18 year old Miles Watson outsprinted a first-class field to win Sunday's Pack & Pedal Bike Challenge in Dairy Flat, surprising all but himself in the process. Watson triumphed over a lead group that included Aaron Strong, Scott Guyton, Cameron Holt and triathlete Kieren Doe. All riders were part of a group of seven that broke away from the main bunch approximately 25km into the 103 km bike ride. Despite some testing hill climbs the group stayed together for most of the race, with the first five riders crossing the line within seconds of each other.
Many expected climbing specialist Aaron Strong to make a break on the 'hors categorie' climb up Old North Rd at about the 60km mark. However although Strong crested the hill first, it was not a winning break and the group reformed and rode together until the 90km mark when the attacking started. Watson confessed to be struggling to hang on at this point as he suffered from cramps, possibly contributed to by the chilly early morning start. However despite this he found the energy to summon an winning burst of speed in the finishing chute as he took advantage of a momentary split in the leading group.
It was an impressive victory for the Hamilton sports science student in his first attempt at the event. Although now in its 20th year, a new course was used this year as traffic congestion forced the race from its traditional home on the North Shore. The new course was generally praised by the riders, Watson describing it as "the best road race course he'd done". The rough seal, winding roads and relative lack of flat sections proved a challenge for the front cyclists, with winning times almost 15 minutes slower than the previous course.
Waitakere rider Lisa Haines returned to the event this year aiming for her third consecutive victory, a feat which would have gained her free entry to the event for life. However without the tough Albany Hill in this year's course Haines couldn't make her customary early getaway. She also faced one of the toughest women's fields in recent years, with NZ Olympic hopeful Melissa Holt and the in-form Toni Bradshaw also hoping for the first win on the new course. The three women managed to stay with the main chasing bunch of male riders, even sharing some of the pace work, an occurrence not often seen at these sort of events. With no major hills in the last part of the course it was always going to come down to a sprint, and it was Holt who managed to surge ahead to cross just in front of Haines, with Bradshaw in third.
Holt last raced in the event five years ago as her first ever cycle race, and was delighted to come back for a win this year in what was a great day for Waikato cycling. The Cambridge based 27 year old heads to the States at the end of this month to ride with the professional TDS team in Philadelphia, where she will await the announcement of the NZ Olympic team in June.
Men: M. Watson 2:36:53 1, S. Guyton same time 2, K. Doe s.t. 3
Women: M Holt 2:46:34 1, L. Haines same time 2, T. Bradshaw s.t. 3
Mountain Bike: P. Wood 3:05:38
Men: C. Whiting 1:04:21 1, K. Vranjes s.t. 2, C. Thomas 1:06:52 3
Women: S. Ducker 1:11:52 1, S. Walker 1:11:53 2, R. Moxon 1:15:40