A who’s-who of New Zealand cycling are in Christchurch this weekend for the prestigious Armstrong Motor Group Festival of Cycling.
In just six years Christchurch’s Armstrong Motor Group Festival of Cycling has become one of New Zealand’s premier cycling events. The quality and depth of the fields for this weekend of riding is second only to the Tour of Southland, but this is also an event providing something for everyone with more than 1000 riders of all age and ability taking on a two-wheeled challenge.
There is much to look forward to in 2010 Armstrong Motor Group Festival of Cycling. On Saturday racing is based from McCormack's Bay in Redcliffs. Recreational road cyclists will take on the 80k Harbour Ride around the Lyttelton Harbour Bays, while mountain bikers take on a challenging 30k route along the Port Hills. The Benchmark Mini-Bays gives kids a crack at a fun 5k or 10k, but racing kicks off at 8:00am with the country’s best riders in the 80k Avanti Long Bays Classic.
Olympic and Commonwealth Games medallist Hayden Roulston will wear number 1 when racing gets underway. But the battle for line honours promises to be wide open as a mix of proven champions and precocious up and comers go head to head. Three of the previous five Long Bays winners – Roulston (2006), national rep Joe Cooper (2007) and Olympian Robin Reid (2008) – will be on the start line, but they’ll be challenged by youngsters such as New Zealand’s newest professionals on the world circuit, Josh Atkins, Michael Vink and George Bennett. The riders with most at stake, however, will be the experienced and always ambitious Gordon McCauley (Akld) and Jeremy Yates (Napier), who are currently first and second in the national road series and will be keen to claim their first wins at the Armstrong Motor Group Festival of Cycling.
The women’s race could play out similarly to the men with favourites Serena Sheridan (Napier) and Catherine Cheatley (Whanganui) currently leading the national series. Sheridan can clinch the national series this weekend, but Cheatley is wanting to win her third consecutive Avanti Long Bays Classic and if she can then Sheridan’s series hopes could come down to the final race in Wellington next week. In Christchurch, however, they need to be wary of watching only each other because on their day top class contenders such as Tracy Best (Wgtn), Rushlee Buchanan (Te Awa), Karen Fulton and Jeanie Kuhajek (Nel), Emma Crum (Akld), Julia Grant (ChCh) and German-born former pro cyclist Britta Martin (Nel) are all capable of upsetting the odds.
Among mountain bikers at the Armstrong Motor Group Festival of Cycling the odds are on defending champion Brendan Sharratt to retain his title ahead of national short course champion Mark Leishman (Roto) and national junior champion Richard Anderson (Blen). But the real interest will be in 16 year old Anton Cooper, the Christchurch super-teen who is a year older, stronger and wiser than last year when he placed a close third behind Sharratt and Anderson.
The woman’s mountain bike race will also see the defending champion under pressure. Last year local rider Sara Taylor made superb use of a home course for an upset win over Rotorua’s Nic Leary. Just 17 seconds separated them at the finish line, but Leary has since gone on to claim her first national title and will be keen to claim the top step of the podium this time.
On Sunday the action moves downtown for the Armstrong Motor Group City Criterium. In an action-packed day events vary from kids’ races to BMX and trials displays to celebrity tandem races and recreational events allowing punters to experience Euro-style racing at home. The feature events, however, will be the elite men and women where traditionally huge crowds turn out to watch Olympians, Tour de France riders and recent Commonwealth Games stars doing battle up close around the exciting Oxford Terrace café strip.
As much as Cath Cheatley will be focused on trying to win her third consecutive Avanti Long Bays Classic on Saturday, she’ll also be keen to improve on her second place in last year’s City Criterium. Cheatley is one of the world’s best all-rounders but when racing at home this can work against her. In last year’s City Criterium she used up her strength chasing breaks while others sat in her slipstream, which then left her without the legs to match Aussie sprint ace Laura Luxford. If the race comes down to a sprint again, Cheatley and everyone else will need to watch out for Te Awamutu flyer Rushlee Buchanan.
Criterium racing, with its tight cornering, high speeds, tactics, sprints and potential for crashes, is often dominated by riders with experience in the cut and thrust of track racing. Indeed, Olympic track exponents Marc Ryan (Timaru) and Jason Allen (ChCh) have both won the Armstrong Motor Group City Criterium. But their more illustrious Olympic teammate Hayden Roulston has not and will be keen to join former world champion Greg Henderson as the only rider to have taken both the Long Bays and City Criterium double at the Festival (2005).
Criterium racing, however, can also favour riders willing to take their chances, such as defending City Criterium champion Alex Ray, who outsprinted track world champion Hayden Godfrey last year. The 21 year old Aucklander is taking his chances again this year, as is 20 year old World Cup track star Tom Scully (Inv), and in form 21 year old Aucklanders Mike Northey, who was a standout sprinter at the Tour of Southland, and Roman Van Uden, who surprised with a win at the Round Taupo event just last weekend. But they’ll all need to watch for 38 year old Gordon McCauley, who despite being almost twice their age is still capable of stealing any race with almost any tactic.
The weather for this weekend’s sixth Armstrong Motor Group Festival of Cycling – forecast for sun with rising winds – isn’t expected to impact racing and event organiser Simon Hollander expects a good level of late entries on Friday that should see total entries of around 1200 riders.