Jeremy Yates once again confirmed himself as the top one-day racer on New Zealand's domestic circuit with his third consecutive win in Coromandel's prestigious RoadCraft K2 Classic.
Perfect cycling conditions greeted a record field of 1500 riders for the eighth RoadCraft K2, but it was the shrewd tactical riding of Jeremy Yates that won the day.
Yates was a marked man right from the gun in this year's RoadCraft K2. As the field rolled out of Whitianga, the elite contingent looked to the former world junior champion to make the pace. It was hardly surprising, because a year ago the Hawke's Bay rider had broken away with Auckland's Karl Murray in the first few kilometres and ended up smashing the course record. In 2009, however, Yates wasn't in a hurry.
Controlling the race from the front, Yates led for much of the first 50k, leading over the opening climbs but without any real intent as the bunch followed along behind. The only interest in the early kilometres was a short-lived break after 40k up Whangapoa Hill by Hastings veteran Richard Brough. But no sooner had he established a 50m gap and a mechanical problem saw him standing on the side of the road as the bunch rolled past.
Proceedings remained largely unchanged through Coromandel Town at the 53k mark, but on the two big climbs out of Coromandel the race finally sparked up as triathlete Stephen Sheldrake hit the front. With the bunch starting to string out over the 228m crest of Kereta Hill there was no time to take in the startling views out over Auckland and Waiheke Island. But on the tricky descent to the Firth of Thames, most of the bunch regrouped and with a light win behind them no one was in danger as they clipped along at 45k an hour with Yates once again playing point guard.
Through Thames, the halfway mark of the 200k lap of the Coromandel Peninsula, the race started to spark up with speeds reaching 50k per hour as the contenders started to group near the front for the fast-approaching Kopu Hikuai Hill, a 14k long climb to 425m above sea level. Yates, however, had other ideas and decided to control the race by simply setting a tempo that only a few could cope with.
Over the top he had only co-favourite Justin Kerr (Tokoroa), Auckland youngster Sam Lindsay and Simon Finucane for company. But despite forcing this small selection at the front, Yates was still biding his time. With a headwind waiting for them when they got back down to the coast for the final 60k, he was in no hurry to go it alone.
At Tairua, with approximately 50k remaining, the foursome had become three with Simon Finucane out the back door. On the 240m high Pumpkin Hill, the last big climb of the day, Yates again controlled tactics by riding a solid but not maximum tempo on the front. The three then shared it out until 12k to go, when Justin Kerr sensed a lull in the pace and jumped off the front.
This was a dangerous move. The Tokoroa professional is fresh off his best ever year, with several wins on the American pro circuit. The week before K2 he had claimed a close second place in the national time trial champs, so he had the form to stay away.
Yates knew it too; after waiting for a handful of seconds to see if young Sam Lindsay would lead out the chase, Yates covered the move himself. The speed with which he bridged to Kerr seemed to surprise even Yates himself, and in a classic champions tactic he stole Kerr's move out from under him by counter-attacking instantly and time trialling to his third straight K2 victory.
Finishing more than two minutes clear of Kerr, Yates joined former Olympian Glen Mitchell as a three-time winner of the RoadCraft K2. Yates, however, can lay claim to being the undisputed "King of K2" because while his winning time of 5hrs 17min 21secs fell short of his record from last year, the Hastings rider now owns the three fastest winning times from the event's eight year history.
Behind Yates, Kerr was comfortable in second, two minutes clear of Sam Lindsay, with another two minutes back to Aucklanders Brad Tilby and Louis Crosby in fourth and fifth.
The elite women's race, the Orca K1 over 100k, played out in similar fashion to the men, but with a nail-biting finish.
Starting in Thames, the early haul up the 14k long Kopu Hikuai climb established the contenders within 20k. Over the top a lead group of five were over a minute clear, with dark horse contenders Melanie Burke (Auckland), Emma Crum (Auckland) and Tracey Best (Wellington) keying off defending champion Serena Sheridan (Hawke's Bay) and current elite national champion in both road race and time trial, Meshy Holt (Cambridge).
With no one willing to go it alone into the blustery wind, it was Pumpkin Hill that forced a further selection as Best and Crum fell off the pace and were unable to rejoin as the trio of Sheridan, Holt & Burke combined well to keep themselves clear.
With chasers behind and a healthy wind ahead, none of the three were willing to risk a solo move. But just as the race looked likely to be decided in a three-up sprint Meshy Holt took a flier with 1k to go. Burke and Sheridan looked to each other to lead out the chase, and it was right then that the race was won and lost.
At the finish line Holt stopped the clock five seconds clear of Sheridan, her winning time of 2hrs 42min 03secs knocking a massive eight minutes off Sheridan's race record from last year.
In third place, just eight second further back, Auckland's Melanie Burke continued her impressive first year in the sport. The former Auckland Marathon winner took to cycling after being talent spotted in the BikeNZ Power to the Podium scheme. She won the national duathlon title earlier this year and claimed fourth just a week ago at the national club cycling champs. A close third in the Orca K1 confirmed that she's one to watch for the future.
Organised by Adventure Racing Coromandel, the RoadCraft K2 is the first of their popular summer events including the Moehau Multisport Race, The Great Kauri Run, and the ARC Adventure Race. Their events benefit the Spirit of Coromandel Trust, which provides opportunities for young people to experience the outdoors.
For details - Ph: 0274 921 348. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Web: www.arcevents.co.nz
Mens RoadCraft K2 – 200k
1 jeremy Yates taradale 5:17:21
2 Justin Kerr tokoroa 5:20:12
3 sam Lindsay auckland 5:22:37
4= brad tilby auckland 5:24:24
4= louis Crosby auckland 5:24:24
Womens Orca K1 – 100k
1 Meshy Holt cambridge 2:42:03
2 Serena Sheridan taradale 2:42:08
3 Melanie Burke auckland 2:42:16
4 Emma Crum auckland 2:43:33
5 Tracy Best wellington 2:43:34