Olympic and Commonwealth Games medallist Hayden Roulston made the start to the racing season he had hoped for by winning his second RaboDirect national road race championship in Christchurch today
“It’s a very emotional win for me,” Roulston said. “I feel like I did a lot of the hard work today.”
The HTC professional reckons he is in the leanest and best shape of his life and needed all his stamina to beat arguably the classiest field ever assembled in the event’s 77 year history.
After trailing a breakaway group that grew to about a dozen riders past the halfway stage on the 186km course by around five minutes, Roulston embarked on a solo chase.
His affinity with the arduous Dyers Pass Rd hill climb enabled him to make inroads on the pacesetters who included RadioShack professional and world pursuit medallist Jesse Sergent (Feilding), Roman van Uden (Pure Black Racing, Auckland) and Tasman’s 1996 champion Robin Reid.
With two laps to go, Roulston encouraged last year’s pacesetter Christchurch’s Michael Vink to join him on a breakaway and he would guide him to the line. Vink, who joins Lance Armstrong’s Trek Livestrong development team this year, eventually finished fourth overall and claimed the coveted Under-23 champion’s jersey.
“He’s one of the brightest riding hopes in the country, and he’s proved it again this year,” Roulston said of the 19-year-old.
Roulston finished in a time of four hours 43 minutes 29 seconds, with Melbourne-based Team Sky professional Greg Henderson second and Jeremy Yates (Team Mico Revolution – Hawkes Bay) third, both 29 seconds behind.
Roulston said he needed to be in great shape because “there’s always a huge weight of expectation on me racing in New Zealand”.
He said the biggest payoff is the chance to wear the champion’s national jersey on the Pro Tour around the globe for the next 12 months, starting in a few days time with the Tour DownUnder in South Australia.
Henderson, who will also race in Tour Downunder, made a bold showing, peeling off from the peloton with two laps to go to chase down Roulston.
“I was making some time on the flat but I was getting tagged off on the climb. I was lucky (Tim) Gudsell, (Jack) Bauer and (Jeremy) Yates came with me and we unloaded about 15 other guys.
“But Roly’s in terrific condition and the best man won today.”
Yates, who went into the race feeling off-colour from a sore throat, said a win had not been within his reach so it was fantastic to finish third.
“It was a messy race and there were panic stations in the pack but I kept my cool.”
The event was held in warm, breezy conditions and organisers were thrilled with the turnout with supporters packing every vantage point, especially on the hill climb.
Leading provisional results:
Elite men: Hayden Roulston (Mid South Canterbury) 4hr 43min 29sec, 1; Greg Henderson (Otago) at 29 seconds, 2; Jeremy Yates (Hawkes Bay) same time, 3.
Under 23: Michael Vink (Canterbury) 4hr 43 min 59sec, 1; James Williamson (Pure Black Racing – Otago) at 3min 50sec, 2; James McCoy (Pure Black Racing - Canterbury) at 3min 51sec, 3.