A strong New Zealand men’s national road cycling team has been named for this month’s UCI 2.2 stage race, the New Zealand Cycle Classic, held entirely in the Wairarapa.
The five man strong team to compete in the five stage race being held from January 20th – 24th 2016 is made up of New Zealand pro riders and track riders – many of whom are focusing on the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. Leading the charge is Michael Vink, six times NZ road champion and a former winner of the NZ Cycle Classic (2014) who until December 2015 was a member of the UCI registered team Champion System registered from China but as from next month he will be heading to France to race racing for ACNC Sojasun, one of the top club teams in the country. As past winner, he knows there will be a lot of expectations of him going into the race.
“I do feel there is a little extra pressure on myself because I know that it's a race I can win,” says Vink.
“I was disappointed to miss the 2015 edition of the race and defend my title, so it will be nice to return in 2016 as a previous winner. Winning the tour in 2014 was really good as it gave me some UCI points early on in the season, which took a bit of pressure off me. A UCI win is always very valuable as it's recognised all over the world and puts you on the radar of some of the bigger teams. You only have to look at the list of previous winners to see how valuable this tour is for anyone looking to make it into the professional ranks.”
Vink believes the NZ Cycle Classic, the only UCI tour being held in New Zealand this year, is the best opportunity for Kiwi riders to test themselves against professional riders from all around the world. It will also double as final preparation for his 2016 European season, where Vink will be based in France riding for ACNC Sojasun, one of the top club teams in the country.
“The tour also introduces some of the less experienced riders to the atmosphere of a UCI race, which is quite a spectacle and a good opportunity to gain familiarity with UCI race protocol,” he says. “Race director Jorge Sandoval runs the race to a very high standard and gives an excellent introduction to what it's like being a part of a professional race, both on and off the bike”
Vink will be joined by Brad Evans, the winner of 2015 Tours of Tasmania and Tour of Southland who is making his debut in the event; New Zealand world champion at the 2015 track championships in France 21-year old Pieter Bulling; 21-year-old Hamish Schreurs, another young experienced rider who has been based in France for the last three years racing the European circuit with a French team and Nick Kergozou, a member of the NZ track team and the 2014 NZ track champion.
Cycling New Zealand development manager Graeme Hunn is the team manager and is looking forward to seeing his young charges race on the Wairarapa’s roads.
"This is a major event that we have an opportunity to support and offer some of our road riders some strong early season competition, especially for those still to return to their professional teams," Hunn says. "It is a chance for some of our track riders to rebuild out on the roads as they prepare towards the world championships in March and it is a fantastic opportunity for some of our promising young riders to compete and learn from some of the best."
Race director Jorge Sandoval is looking forward to seeing the New Zealand team take on teams from England, Australia and Kenya and is predicting strong performances from Vink and Evans.
“Vink and Evans are all-around riders, strong on the hills and experienced so it will be interesting to see who will support who as I know Brad Evans wants to win this tour very much, on top of these two riders they have the speed of the track riders and Pieter Bulling, could be the team to watch at the tour,” says Sandoval.
Brad Evans is a rising star of New Zealand cycling and is looking forward to his first time racing the event.
“I've heard it has some good challenging courses in the Wairarapa and has the potential to be windy which suits me. There are some top level teams lined up which is great to see. I would firstly like a stage win then be up front every day and see how the overall pans out,” he says.
“It is very good to have a top level UCI race in New Zealand as this means more to international teams than the national event tours so to win is very good for the resume.”
The five-stage New Zealand Cycle Classic is being held from Wednesday, January 20th to Sunday, January 24th 2016 and will be held entirely in the Wairarapa.