Round 3 of the Benchmark Homes Elite Team Racing series will have some of New Zealand’s top climbers battling the grueling 133km from Hanmer to Kaikoura. The classic course features a series of short-sharp climbs along the twisting narrow inland route climaxing with a dramatic climb to the finish line atop the Ocean Ridge Estate just south of the picturesque Kaikoura.
In 2006, Brian Fowler was first into Kaikoura, Hayden Roulston in 2007 and Gordon MacAuley beat all contenders in both 2008 and 2009, however his recent exit from the Subway-Avanti team will leave this year’s race wide open. The high caliber of this year’s riders and the strengths of their respective teams will offer opportunities for many potential candidates to be the first into the coastal town.
Subway-Avanti team manager Greg Hume said “With three of our top riders, Michael Vink, James Williamson and Sam Horgan making the most of their overseas racing opportunities, we have a team of six left in the country and will carry on and support the domestic scene which is our priority to our sponsors. Jo Cooper has had a slow start to the year; however his recent form including his strong 2nd placing at the Club Nationals in the Hawkes Bay last weekend shows he is capable of winning.
As always, intense interest is on the Team prize and Benchmark Homes Team will be aiming to protect and strengthen their current top position.
“We are sitting comfortably in the number one position in the team classification,” said Tony La Planche, Benchmark Homes Team Manager. “There is no doubt about it, we are going out to win! We are looking to lead the race the whole way and not sit in. With the tough 800m finish to the top, James McCoy and Josh Atkins are both in excellent climbing form so they are certainly two riders to look out for at the end. All the boys have been training well and the key here is the enthusiasm with which they are participating in the team side of the racing. This makes them easy to manage and it’s enjoyable”
“I also want to mention the guys who are running the Benchmark Homes series. I think they are doing a great job. All we do is trundle up every week and everything is arranged and ready to go. They are all volunteers. We really appreciate the work and effort they put in. I appreciate it and I know the teams appreciate it too. Excellent!!
“Back to this weeks race though, our toughest competition should come from Subway,” said La Planche, “but Bici Vida’s recent signing of Paul Odlin makes them another team to watch.”
Auckland’s Bici Vida team manager Benny Devcich said “Paul Odlin, our local Christchurch rider brings with him a fair bit of knowledge, having raced the course a number of times but the Hanmer course is new to us so we have to make sure the riders are completely knowledgeable about what’s ahead of them. So, we will try and test the hard 50km tail of the course on our way to Hanmer this weekend.”
“Although we missed the 1st round of the Benchmark series in Nelson, our plan is to keep things easy because we are relatively unknown to the other teams. We are going to concentrate on communicating within the team during the race. The boys are super motivated with only two or three more races to go before the winter. They see this as their last chance to try another couple of tactics within the team.” said Devcich. “That transition from a solo rider to a team rider is huge and I am really pushing for the team captain on the road to take charge.”
Devcich has found the calibre of riders in the Benchmark series to be excellent. They are now looking ahead to the last four rounds where riders will be back from overseas, ready to shake things up. This will be the same scenario for several of the teams such as Subway Avanti Pro Cycling and Benchmark Homes Cycling Team so the end stages of the series should be just as exciting as the beginning stages.
While much of the focus will be at the head of the race, the Tasman Wheelers team will be focusing on maintaining their dominance in the women’s race. The pairing of Karen Fulton and Women’s classification leader Jeannie Kuhajek will be favoured, but challenges can be expected from the 4 woman strong Thule team featuring Multisport and Adventure Racer Sia Svensden who placed 3rd in round one in Nelson, Olympian Annaliisa Farrell and the never to be underestimated Tracey Clark.
New Zealand’s most southern racing team H and J Smith Outdoor World Southland’s manager Ross Machejefski has some great aspirations for his young team this year. “The main aim is to foster the development of young Southland riders, developing people, not just the racing. The experience of working together on and off the road during the series is gold” says Machejefski, with the series providing great racing to complement the track season.
The H and J Smith team is made up of mostly Under 23 riders who all ride track. They are looking at achieving good finishes in the Under 23 competition, with Hamish Presbury and Pieter Bulling two strong contenders for this category.
“There is a lot of climbing in the course, which just doesn’t let up,” said Machejefski who is sure they are ready for the relentless nature of the Mt Lyford section.
Machejefski names H and J Smith Outdoor World as ‘magic sponsors’ with John Green, the Chief Executive of H and J Smith Ltd a key person. John’s passion for cycling began with his involvement through the corporate cycling at the Invercargill Velodrome which he just loved. That grew into backing the young local talent from the track into a road team.
Round 3 will start at 10am from the Hanmer Springs Sports Pavilion on Jacks Pass Road, and the first riders can be expected at the top of the climb in the Ocean Ridge Estate just south of Kaikoura sometime after 1pm