Christchurch dawned warm and windless for day two of the Armstrong Motor Group Festival of Cycling, which headed downtown today for the exciting City Criterium. In recent years the Oxford Terrace cafe strip has become one of the cultural hubs of New Zealand cycling as huge crowds come out to watch world champions and Olympians ripping up the exciting closed circuit course. This year was no different, but rather than the predicted domination from Olympic and Commonwealth Games stars such as Mark Ryan, Sam Bewley, Tom Scully and Gordon McCauley, it was New Zealand’s newest team who put Auckland’s Champion cyclist Mike Northey on the top step of the podium.
Team Pure Black have been operating as a cycling trade team for less than six months, but already they have put riders on the top step of podiums from Invercargill to Auckland. In Christchurch they did it again, executing superb team tactics to shut down the effectiveness of other more fancied riders.
With so many top riders on the start line the opening laps of the 50min criterium were fast and chaotic, with Gordon McCauley the first of various individuals testing everyone’s legs with bursts upward of 50k/hr. It wasn’t until the first prime sprint after 12min, won by Subway Avanti’s Joe Cooper (Wgtn), that the race started to take shape as Radioshack pro rider Sam Bewley tried to take a flyer.
Bewley was shut down by Pure Black’s Roman Van Uden, whose teammate and defending City Criterium champion Alex Ray then countered with a breakaway that was marked by Mark Ryan and top local rider Paul Odlin. Ray and Ryan are both previous winners of this event, but with Ray’s Pure Black teammates marking the field behind them it was left to Odlin and Ryan to make the break stick.
Within 35min of the 45min race gone they were out to a 10sec lead that Team Subway Avanti could not close down. Gordon McCauley, Joe Cooper and even individual riders like mountain bike specialist Brendon Sharratt all tried to whip the chase bunch into a faster tempo. But every time Team Pure Black brought the bunch back together, which gave growing life to Alex Ray’s chances out front.
With four laps to go Ray finally put his fresher legs to work, attacking Ryan and Odlin in a bid for solo win. It almost worked too, except behind him young World Cup track star Tom Scully decided he wanted a piece of the action. With Team Pure Black’s Mike Northey for company they picked up the Ryan and Odlin, and the four of them then shut down Ray with just one lap to go.
Behind them the chase bunch was also winding up. Not wanting to be swamped in the home straight Tom Scully put his big horsepower to the test with a long sprint 300m from the line. For 250m it looked like the winning move, but then in the last 50m the crowd went crazy as a frantic finish by Mike Northey saw him surge past on the line to win by a tyre width.
Northey and Team Pure Black have been the surprise package of the domestic scene this year and their tactical awareness in first setting up Ray and then countering with Mike Northey backs up their ambitious goals of eventually becoming a continental team on the world circuit.
One rider with both nowse and a pro ride on the world circuit is Wanganui’s Cath Cheatley. The former world champion on the track has become one of the world’s best roads riders in recent years and finished 2010 as the number one ranked rider in the USA. In Christchurch this weekend she dominated both events at the Armstrong Motor Group Festival of Cycling.
Yesterday Cheatley simply out rode her competition to win the 80k Avanti Long Bays Classic for the third year in a row. Today, in what was billed as a tightly matched race, she recovered from a puncture-induced crash after only two laps to catch the leaders and then setup a race winning break.
It came after the first prime sprint, won by Alexandra’s Sophie Williamson. As the field settled back down Cheatley attacked, taking Nelson’s Jeannie Kuhajek with her to establish a 20sec lead in just five laps. Initially Kuhajek didn’t appear able to help keep their lead alive, and for several laps it looked like they might be joined by 2008 City Criterium champion Serena Sheridan (Napier). But Cheatley nursed Kuhajek along and after 20min of the 35min race they were adding to their lead on every lap.
So impressive were Cheatley and Kuhajek that as they started their finishing sprint they almost lapped the chase bunch. Sheridan was also safe in third, but 20secs behind. The leaders opened up on fair terms, entering the final 200m side by side. Kuhajek tried valiantly, forcing Cheatley to one side of the road and then trying to get in her slip stream. But the 2007 world points champion had too much gas and romped away in the final 100m to a clear one second win.
Armstrong Motor Group City Criterium
1, Mike Northey, Auckland
2, Tom Scully, Invercargill
3, Marc Ryan, Timaru
4, Alex Ray, Auckland
5, Paul Odlin, Christchurch
6, Sam Bewley, Rotorua
7, Roman Van Uden, Auckland
8, Mike Vink, Christchurch
9, Sean Joyce, Taupo
10, Glen Chadwick, Auckland
1, Cath Cheatley, Wanganui
2, Jeannie Kuhajek, Nelson
3, Serena Sheridan, Napier
4, Emma Crum, Auckland
5, Nimesha Smith, Christchurch
6, Karen Fulton, Nelson
7, Kat Jones, Dunedin
8, Hayley Mercer, Christchurch
9, Sophie Williamson, Alexandra
10, Tracy Clark, Christchurch