Twenty-year-old Michael Vink created cycling history with his solo victory in the RaboDirect Road Cycling National Championships in Christchurch today.
The Mico Protrain rider from Christchurch held off the chasers to win the gruelling 183km race by just six seconds to claim the overall honours and successfully defend his under-23 crown. He is the first rider to take out the under-23 national title and win the overall honours. Vink also claimed the double after winning the under-23 time trial on Friday, while his winning time of 4:38:09 was a course record, more than five minutes faster than Hayden Roulston’s time in 2011.
Last year Vink impressed with a brave attack that saw him reeled in only on the final lap by Roulston, although the young rider held on to take the under-23 title.
Today his solo attack on the penultimate lap worked, holding off a fierce charge from Pure Black Racing’s James Williamson (Alexandra) and US-based Team Bissell pro Patrick Bevin (Taupo) who came up just six seconds short. Williamson finished second to claim the elite men’s honours with Bevin third overall and runner-up in the under-23 division.
Vink (Mico Protrain) dropped Jeremy Vennell (Team Bissell) on the penultimate climb up the testing Dyers Pass hill to open up a 45 second buffer with a lap remaining.
“I would have liked Vennell to stay on for longer but at the bottom of the climb he said he was gone. So at that stage I had no choice but to go solo and time trial my way to the finish,” Vink said.
Pre-race favourite Jack Bauer, about to begin his World Tour career with Garmin Cervelo, made the initial charge from the handful of remaining chasers, but it was Bevin and Williamson who took up the cudgels. The margin was reduced to 35 seconds at the top of the climb and 17 seconds with 2km left. The gap was 12 seconds at the 1km mark but Vink managed to hold on to record an outstanding win.
“This win means a lot to me, not just that I won but how I won it. It has given me a lot of confidence because I know I can win this level of race now.
“The national champs are always tough and fast races because there’s no prize for finishing second.
“I knew the chasers would be coming at me but at that stage you can’t worry about them. It was a matter of putting your head down and giving it everything you have. If it was good enough then it was good enough.
“I always knew it was possible to win the overall race as well. I set myself really high goals and that was one of them.”
Vink will prepare for the New Zealand Cycle Classic in the Manawatu race later this month with his Mico Protrain team before heading to Belgium where he will race for a top amateur team.
“If I can get some good results I hope this will lead to a professional contract. The team have some great race starts around Europe in some top stage races.”
It proved a bitter-sweet time for the 22 year old Williamson who found out before Christmas that PureBlack Racing team cannot fund their planned European programme after a promising maiden year in the USA in 2011.
He answered in the ideal way and hopes his national title will help secure a spot in a professional team this year.
“I am stoked to take the title. It was touch and go if we would get up in the last lap and I definitely wanted to be first across the line. But I knew the other under-23 boys had more to ride for and went with them.
“We rode so hard and we were so close. But I am rapt to win this title. I have no special plans now but I hope that winning will help me open some doors. It would be pretty special to be able to take the national jersey overseas to race.”
The pace was on from the start, riders recording up to 60kph as the field strung out in single file before a group of nine riders made the first break. The group, including former Olympian Robin Reid, Bevin, favourite Jesse Sergent and Vink, pushed out to a 1m38s lead at the halfway mark.
They were reeled in two laps later before Waikato’s Shem Rodger went off the front, opening up a 1min 13sec buffer before he was caught with three laps remaining.
With Rodger dropped, Taranaki’s Michael Torkler, Vink and Vennell pushed clear. Torkler was also dropped with Vink and Vennell opening up a one minute lead with two laps remaining. Vink turned up the heat up the hill on the penultimate lap as Vennell dropped away to link up with the chasers including Bevin, Atkins, Williamson and Bauer.
However it was the young Cantabrian who got the ultimate reward for his brave attack on a day of fierce racing on a telling circuit with only 13 of the 70 starters finishing.
Results, RaboDirect National Road cycling Championships, 183km:
Elite: James Williamson (PureBlack Racing, Southland) 4:38:15, 1; Jeremy Yates (Mico Protrain, East Coast North Island) at 1:49, 2; Jeremy Vennell (Team Bissell, ECNI) at 2:04, 3.
Under 23: Michael Vink (Mico Protrain, Canterbury) 4:38:09, 1; (course record); Patrick Bevin (Team Bissell, Waikato Bay of Plenty) at six seconds, 2; Josh Atkins (Canterbury) at 22 secs, 3.