Dan Underwood defended his individual Tour of New Zealand title today, beating Tim James in a close and exciting criterium in the shadow of the Beehive in the grounds of Parliament House in Wellington.
Both riders had been the dominant solo individuals in the North and South Islands as the tour made its way towards Wellington for today’s title deciding racing. James had been the first solo rider home in every stage in the North Island while Underwood was only beaten in final stage from Blenheim to Picton via Queens Charlotte Sound.
After being locked together for nine laps of the 600 metre course that started and ended right in front of Parliament House, Underwood made his winning move on the final climb up Molesworth Street, attacking and managing to get a small break on James. As the two riders re-entered Parliament grounds and turned into the finishing straight James was closing on Underwood but ran out of road, finishing second to a solo rider for the first time in this year’s tour.
Former professional and national representative Yvette Hill-Willis was in a class of her own in the individual women’s criterium, comfortable accounting for the South Island’s leading female Jeanette White.
Defending teams champion Christchurch Boys High School was crowned the overall team’s winner after completing eight laps of the criterium course, two more than the North Island’s winning team Hikurangi.
Wellington Mayor Celia Wade-Brown and MP for Hutt South Trevor Mallard rode in the ‘celebrity’ criterium event, with Mayor Wade-Brown riding on an electric bike, and enjoying it so much she completed an extra two laps.
Tour Director Peter Yarrell was thrilled with the Tour, saying today’s racing was the ‘climax of a wonderful week of riding, racing and raising funds for some really deserving charities.’
“We couldn’t have done it without our outstanding team and our great sponsors,” he said. “And today Wellington just turned on great weather that made for such an amazing spectacle. The steps of Parliament made for a magnificent grandstand to view the racing; it was just outstanding.”
Yarrell said many riders were already making their plans for next year’s tour, and that hopefully they would bring a few extra riders with them.
“It’s just such a unique event,” he said. “It begins simultaneously in Cape Reinga or Bluff and finishes about 700 kilometres or eight days later at the Beehive in Wellington.”
The event has a growing profile overseas, and Yarrell said although he was keen to see more Kiwi’s riding, he expects to see an increase in riders coming from overseas as well.
“It’s such a great showcase for New Zealand,” he stressed. “It really show’s off all of the best we have to offer in terms of our wonderful scenery and of course our great places to ride a bike.”
Twenty percent of riders in this year’s tour were from overseas, with leading individuals Underwood making the trip from Japan to race and James came from the UK.
Yarrell said the event had a focus on raising funds Tour beneficiaries, the Heart Foundation, St Johns, Halberg Trust and the Hikurangi bikes in schools programmes, and that it would be a few weeks before the final figure raised would be known.