New Zealand riders will be pressing hard to break Australia's recent dominance in next week's Trust House Cycle Classic in the Wairarapa and Wellington.
Australians Travis Meyer and Peter McDonald have won the last two tours, and with seven strong professional teams entered from across the Tasman riders from that country will have a powerful presence. Within the New Zealand squads though there a number of riders with the credentials to be potential winners, none more so that new national road champion Jack Bauer of Nelson. His victory in Christchurch earlier this month on a demanding circuit could hardly have been more impressive when pitted against Tour de France riders, and former winners of the Trust House classic, Hayden Roulston and Julian Dean. However, for Bauer to be successful will require the support of his Trust House team-mates, three of them Australian and the other from Belgium, and for him to be able to climb as well as the better Australians with the tour likely to be decided on the hills. This will be Bauer's first appearance in the event after finishing second in the Tour of Southland in November.
Other New Zealanders who will command respect include last year's Tour of Southland winner, Heath Blackgrove, whose Team Solway colleagues are a former world junior road champion Jeremy Yates, and Olympic Games team pursuit bronze medallist in Beijing, Wesley Gough, plus the well-performed Logan Hutchings and Scott Lyttle. Team Bici Vida has national under-23 road champion Tom Findlay, who was in the four-man winning break of the senior event, alongside Bauer, Roulston and Dean, and Subway Avanti's squad is headed by the wily Gordon McCauley, a multi-national champion on the road, and brilliant teenager Michael Vink, who caught the eye in staying away, largely on his own, for most of the 186km of the senior national race in Christchurch. Outstanding track rider Peter Latham is in the Benchmark Homes squad, and another who could feature is George Bennet (Cardno).
Last year's winner, McDonald (Drapac Porsche), Jai Crawford (Fly V Australia), and Joel Pearson (Genesys Wealth Advisers), are three Australians among the 35 entered in a field of 110 from seven countries who might be of most bother to the New Zealanders. McDonald's preparation is being completed by this week competing in the opening event on the Pro Tour circuit, the Tour Down Under in Australia, where his opposition included a seven-time winner of the Tour de France, Lance Armstrong. Crawford is a hill-climb specialist, ideally suited for this tour. He won the stage up Admiral Hill last year, but his chances of being overall tour victor were hampered in the stage one time trial when he lost valuable time after suffering mechanical failure. Pearson is an accomplished all-rounder, whose results include winning the Melbourne to Warrnambool classic last year.
Tour director Jorge Sandoval is delighted with the quality of the field with so many of the best riders from New Zealand and Australia involved.
"For the first time in the 23 years of the tour we have seven overseas pro teams, in addition to the 15 from within New Zealand" he said. "The tour is gathering increased recognition on the UCI calendar, and I'm keen for that to be further enhanced. This year's event is a tough one with so much emphasis on the hill climbs, starting with the return of the stage from Upper Hutt to Masterton, which will promote excellent racing, and ideal opportunities for the spectators to observe the riders up close."
On the tour's first day, January 27, the Rimutaka road will be closed to all traffic from 9.30am to 11am, and it is the eighth time the class 2.2 UCI event has had major support from the Trust House Charitable Trust. After most of the first four days of the tour are in the Wairarapa, the final stage, a criterium, will be on a circuit on lower Lambton Quay, Wellington, on the afternoon of January 31.