While many were looking to the star World Tour professionals, it was the homegrown Avanti Racing team riders led by Wellington’s Joe Cooper, who took a clean sweep of the Calder Stewart elite national road championship men's race in Christchurch today.
Cooper led local Christchurch teammate Tom Davison home after a superb break late on the penultimate lap of the 183km race, that comprised 12 laps including 10 climbs up the famed Dyers Pass in Cashmere hills.
The pair took advantage of outstanding teamwork to hold off all challengers with Cooper taking the title from the former triathlete Davison, who was third last year, while their Avanti Racing teammate Jason Christie broke clear of the select chase group to claim third after being in the original break.
“Today we had six guys and everyone knew the plan and everyone was ready to sacrifice themselves. We put in a lot and got a lot out,”said Cooper.
“You can’t ask any more from the team than a one-two-three. That is outstanding.”
It was a breakthrough for the 29 year old who won the time trial in 2013.
“I’ve been racing at the nationals for 10 years and come second to Gordon McCauley before which was a one-two-three-four in Subway days.
“To get the jersey now I feel like everything I’ve been working towards and building towards and putting in 10 years of hard work (for), has definitely paid off and (is) justification for sticking at it and nutting it out.”
Local Christchurch rider Hamish Schreurs, who lives in Cashmere, claimed the under-23 honours, finishing seventh overall, from Auckland’s Dion Smith and Te Awamutu’s Hayden McCormick, last year’s under-213 champion.
A strong group comprising McCormick, Christie, double Olympic medallist Westley Gough, Canterbury’s Paul Odlin and 2013 national under-23 winner James Oram pushed out to a lead of three minutes 20 seconds after four laps but by lap eight the lead had shrunk to a minute.
They were caught three laps from the finish when Nelson’s George Bennett, who will ride for World Tour LottoNL-Jumbo this year, bravely attacked up the hill as one of the world’s leading climbers, joined by Avanti’s Paddy Bevin.
The bunch came back together, as Orica GreenEDGE professional Sam Bewley loomed large, but it was Cooper’s charge, backed by neo-pro Davison that proved the winning move.
After six years in Christchurch, where the event has gained new-found popularity with massive crowds on the Dyers Pass climb, the championships move to Napier for the next three years.
Results, Road Race
Elite Men, 183km: Joe Cooper (Avanti Racing Team, Wellington) 4:34:53, 1; Tom Davison (Avanti Racing Team, Canterbury) same time, 2; Jason Christie (Avanti Racing Team, Mid South Canterbury) 4:35:23, 3; Sam Bewley (Rotorua, Orica GreenEDGE) 4:36:38, 4; George Bennett (Nelson, Lotto NL Jumbo) same time, 5.
Under-23: Hamish Schreurs (Canterbury) 4:36:45, 1; Dion Smith (Hincapie Racing Team, Auckland) 4:36:47, 2; Hayden McCormick (Lotto-Soudal, Te Awamutu) same time, 3.