Sixteen year old South African born Christchurch cyclist Keagan Girdlestone won today’s gruelling 100 kilometre Christchurch to Akaroa Coffee Culture Le Race, the youngest ever winner in the event’s history.
A group of 16 riders lead after the first climb of the day through the Christchurch hillside suburb of Cashmere and stayed together until Auckland cycling coach Aaron Strong attacked after 50 kilometres of racing and was joined by Girdlestone, Dunedin rider Scott Thomas and Sam Lindsay.
Two kilometres before Little River Reon Nolan got across to his team mate Girdlestone and his breakaway companions and did a strong turn on the front to extend their lead and set up Girdlestone heading into the key six kilometre Hilltop climb.
“Reon just came flying past and did an awesome turn on the front, just drilling it to the bottom of the climb so we had a massive gap,” Girdlestone said.
Strong led the charge up the climb which saw Thomas dropped early on. Lindsay also worked hard on the climb with Girdlestone contributing to ensure they held their lead.
“Aaron Strong was so strong on the climb. He was just hitting it hard, all the way to the top with Sam Lindsay and then once we hit the rolling bits over the last 40 kilometres we were all mixing it up and working together until Aaron hit it up some of the short sharp climbs and Sam couldn’t follow his wheel and was dropped.”
Girdlestone then clung to Strong’s wheel with just over 20 kilometres of racing left, with the Auckland rider looking a likely winner but admitted his lack of local knowledge of the course may have cost him.
“It was tough not knowing the course,” Strong said. “Some of those pinches over the last 20 kilometres were tough and I probably did waste a bit of energy not knowing the course, doing some silly things at the wrong time, but I’m really happy with the result - looking at the field I didn’t think I’d be second so I’m pretty happy.”
Girdlestone, who won in a time of two hours and thirty six minutes, said he knew he had to attack Strong over the closing stages as he did not want to leave it to a sprint with his experienced breakaway companion.
“I made my move with about 15 kilometres to go,” Girdlestone said. “I was quite worried as looking back once I had the gap, it never grew or shrunk, but I’ve been working on my descending, so just opened it up on the final descent and managed to hold on to the finish for the win.”
The promising young rider said it was ‘quite an honour to win such a prestigious race, as it’s such a hard race, so it is really meaningful.’ Girdlestone also won the ‘Ross Bush Memorial Trophy’ awarded to the fastest junior rider in honour of Ross Bush’s life and cycling legacy; Bush was killed in the 2011 Canterbury earthquakes.
Last year’s Ross Bush Memorial Trophy winner Daniel Whitehouse chased the leaders over the closing 30 kilometres, finishing third, just over a minute behind Girdlestone and two minutes clear of Ben Robertson who lead home a bunch of six riders.
The win was a good sign of form for Girdlestone as he leaves tomorrow to race in the three day Tour of Adelaide, an Australian National Road Series event next week.
Professional Reta Trotman smashed the women’s’ course record to win in two hours and fifty four minutes, over ten minutes clear of last year’s women’s winner Sharlotte Lucas.
Trotman, who leaves next month to join her German pro team MaxxSOLAR, said Le Race was ‘pretty special’ as it was the first major cycle event she rode in, inspired by the course and its scenery.
“It had some pretty special friends on course today, which included my mum, so it was extra special.” she said.
Trotman recovered well after finding the first climb out of Christchurch tough and then getting dropped on the decent from Coppers Knob which resulted in her being left alone on the flat until eventually being picked up by a chasing bunch.
She said she had the course record as a target but thought that opportunity had passed after the tough first half of the race, but a very strong second half saw her make up lost ground.
“I’ve got to say a big ups to Brodie Catterick who really helped me a lot over the last bit, he was just a legend, I’m pretty stoked to win.”