Four-time medallist Linda Villumsen and climber George Bennett will head the New Zealand team for this month’s UCI Road Cycling Championships in Florence.
BikeNZ today named a 14-strong team to tackle what many believe is among the toughest of tests for the championships that run from 22-29 September.
The men’s road course of 272kms includes 10 laps of a 16.5km circuit in Fiesole after an initial 107km from Florence with a total of nearly 60kms of climbing distance and vertical climb of 3kms. The women’s course covers 130kms mostly of the same daunting circuit.
Villumsen, 28, has been in sparkling form since her return to the Pro Tour following her prolonged break after the London Olympics, where she finished less than two seconds off a medal in the women’s time trial.
She has won three bronze medals and a silver medal in the time trial at the last four consecutive world championships, the only New Zealand rider to win an elite medal at any road world championships.
Now riding for Wiggle Honda pro team, Villumsen won the overall honours at La Route de France along with one stage victory, she was fifth in the Thuringen Rundfahrt and 14th overall in the Giro d’Italia. She is currently leading the Tour of Ardeche after victory in the prologue.
Villumsen will be supported by fellow Wiggle Honda rider Emily Collins, experienced London Olympian Jo Kiesanowski (Team TIBCO) and Dunedin’s Reta Trotman who has impressed this season in Europe riding in her debut season for German pro team MaxxSOLAR, including finishing second in the mountain classification in Gracia Orlova Tour.
“Linda has an outstanding record in the time trial at the world championships and will be gunning to get to the top of the podium this year,” said Mark Elliott, BikeNZ High Performance Director.
“She needed the break from the sport after the disappointment of the Olympics and the time out from the rigours of a professional team has done wonders. She has returned fresh and enthusiastic. Her results suggest she will be competitive on this tough road circuit and we have selected a strong team to support her.”
Elliott said they have two further spots available for the women’s road race and will be evaluating the form of other contenders this week to determine if they should be added to the team.
Bennett, 23, has been a standout this year on the World Tour for RadioShack-Leopard, finishing third in the young rider category and eighth overall in the USA Pro Challenge last week, 18th overall in the Tour of Austria and impressed in his first Grand Tour at the Giro d’Italia.
Supporting the Nelson man will be outstanding Garmin Sharp rider Jack Bauer and London Olympic medallist Sam Bewley (Orica GreenEDGE).
“George is the obvious go-to man for a course like this. Jack has freshened up after his brilliant effort in the Tour de France and has trained specifically for the road race to support George while Sam will focus on protecting George in the first half of the race.”
Bewley and his Olympic teammate Jesse Sergent (Radioshack Leopard) will compete in the time trial.
Twenty-year-old James Oram (north Harbour), in his second year for the Bontrager pro team, is a leading hope for under-23 honours. He was fifth in the young rider category at the USA Pro Challenge and is a former junior time trial medallist at the 2011 world championships.
He will be joined by European-based Alex Frame (Thuringer Energie) and Dion Smith (Champion Systems) in the road race and national champion Michael Vink, a member of the BikeNZ endurance squad in Europe, in the time trial.
Unavailable for selection were Hayden Roulston, Greg Henderson, Georgia Williams and Josh Atkins.
The championships comprise a team time trial (including trade teams) on 22 September, time trials for junior women (14.5km) and under-23 men (42.7km) on 23 September, junior men and elite women (both 25.34km) on 24 September and elite men (56.8km) on 25 September. The road races comprise junior women (82.85km) and under-23 men (172.79km) on 27 September, junior men and elite women (both 139.65km) on 28 September and elite men (272.26km) on 29 September.
The BikeNZ team is:
Elite men: George Bennett (Nelson, Radioshack Leopard, road race); Jack Bauer (Takaka, Garmin Sharp, road race); Jesse Sergent (Feilding, Radioshack Leopard, Time trial); Sam Bewley (Rotorua, Orica GreenEDGE, time trial, road race).
Elite women: Linda Villumsen (Auckland, Wiggle Honda, time trial, road race); Emily Collins (Auckland, Wiggle Honda, road race), Reta Trotman (Dunedin, Maxx Solar Stevens, road race); Jo Kiesanowski (Christchurch, Team TIBCO, road race).
Under-23 Men: James Oram (Bontrager Cycling, North Harbour, time trial, road race), Michael Vink (Christchurch, time trial); Dion Smith (Champion Systems, Auckland, road race); Alex Frame (Thuringer Energie, Christchurch, road race).
Junior women: Devon Hiley (Auckland, road race); Madison Campbell (Christchurch, road race).