Aaron Gate was true to his word, leading out on the final sprint to set up teammates Kiaan Watts and George Jackson to fight out the finish of yesterday’s second stage of the Mitre 10 MEGA Masterton New Zealand Cycle Classic in Martinborough.
The track points race world champion took the yellow jersey in Wednesday’s first stage after his New Zealand National teammates positioned him perfectly to pull away over the final 250m for a commanding victory, and he was determined to repay the favour yesterday.
After the peloton hauled in a breakaway trio over the last few laps of the 8.1km circuit around Martinborough, the New Zealand National team took control. Gate was to the forefront in the final charge down Cambridge Street, and with 150m to go, he left it to Watts and Jackson, with Watts taking the chequered flag by less than a wheel. Australian Elliot Schultz from Team BridgeLane joined them on the podium.
Like the first stage, New Zealand dominated much of the 128km stage, although there were attempts to bust up their rhythm, starting with a breakaway from about 40km.
Australian Tali Lane-Welsh [Ccache x Par Kup], Ari Scott [Couplands Bakeries – Booth’s Group], and Camden Feint [Oxford Edge] built a lead of two minutes 52 seconds on the peloton heading into Martinborough. Scott soon dropped off before his teammate Keegan Hornblow bridged the gap to join the other two.
Heading into the final lap, Hornblow was out on his own but was soon reeled in by the main bunch and then upstepped Gate to set up the thrilling finish.
“It couldn’t have gone much better on the New Zealand team side of it,” Watt said.
“We kept that break on a fairly short leash, and there were only three guys up there at one time, and we were really happy with it, and [there were] similar conditions to last year, so we knew roughly what to do.
“It was the same wind direction as last year, but it was a lot stronger. It wasn’t too bad for us because we held the front for basically the whole stage and the boys did an awesome job. I was starting to sweat there at the end, and I wanted to finish off the hard work the boys had done, and one, two and we couldn’t ask for much more.”
Gate retained the yellow jersey and the green sprint jersey, Liam White [Ccache x Par Kup] kept the King of the Mountain, William Heffernan [Ccache x Par Kup] held on to the under-23 jersey, and Lane-Welsh was named most aggressive rider.
Today’s third stage, dubbed the “Queen Stage”, has often decided the tour winner. The 127km stage features several gruelling hill climbs, including twice over Te Wharau Hill and culminating with a tortuous ascent up Admiral Hill. Adding to the demanding nature of the course, temperatures are forecast to be hitting the low 30s.
The riders will leave Copthorne Solway Park at 10am.