Manawatu sports fans will be treated to top-level cycling when the New Zealand Community Trust Cycle Classic Tour of Manawatu is held in the region next week for the third year running. The international tour has once again cemented its position as New Zealand’s premier stage race as the twenty seven edition has attracted the strongest-ever field contesting the UCI 2.2-rated event.
Race Director Jorge Sandoval says the standard of the field is well beyond all of his expectations. He says he's had to turn down several overseas teams because he simply didn’t have the budget to fit them in the race.
Top national and professional riders from England, Singapore, Azerbaijan, Australia, the Netherlands, Ireland, Hong Kong and some of the best of New Zealand make up the field for the year’s biggest cycle tour in New Zealand. A field of 105 riders, a total of ten overseas teams plus ten New Zealand teams are taking part in New Zealand’s and Oceania’s only UCI 2.2 international cycle tour.
“I have been running international bike races for a long time, and we’ve had some fantastic fields over the previous 26 years with riders coming from Europe, America, Asia and Australia, but I believe the 2014 field to be the best ever,” Sandoval said. “Having ten overseas teams with riders from eight different countries plus several of the best from New Zealand is the best I can aim for.”
“The classic is recognised overseas as the road tour with the highest international standing in this country, and I expect it will be reflected in the quality of the New Zealand and overseas riders taking part in this year’s tour”.
“Each year the classic unearths new talent, and a number of those riders have gone on to win stages in the Tour de France, the Tour of Italy and world championships. We are also grateful for the continuous support from NZCT to the event and the sport of cycling. The NZCT support enables young up and coming New Zealand cyclists to get the experience of competing against top rider’s right here in our own country.” said Race Director Jorge Sandoval.
This month’s event is set for an epic finish, stage five on the last day of racing will be crucial to decide the overall winner. The stage will take the field from Palmerston North to the Wairarapa region via the Pahiatua hill and from there to the finish at the top of Saddle road.
To have the Pahiatua/Saddle Road stage is a coup for race director Jorge Sandoval. Both hills used to be one of the features of the old Tour of Manawatu years ago. Sandoval has been able to make it happen again thanks to the co-operation of Transit New Zealand and the Palmerston North City Council, and it will require the Saddle Road being closed to all traffic on February 2 from 9.30am to 11.00am.
“The final stage is basically new territory for an international bike race. We are going to places where no bike race has ever been before, even I got lost working on the race route a couple of times trying to find my way to the hill. Riders will climb the Pahiatua track before they complete a 130km circuit in the Wairarapa before heading for the tough climb to the top of Saddle Road by the Meridian wind farm.”
“Stage five will be a classic stage, finishing the tour with a top of the mountain finish will keep participants and cycling fans waiting to the last few kilometres of the event to find the 2014 winner” Sandoval said.
Sandoval’s tour made its reputation on the quality of its hill climbs over the last 27 years, and with the Pahiatua and Saddle road hills on stage five will make the last three days of the tour particularly arduous. Previously to the final stage, riders will complete stages to Apiti and also a tough circuit in the Ashhurst area.
“Cycling is gaining momentum in New Zealand, and we (tour directors) must design stages that are going to test the riders, and attract public interest. Tour racing is a test of strength, stamina, and endurance, and I’m really happy I’ve been able to lift the demands on the riders a further notch or two by including two tough hills on the final day” Sandoval said.
With so many accomplished overseas riders in the field it is hard to predict a winner. It will come down to the final stage where the hill climbers should come out and show their class. Wind has proven difficult to riders over the last couple of years and in the first two – three days anything can happen. The large field will also play a part as riders will struggle for positions in the bunch during stages.
The NZCT Cycle Classic with all the colour, drama and excitement of world class cycling, will provide a unique showcase for the whole region when it is screened on TV both nationally and internationally.
The NZCT Cycle Classic will also celebrate its 27th anniversary in 2014. The event is on from
29 January to 2 February 2014.