The line up for next weeks Armstrong Motor Group Festival of Cycling continues to heat up as more and more of New Zealand’s top riders have put their hand up for the annual Christchurch event.
Held for the first time in 2005, the Armstrong Motor Group Festival of Cycling brings together the many sides of cycling for a weekend long celebration that sees Olympic champions rubbing shoulders with recreational riders, kids and keen club cyclists across every cycling option from road to mountain bikes and BMX.
Festivities kick-off on Saturday December 3rd with the 90k Waipara Challenge road ride, and then continue at Canterbury University the next day with the City Criterium. Following last week’s entry from New Zealand’s top-ranked pro team, Pure Black Racing, the latest stars to sign on the dotted sign include riders from well-performed teams such the Subway Cycling, Mico-ProTrain Cycling Team, Team Benchmark Cycling, and a group of rising talent from New Zealand development squad.
Subway Cycling were New Zealand’s top team before Pure Black Racing took the American circuit by storm in 2011. As such they’ll be riding for pride at the Armstrong Motor Group Festival of Cycling. Their best chance of success is probably in the City Criterium where Commonwealth Games bronze medallist Jason Allen can use his track speed to good effect.
Allen won the City Criterium in 2007 and will be backed up this year by Subway teammates Tom Hubbard, Sam Horgan and Paul Odlin (all Chch), all of whom have enjoyed good form both domestically and internationally in 2011. Odlin, in particular, has enjoyed good form in 2011, winning the sprint jersey at the Tour of Korea, the Forrest Estate Grape Ride in Blenheim, took two second places and ninth overall at the Tour of Southland, and won the final round of the prestigious Benchmark Series. So he could also be a dark horse to upset the apple cart in the 90k Waipara Challenge.
Christchurch’s Benchmark Cycling team, led by national rep Anthony Chapman, will be looking for top result on home turf. As will national development squad members, Cam Karwowski, Piet Bulling, Tom Beadle, Matt Zenovich and Tom Vessey, all them making the journey from Invercargill to rub shoulders with the big boys.
Also making the trip from the far South is Invercargill’s Sequoia Cooper and Alexandra’s Sophie Williamson, both of whom are good enough to steal the show in Christchurch. Cooper has won several national titles on the track, while Williamson is fresh off a bronze medal at the world junior track cycling championships in Moscow. Their track speed will be a threat in the City Criterium, but first they have to face the experience of Napier’s Serena Sheridan.
Sheridan has been one of New Zealand’s best-performed road riders in recent years, this year claiming second in the 2011 elite national championships and then racing professionally in the USA and France. The 26 year old won the Armstrong Motor Group City Criterium in 2008, so will no doubt be focusing her energy on top honours in the 90k Waipara Challenge, where she will face Cooper and Williamson, but also Auckland speedsters Kate Chillcott and Emily Collins, who both enjoyed top 10 results on the American pro circuit this year.
Sheridan is part of the Mico-ProTrain Cycle Team, which will be led by former world junior champion Jeremy Yates, national under-23 elite champion Mike Vink and national club champion Matt Sillars. Any of these three are good enough to win the Waipara Challenge and City Criterium, with the 20 year old Vink tipped as one of the sports brightest up and coming stars. Yates, who was third at the elite national champs and raced professionally in Turkey this year, has several times been a runner-up at the Armstrong Motor Group Festival of Cycling and will be looking for a win in both races.
All of these contenders, however, are up against the might of Team Pure Black Racing, who are fresh from a standout out rookie season on the American circuit. For the Armstrong Motor Group Festival of Cycling they will be sending Daniel Barry (Chch), James McCoy (Chch), James Williamson (Alex) and Mike Northey (Akld), while teenage development rider Dion Smith (Akld) will be looking forward to another outing with the big boys.
Barry, in his first year as a professional, scored a stage win at Pennsylvania’s prestigious Tour de Toona and recently won the prestigious 100th anniversary Round the Mountain race in New Plymouth. Williamson had several top-10 finishes on the US circuit, with a highlight of sixth place at the Philadelphia Classic, the USA’s premier one-day race. Mike Northey emerged as one of New Zealand’s best finishers this year, winning the St Louis National Criterium and the sprint ace title at California’s San Dimas Stage Race, which sees him favourite to defend his title at the Armstrong Motor Group City Criterium.