New Zealand road cycling champion James Williamson will lead the NZCT -New Zealand national team in the NZCT Cycle Classic – Tour of Manawatu from January 23 to 27.
The 23-year-old from Alexandra in central Otago is the class act in a squad that tour director Jorge Sandoval believes contains several of the most promising road riders in the country for New Zealand’s only event on the UCI calendar.
He experienced a frustrating few months last year with the Pure Black team, which has finally given up competing at international level, before his career received a welcome boost with his signing for the British team Node 4 for 2013. Williamson has also twice been NZ under-23 champion, and competed at a number of world championships.
“James is a very classic rider,” Sandoval said. “He took the yellow jersey in the Cycle Classic a couple of years ago in the stage up the Rimutakas. He showed his class that day, and I am sure he will come to the tour in pretty good shape.”
Assisting his preparation will be the defence of his national road title on the Cashmere Hills in Christchurch on Sunday (January 13). Williamson is a versatile rider, strong on the hills, and fast in a sprint finish.
Lining up with Williamson will be the 2011 Cycle Classic victor Michael Torckler, which seemed hardly possible after he suffered severe injuries while out training in California in June last year. He was the victim of a hit-and-run driver that left him with 20 facial fractures and a broken arm after he was run over. Torckler has no recollection of what occurred but the driver was sentenced to a prison term of more than 10 years.
“Mine and the hearts of many other cycling fans started pumping fast when we heard what had happened to Mike,” Sandoval said. “The speed of his recovery has amazed his doctors. Twelve days afterwards he went home, and a month later he was back riding on an indoor bike.
“As a former tour winner and a friend, I’m really pleased to see him racing again in the classic. Mike is a fantastic hill-climber. This year’s stage four to the finish at the top of the Saddle Road by Meridian Te Apiti Wind Farm will suit him down to the ground.” Sandoval said.
Torckler, 26, of Taranaki, will continue with the American Team Bissell this year, which will also be supplying another Kiwi professional to the national team, Patrick Bevin. With 10 wins on the US professional circuit last year Bevin will come to the classic with a strong background, and he is expected to excel over the generally rolling terrain in the Manawatu.
Ryan Wills, a seasoned European campaigner, and Reon Nolan, of Christchurch, are the other members of the team. Of late Wills has ridden for Belgium team Lotto Bodysoul, and, in New Zealand, for Subway. Wills and Nolan both strong sprinters appeals as the ideal lead out men’s for team-mate Bevin.
This will be the NZCT tour’s second year totally based in the Manawatu. The decision to do so has been a popular one, and Sandoval anticipates this month’s event will produce some exceptional racing between the national squad, and the five Australian professional teams.