Sam Bewley hopes his improved climbing skills coupled with a strong second half to last season, will allow the Rotorua cyclist to challenge for road race honours at the Calder Stewart elite national championships in Christchurch this weekend.
The two-time Olympic team pursuit medallist, who turned to a professional track career after London for Radio Shack and now Orica GreenEDGE, endured a 2014 of mixed fortunes.
However after completing his first Grand Tour – the Vuelta a Espana – in September, Bewley believes he is in shape to produce a strong ride on the demanding 183km challenge which includes 10 climbs up Dyers Pass.
“I’ve never really backed myself down there in the past, but this year my goals are a little different,” explains Bewley. “I’ve actually been training hard for the past few months and I’m in quite good condition, so I’m pretty keen to get down there and have a crack. It is going to be an exciting race.”
The Orica GreenEDGE professional admits climbing is not his strongest suit, but he believes he is now much better equipped to tackle the challenge.
“The key is the climb and to climb 10 times is not easy,” he adds. “I’ve improved my climbing a lot over the past 12 months. I climbed well at the Tour of Spain and that has given me a lot of confidence going into the nationals.
“The way I am going, I think I can get up it. Then it is anyone’s race over the last few laps,” adds Bewley, who concedes National Criterium champion Patrick Bevin (Taupo) of the Avanti team will start favourite.
Bewley endured an injury-ravaged first half to 2014 which put his pro contract – which was due for renewal at the end of the year – in jeopardy.
A horror crash at the Paris-Roubaix classic in April which left him with two fractures in his hand was just the latest in a catalogue of injuries which threatened to derail his career.
The 26-year-old Kiwi admitted this period – he also underwent hip surgery in 2013 and broke a hand and an elbow in a crash last January - was “emotionally tough”but he worked hard on his rehab and performed with pride at the Tour of Spain to help him earn a renewal of his contract with Orica GreenEDGE.
“The Tour of Spain was a good experience and I didn’t have too many scary moments,” adds Bewley, now coached by Kiwi road racing legend Julian Dean, who has changed much of his training regime. “Having completed a Grand Tour I feel like I am a better cyclist. Hopefully I can take those three weeks of cycling into my legs for this season.”
After this weekend, Bewley’s next big challenge is riding the Tour Down Under in Australia for the first time later this month, followed by the new Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race, the Sun Tour and then Tour of Langkawi, all before mid-March.
Yet the former World Junior team pursuit champion would like nothing more than to return back his pro team as national road champion.
“That would be pretty cool,” he admits. “It is always nice to race in a slightly different version of the race jersey with a New Zealand fern on it. That would be beautiful.”
The championships begin with the time trials at Lincoln College on Friday, with women’s road race over 120.5kms on Saturday comprising eight laps with six climbs of the infamous Dyers Pass. The elite and under-23 men’s race on Sunday is 12 laps in total for 183.7kms, starting with the usual full lap on the flat before 10 circuits up the Dyers Pass climb and a final flat lap to the finish.