrious company as only the fourth rider to win the NZ Cycle Classic more than once, joining five-time winner Brian Fowler [1988–92], Ric Reid [1994 and 1996], and Hayden Roulston [2006–7].
In other overall classification results. Craig Oliver [Mito-Q] won the most aggressive jersey for yesterday’s stage, Whanganui’s Finnegan Murphy [Southern Cross] won the Under23s, Liam White [CCACHE x Par Kup] took out the King of the Mountain, the Sprint Ace went to Bailey O’Donnell [Oxford Edge], and the Australian BridgeLane team won the Teams’ classification.