Olympians Hayden Roulston and Catherine Cheatley confirmed their places at the top of Kiwi road cycling with comfortable wins on day one of Christchurch’s Armstrong Motor Group Festival of Cycling.
Christchurch awoke to perfect cycling weather on Saturday as almost 1200 riders lined up at Redcliffe’s McCormack’s Bay for the opening racing of the 2010 Armstrong Motor Group Festival of Cycling. In just six years this two-day event has become one of New Zealand’s premier cycling events, with top quality elite racing but also providing something for everyone from the 80k Harbour Ride to the 30k Mountain Bike and the Benchmark Homes Kids Mini-Bays kids, to the feature Avanti Long Bays Classic, which this year doubled as a round of the RaboDirect New Zealand Cycling Series.
The annual trip to Christchurch has certainly become a domestic highlight for Wanganui’s Cath Cheatley. The 27 year old former world champion on the track has in recent years become New Zealand’s top-ranked female on the road and this year took out the United States Road Series. But despite racing all over the world says, “I really like this race. It’s a hard course and I tend to go best when the course is hard.”
Cheatley came to Christchurch this year looking for her third straight victory in the Avanti Long Bays Classic, but knew she’d need a new set of tactics to do so. Her debut win in the 2008 Armstrong Motor Group Festival of Cycling came almost by accident when she didn’t realise she wasn’t leading until she actually caught Corset with five kilometres of the race to go. In 2009 Cheatley laid down the law before halfway, taking a sizeable lead over the 187m high Gebbies Pass and then extending it to beat another Australian, Laura Luxford, by three minutes.
In 2010 the racing was completely different again. This year she tried to use Gebbies Pass break away again, but against a stronger field she had to keep her head down all the way around the rolling Lyttelton Harbour bays, and it wasn’t until Evans Pass that she felt secure in the lead.
“The early racing was quite aggressive this year,” said Cheatley. “There were attacks going off the front quite a bit, so I just kept it smooth and waited for the right moment.”
That moment came over Gebbies Pass again, although this year she had to work much harder to make her winning move stick.
“I pushed it over Gebbies Pass and got a small lead, but I thought they’d pick me up easily,” she explained. “But I was still ahead over the next few smaller hills and I thought to myself, “if I can stay away until Governer’s Bay I might be able be able to hold them off.”
And that’s exactly what happened. Over Gebbies Pass Auckland’s Emma Crum helped keep the bunch close, and then was joined in the chase by national series leader Serena Sheridan (Napier). But on the tight, rolling coastal roads Cheatley managed to sneak an extra few seconds and then sealed the win with a strong ride over Evans Pass that saw her cross the finish line back in Redcliffs with a 1min 54sec advantage in 2hrs 11min 46secs.
Behind Cheatley’s impressive three-peat Emma Crum enjoyed one of her best national results yet to outsprint the experienced Sheridan for third, while Nelsonians Karen Fulton and Jeannie Kuhajek were best of the rest in fourth and fifth. Sheridan, Fulton and Kuhajek, however, took consolation in solidifying their first, third and fourth rankings in the RaboDirect National Series.
It is a measure of Hayden Roulston’s outlook on life that his win in the men’s race at today’s Armstrong Motor Group Festival of Cycling is his only points on the RaboDirect New Zealand Road Series. Roulston does 99 percent of his racing overseas on the prestigious Pro Tour circuit and serious hit-outs at home are a rare thing. Even today he started only with the intention of riding with a mate, but when the mate got a mechanical problem and Roulston got a sniff of the win, the race was all but won.
Blustery winds kept the peloton together through the early kilometres around the Cashmere Hills. A pile up of seven riders inside the first 10k saw promising young Christchurch professional Josh Atkins watching his chances of a home town win disappear at road side. Roulston, meanwhile, stayed out of trouble and when the legs responded nicely to the first serious attacks up Gebbies Pass, the competitive juices took over and the Olympic and Commonwealth Games medallist went to work.
Over Gebbies Pass it was Wellington’s Joe Cooper and Napier’s Jeremy Yates who were pushing the pace. Cooper won this race in 2007 and Yates is a former world junior champion and current national series leader. Roulston, who won this race in 2006, was also close to the front alongside New Zealand’s newest pro cyclist, Michael Vink, also of Christchurch.
Vink, along with Josh Atkins and Nelson’s George Bennett, recently signed for Lance Armstrong’s Trek Livestrong pro team in the USA and perhaps wanting to put up his first pro win it was Vink who lit the race up after Gebbies Pass.
Jeremy Yates kept the bunch close, but counter attacks by Joe Cooper and then Roulston saw the two riders chasing alone. With Cooper unwilling to chase down Vink, who is a teammate on New Zealand’s Team Subway Avanti, it turned into a tough day for Roulston.
“I felt like the meat in a Subway sandwich there for a while,” he said only half in jest after finishing. “Joe wouldn’t help me chase Mike, but I knew that for any of us to have a chance of winning we had to stay ahead of Jeremy Yates before Evans Pass. Yates is the best climber in New Zealand so you don’t let a guy like that back in the race.”
The three leaders came back together before Lyttelton, with Vink actually dropping away slightly before catching them again on Evans Pass. Over the top, however, Roulston and Cooper weren’t waiting for anyone and as they sliced down into Sumner at speeds approaching 90k per hour, Vink was off the back again.
Back into Redcliffe’s, however, Cooper and Roulston knew they had the race covered and started watching each other. With a kilometre to go Cooper tried to catch Roulston napping with a series of surges. But Roulston matched each move effortlessly and then realising that Michael Vink had actually almost caught them again, Roulston decided he better finish it off. Cooper jumped into his slip stream but didn’t have the horsepower to come around and Roulston had room for a 50m victory salute before crossing the line in 1hr 49min 51secs for the 80k course.
“That went better than expected,” said Roulston after becoming the first repeat winner among men in the Avanti Long Bays Classic. “I fly out to San Francisco tomorrow for my team’s first training camp, so I’ve been doing some big training in the last few weeks. Four hours most days, so the legs have been tired and I wasn’t that keen on a tough race. I just came out to support Armstrong Motor Group, who sponsor me during my off season at home, so I was quite pleased to feel ok and come away with a win.”
Behind Roulston, Joe Cooper and Michael Vink were comfortably second and third, followed then by a flying chase bunch with Jeremy Yates making sure of fourth, which gave him the lead in the national series with just one race to go in Wellington next week.
A gathering of the country’s top mountain bikers threw up a track-like sprint finish. The tough and technical 30k ride along the top of the Port Hills failed to separate the top three men as defending champion Brendon Sharratt (Wgtn) was tracked all the way by Brad Hudson and Mark Leishman (Rotorua). But Sharratt had too much gas in a final 200m sprint to the finish line, leading in Hudson and Leishman with all three timed at 1hr 23min 32secs. The women’s race was much more of a solo affair, with national champion Nic Leary (Rotorua) proving four minutes too good for local riders Meggie Buchard and Sara Taylor in 1hr 42min 51secs.
Tomorrow, the Armstrong Motor Group Festival of Cycling moves downtown to Christchurch’s café strip for New Zealand’s premier criterium race. The fast and furious Oxford Terrace circuit annually attracts huge crowds to watch the best criterium racing in the country. As well as today’s placegetters the race will include sprint specialists such as Olympic medallist Mark Ryan, World Cup gold medallist Tom Scully, nine-time national champion Gordon McCauley, Olympians such as Robin Reid, Sam Bewley and Jason Allen, and last year’s surprise winner, 20 year old Aucklander Alex Ray of New Zealand’s new Team Pure Black.
The women’s race will once again be a grudge match between Cath Cheatley and Serena Sheridan. Sheridan won the City Criterium in 2008, while Cheatley has a best of second last year. But they’ll need to watch for circuit specialists such as Emma Crum.
The City Criterium races get underway at 11:00am at Oxford terrace, with the feature elite races starting from 1:00pm. For further details & results see: www.festivalofcycling.co.nz.
Photos courtesy of Cycle-photos.com