It may have been over two months since his last serious race but all eyes will be on Michael Vink when the Benchmark Homes Elite Cycling Series gets underway again on the West Coast of the South Island in Hokitika on Saturday after a winter break.
Christchurch cyclist Vink arrived back in New Zealand just over a week ago. He had been racing in Europe as part of the BikeNZ Endurance track squad and had several significant results including finishing third in the 4.2 kilometre prologue in the International Thuringen Rhundfhart Under-23 tour of Germany which followed a victory in the UCI 1.2 category Philippe Coningsloo Memorial in Belgium.
Having never raced or even ridden a bike on the West Coast Vink said the course was ‘going to be all new for me’ but was looking forward to it.
“I’ve heard lots of different things, from cross winds to good rolling terrain, and it sounds like a nice course,” he said. “Some local knowledge would help and the weather could play a role but just to get a race under my belt will be good as it’s been a while since I raced.”
Vink said he had ‘no idea’ about his current form having had no intensity recently as he was waiting for Saturday to hear if he makes the cut for the BikeNZ National Team for the World Championships later next month in Italy where he hopes to race in the under 23 time trial.
“Making the team for the World Champs will dictate how I approach the next few weeks. I’ve got a good base behind me so getting up for the World Champs should be ok.”
There is a strong field of 88 riders in the elite men’s 135 kilometre race with current series under 23 leader Tom Hubbard (Homestyle) clinging to a two point lead over the elites men’s leader Joe Chapman (L & M Group Racing).
Master’s men also race 135 kilometres and in the absence of series leader Lee Johnstone (Warmup Cycling Team) who is out with injury there will be an intense battle at the top of the points table with only eight points separating the top five riders Glen Rewi (Kiwi Style Bike Tours), Blair Stuthridge (Team Thule Cycling, Mark Spessot (Cycle World), Brendon Mathews (Team Tineli Masters) and Darren Burns (Warmup Cycling Team).
Olympian Lauren Ellis holds a narrow four point lead over her Benchmark Homes teammate Sharlotte Lucas in the women’s series.