The fifth round of the Benchmark Homes Elite Cycling series, The Tasman Classic in Moutere near Nelson, is shaping up on Saturday as an exciting battle with a number of riders still in contention for overalls series honours across several classifications with only two races left.
The Neudorf Hill Circuit has a number of climbs on narrow winding roads and features some rolling terrain and fast flats that will provide a stern test for riders.
Elite menís leaders Brad Evans (Team Calder Stewart), local Nelson rider Dan Barry (Tasman Wheelers) and H&Jís Outdoor Worlds Cameron Karwowski are not racing opening the way for last roundís winner and third placed Jason Allen (Scotty Browns Racing) to make a move to the top of the points table. He will have strong support from team mates Reon Nolan, Robin Reid and Michael Vink.
Double winter and summer Olympian and local Nelson rider Chris Nicolson is also within striking distance of the top of the points table, made even more impressive as he is eligible to ride in the Masters 45 to 49 age group and suffered a potentially fatal cardiac arrest last year.
Ian Smallman (Team Thule Racing) will be keen to claim a win after two fourth placed finishes, one third and a second which has him leading the masterís 35 to 44 grade by 28 points from Scott Wilder (Dadís Army) with Justin Sims (Armitage Williams) only two points behind Wilder.
Smallman will have Wellingtonís David Rowlandís (Armstrong Subaru) looming as a major threat. Rowland lines up for only his second race in this yearís series after winning round three and should be in good form after racing in a number of amateur events in Europe over the New Zealand winter, including the World Amateur Road Champs in Slovenia two weeks ago where a broken wheel five kilometres from the finish cost him a podium spot.
Things are very tight at the top of the masters 45-49 classification with Paul Gough (Cycle World) clinging to a two point lead over Blair Stuthridge (Thule) and Warmup Cyclingís Lee Johnstone who won this round last year.
Jorg Engelbrecht has a 21 point lead over his Thule team mate Andre Chappell in the over 50 masterís men while womenís leader Elyse Fraser is locked in a battle with her Benchmark Homes team mate Sharlotte Lucas and Nelsonís Karen Fulton (Tasman Wheelers) with only eight points separating the three leading ladies.
Silver medallist in the road race at 1986 Edinburgh Commonwealth Games Greg Fraine is another strong rider making only his second appearance in the series. Fraine (Dadís Army) heads up Triathlon New Zealandís High Performance program and won the over 50ís classification in his sole race in the series on tough Hanmer Springs to Kaikoura route in round three in May.
Thereís little doubt that Saturdayís race will produce some Ďfireworksí with the course providing a great mix of climbing and flats as riders and teams fight for results to put themselves in a strong position for the final round, the Faringdon Team Time Trial and Benchmark Homes Hell of the South that features a number of gravel sections, on Saturday the 4th of October in Canterburyís Selwyn District.
The elite menís field will race over 127 kilometres while the masters and womenís events will tackle 107 kilometres.