A who’s-who of New Zealand cycling are in Christchurch this weekend for the prestigious Armstrong Motor Group Festival of Cycling.
In just seven years Christchurch’s Armstrong Motor Group Festival of Cycling has become one of New Zealand’s premier cycling events. But this is also an event providing something for everyone with almost 900 riders of all age and ability taking on a weekend of two-wheeled challenges.
There is much to look forward to in the 2011 Armstrong Motor Group Festival of Cycling. Saturday kicks-off in Waipara, where riders can chose from the 90k Waipara Challenge road ride, the 15k or 26k Frog Rock Mountain Bike Ride, and the 12k Benchmark Homes Junior Challenge.
National under-23 road champion Michael Vink will wear number 1 in the 90k road race, but favourite for line honours is number 2, Vink's Mico-ProTrain teammate, Jeremy Yates. The former world junior champion has several times been a runner-up at the Armstrong Motor Group Festival of Cycling, so will be looking to take the top spot. But the 29 year old will have to overcome a series of strong challenges.
Christchurch’s own Daniel Barry (Pure Black racing), who in his first year as a professional scored a stage win at Pennsylvania’s prestigious Tour de Toona and the 100th anniversary Round the Mountain race in New Plymouth, will be one of the strongest challengers. Barry will be backed up by Pure Black teammate, James McCoy (Chch), and former Olympian and 2008 Armstrong Motor Group Festival of Cycling winner, Robin Reid (Nelson), is a contender in every race he enters. But a strong Team Subway Cycling contingent will give Christchurch’s in form Paul Odlin a strong tactical advantage and perhaps his first win at the Armstrong Motor Group Festival of Cycling.
The women’s road race at this year’s Armstrong Motor Group Festival of Cycling is even less clear cut. Napier’s national rep, Serena Sheridan, is probably the best all round rider in the field. But she will face in form Aucklanders Kate Chilcott and Emily Collins, who both enjoyed top 10 placings on the American pro circuit this year, plus world ranked juniors Sequoia Cooper (Inv) and Sophie Williamson (Alex). Nelsonians Jeannie Kuhajek and Britta Martin also have the ability to stage a surprise.
Among mountain bikers the racing promises to be much more clear cut, with no one expected to challenge the world’s number one ranked junior mountain bikers, Anton Cooper (Chch) and Jolanda Neff (Switz).
On Sunday the action moves downtown for the Armstrong Motor Group City Criterium, raced this year within Canterbury University. In an action-packed day, events vary from kids’ races to BMX and trials displays to recreational events allowing punters to experience Euro-style racing at home.
Riders such as Jeremy Yates, Robin Reid, Daniel Barry, James McCoy, James Williamson (Alex) and Paul Odlin all have ample experience in the criterium format, but fast-finishing former Olympian Jason Allen (Chch) won the Armstrong Motor Group City Criterium in 2007 and has good form following a gold medal at the Oceania track cycling championship last week. Watch out, too, for talented Invercargill teens Cam Karwowski, Piet Bulling, Tom Beadle, Matt Zenovich and Tom Vessey, who are all up and coming speedsters in the national development squad.
Invercargill will also feature in the women’s criterium where national track champion Sequoia Cooper will be a contender in a tough women’s field that includes Alexandra’s in form Sophie Williamson, who scored a bronze medal at this year’s world junior track championships. The experienced Sheridan is always a contender, and won the Armstrong Motor Group City Criterium in 2008. But the rider everyone will be watching is Auckland’s Emily Collins, who illustrated that she’s one of the best criterium riders on the American pro circuit with several top-10 placings and a win in California’s prestigious Safeway Pleasanton Criterium.
Criterium racing, however, is often unpredictable and if one were to predict some unpredictable winners you might look for Slovenian national rep Andi Bajc and up and coming Canadian pro Shailie Sanbrooks. Bajc has raced the world championship for Slovenia and was also to the fore in several stages of the Tour of Southland recently, despite only just arriving in the country. Sanbrooks is a former Canadian rep triathlete who recently signed her first professional ride on the US circuit.
The weather for this weekend’s seventh Armstrong Motor Group Festival of Cycling – strong north westerlies for Waipara on Saturday and rain for Christchurch on Sunday – might also play a part in the race for line honours, but isn’t expected to affect entries.
Almost 900 riders have registered for the weekend’s racing, which following the Christchurch earthquakes has had to be totally relocated to Waipara and Canterbury University. Entries are still open on Friday between 11am and 6pm at Armstrong Peugeot, cnr St Asaph and Durham St.