Friday, July 19, 2024
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Riders ready for rain and wind

Race director Jorge Sandoval will have a keen eye on the weather for today’s first stage of the Trust House New Zealand Cycle Classic [NZCC].

Riders start the 158km stage in Masterton and head to Alfredton and Pahiatua, and return to the finish outside the Masterton Golf Club, but there will be more than a passing interest in the weather, with a heavy rain warning in place and strong southerly winds forecast.

“We are keeping a very close eye on the weather and are expecting rain and wind in Wairarapa on Wednesday and Thursday, which will impact stages one and two, but to what degree yet is uncertain,” Sandoval said.

“The riders’ safety is paramount, and because this tour is sanctioned by the UCI, I work very closely with the UCI-appointed commissaire to make any decisions on the day that may affect the stage, but it’s fair to say I am planning for the best and preparing for the worst.”

Heading the field are New Zealand’s only Pro Tour team Bolton Equities Black Spoke, who won the 2022 tour with Scotsman Mark Stewart claiming the yellow jersey on stage two and never relinquishing it.

Team manager Scott Guyton said the forecast of bad weather would change the complexity of the race, and that the wind creates more problems on the exposed course in northern Wairarapa, forcing a change in race tactics.

“I think most riders can handle the rain; visibility is a bit less, it’s more so the wind that will cause a bit more carnage on that circuit than the rain, but obviously, the rain makes it harder and a bit slower,” Guyton said.

“It’s more paying attention, and it makes for a harder day, and you definitely change the way you race the stage, so it definitely makes it a tougher tour.”

Guyton is quietly confident Black Spoke have the riders to repeat last year’s success, with a team of 2014 Junior Track World Champion Luke Mudgway, James Oram, Logan Currie, Ethan Batt, Ollie Jones, and 2022 Tour of Southland winner Josh Burnett.

He believed the first two days are critical, heading into Friday’s “Queen stage”, a tortuous 155km stage featuring several demanding hillclimbs, and finishing with a brutal 11km ascent to the top of Admiral Hill.

“I think we’ve got four of the best climbers in the race, so if it comes to that [Admiral Hill] climb, we’re definitely confident.”

Guyton rated some of the visiting Australian riders as Black Spoke’s biggest threats, with three of them – Will Cooper, Joshua Ludman, and Connor Reardon – lining up in a strong St George Continental team along with Kiwis Campbell Pithie, Nick Kergozou, and Morgan Borrie.

He said the New Zealand National team was also a solid lineup, although they had suffered a blow with the team leader, 2022 Commonwealth Games scratch race gold medallist Corbin Strong called into race the Tour Down Under in Adelaide for his Israel-Premier Tech team.

“In a race like this, you take your opportunities, and those other teams will be doing that, and anything can happen,” Guyton added.

There are plenty of other unknowns for New Zealand’s only UCI 2.2 staged road race with the return, for the first time in three years, of a strong contingent of international cyclists.

After covid-19 restrictions impacted the 2021 and 2022 tours, Sandoval has assembled an outstanding lineup of 15 teams featuring riders from Australia, Great Britain, Germany, Thailand, Japan, Guam, Laos, France, Belgium, Switzerland, Netherlands and South Africa, as well as New Zealand’s top road cyclists and exciting, emerging talent.

“I know there are many teams who will be racing on our New Zealand roads for the first time ever and several teams, such as KINAN Racing team from Japan, who are returning after a two-year hiatus due to covid,” Sandoval said.

“In addition, we have a who’s who of top Kiwi riders in action, and this will give them a great opportunity to test themselves against the world’s best riders, many of whom are choosing to begin their 2023 racing season here in New Zealand.”

They include two newly formed New Zealand teams – I Build and Pista Corsa Development.

Over the years, Sandoval’s Tour has developed an international reputation for unearthing new talent and helping up-and-coming riders step onto a bigger platform. Top lead-out rider Julian Dean, Chris Jenner, Robbie McEwen and Hayden Roulston all claimed the yellow jersey, while many others have gone on to ride in the Tour de France and the Giro Italia. More recently, quadruple Birmingham Commonwealth Games medallist Aaron Gate won the NZCC in 2019.

Today’s opening stage will see riders depart from the Copthorne Hotel and Resort Solway Park at 10am, with the start by Henley Lake. The riders are expected to finish outside the Masterton Golf Club at about 1.15pm.

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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