Wellington-based rider Jack Bauer snatched a thrilling victory from two major stars of New Zealand cycling in a sprint finish at the 2010 RaboPlus national road race in Christchurch today.
A huge crowd saw the 24-year-old Bauer clinch his first national road title ahead of pre-race favourites Hayden Roulston (Ashburton) and five-time Tour de France competitor Julian Dean (Rotorua). All three riders finished on the same time of 4hrs 48min 42sec.
It was a spectacular finish to a gruelling event that saw competitors face 13 laps and 186km over the same course used for the 1974 Commonwealth Games.
Alongside the sprint finish, the other major highlight was the performance of 18-year-old Christchurch rider Michael Vink who made a break on just the second lap and remained clear until the final lap.
A group that included Roulston and Dean, who were on each other's wheels for much of the second half of the race, finally reined in the teenager who eventually finished ninth overall and fourth in the under-23 battle.
Bauer, the Tour of Southland runner up and an eight-time winner in Belgium last year, said the title and the chance to take the coveted black jersey to his new Endura Pro Continental team in the United Kingdom was "a dream come true".
"I didn't really think I had the legs to last out there today but I managed to go with Roulston and Dean when they attacked on the hill and when we got down to a bunch of four on the last leg I hung in. It was a quality field so I'm stoked."
Roulston who turned 29 today said he was disappointed to miss out on the title.
"I rode a pretty good race but you are limited in what you can do on your own," he said.
Dean, a strong sprinter, said he suffered cramp on the push to the line.
"I wasn't really confident about my race condition because I've just had a month off. But I got cramp in that final 150 metres – otherwise I believe I could have got up to win."
Conditions were perfect for most of the race – mild and calm in comparison with the strong winds that tested the women's field yesterday. However, the steep climb up Dyers Pass Rd in Cashmere soon saw the 85-strong field separated. In the second lap Under-23 time-trial winner Vink made the first significant breakaway along with fellow Christchurch rider Paul Odlin.
Despite having to change bikes and then have a puncture mended, the former Christchurch Boys' High student was the sole leader by the halfway stage and extended his lead to around four minutes before Roulston turned up the pressure on the hill in the ninth lap. Bauer and Dean were among those who followed the double Olympic medallist.
Vink said he planned to make an early break so he could help his strong Subway Avanti team as much as possible.
"I'm really pleased. I thought I ran a good race and to do well here is the ultimate because it's the toughest race in New Zealand. Hopefully, I've put my hand up for Commonwealth Games and world champs selection later in the year."
Roulston, Dean and five-times winner Gordon McCauley were among those who hailed Vink as a major new talent.
"He showed guts, determination and substantial endurance," Dean said.
National time-trial champion and defending champion McCauley withdrew after nine laps saying he "didn't have the legs today".
Tom Findlay from the Bici Vida team won the under-23 title, finishing just three seconds behind the top three elite riders.
2010 RaboPlus national road championships results, 186km:
Elite men: Jack Bauer (Wellington) 4:48.42, 1; Hayden Roulston (Mid South Canty) same time, 2; Julian Dean (Waikato/BoP) same time, 3; Heath Blackgrove (Mid South Canty) at 37sec 4; Jeremy Yates (East Coast North Island), at 2min 20sec 5; Eric Drower (Subway-Avanti) at 7min 39sec, 6; Scott Lyttle (Otago) at 11min, 7; Brett Tivers (West Coast North Island) at 12min 18sec, 8; Aaron Strong (Auckland) same time, 9; Justin Kerr (Waikato/Bay of Plenty) same time, 10.
Under 23s: Tom Findlay (Bici Vida) 4:48.45, 1; James Williamson (Subway Avanti) at 32sec, 2; Matt Marshall (Southland) same time, 3; Michael Vink (Subway Avanti) at 4min 56sec, 4; Roman Van Uden (Bici Vida) at 12min 15sec, 5.