Aaron Strong has won the Masters 3 race at the Grassroots Trust Age Group Road National Championships in Leamington.  Strong, of Auckland Central Cycling, won out of a two-up sprint ahead of Port Nicholson Poneke’s David Rowlands, with Counties Manukau’s Stephen Lewthwaite holding on for third place.

The feature race for RoadCycling on day 2 of the Grassroots Trust Age Group Road Nationals was the Men’s Masters 3 race.  The field of 43 riders on the start list had up ahead of them a 93km course to tackle with a strong array of riders all lining up in contention for the win.  Aaron Strong, fresh off of his win in the individual time trial the day before was there for Auckland Central Cycling, as was Glen Carabine of Tauranga Road Cycling, Dean Peterken of Hamilton City Cycling and Gordon McCauley of Dynamo Cycling.

No sooner had the flag been pulled in than racing began in earnest with a high tempo set in the opening kilometres of the race.  No one was quite prepared to throw caution to the wind just yet though and go on the attack.  Eventually Stephen Lewthwaite of Counties Manukau did manage to break clear of the field and quickly build up a lead of around 33 seconds.  For the time the favourites were content to sit in the main peloton; but others weren’t and after 16km there was an injection of pace at the head of affairs.  But that then subsided and allowed riders to begin stretching their legs and attempting to get across.  But no one could get over to join him and after 30km of racing Lewthwaite was out of sight with a lead of 1.22mins.

His pace remained high as he pressed onward and began the first significant hill of the day.  This would be telling for Lewthwaite, but he showed no signs of letting up as he worked his way up the climb, still sitting at 19kph.  With 33km covered his time gap had gone out to 1.41mins and after the climbing was done he set about making good his advantage on the downhill.  On the flats the lone leader was able to hold a solid tempo of a little over 40kph as he headed toward the halfway point of the race.

By the time Lewthwaite had reached 40km though his lead had been cut to just 58 seconds.  His posture on the bike saw him rolling a little in his upper body but he didn’t appear to be suffering too much as he maintained a constant rhythm on the bike and kept the pace sitting at over 40kph.  But what of the peloton?  Had they managed to set up an organised chase or would they flounder and allow Lewthwaite’s lead to stretch again?  The answer began to become apparent as Lewthwaite’s advantage stretched out again to to 1.20mins.  But out of the peloton had sprung a few riders, with two riders particularly strong and making a big turn to get across.

Aaron Strong of Auckland and David Rowlands of Port Nicholson Poneke made the catch to Lewthwaite at the 54km mark.  Immediately Strong and Rowlands took over at the front, while Lewthwaite tried to sit on the back and conserve a little energy.  But he wasn’t allowed too much of a breather and quickly he was back and working in with the other two to keep the break alive.  It was interesting to note the different riding styles on display.  Aaron Strong was pedalling a much easier gear than the other two, while Rowlands also looked like his pedal cadence was more on the swift side.  But still Lewthwaite pushed the big gear.

And the gap was coming down.  With 62km covered the gap was down to 1 minute and despite the trio working well together it was looking like the bunch could bring everything back together.  But as the kilometres ticked on the trio were still out ahead.  Rowlands and Strong were the visibly strongest of the trio uphill as the fast cadence seemed to pay off for them.  But to his credit Lewthwaite was still able to hang on and the trio went through 70km together.  

Lewthwaite managed to hold on until the 76km mark.  It was clear that he was holding on for dear life on the climbs and finally he snapped as the pace from Rowlands and Strong was just a bit too high.  It was down to two riders then and Aaron Strong and David Rowlands didn’t mess about in keeping their lead.  But as for who would be best suited to take the win, that was a tough question to answer.  Both riders looked fresh, both looked cool and composed on the bike, and both were sharing their turns on the front evenly.  

The two of them passed through 10km to go still looking very comfortable.  There were no signs of tactical games being played yet as the two continued to share the workload well between them.  With 5km to go and along the Lake front it was clear that it would be between the two of them for the title.  With 2km to go the games finally looked like they’d started with Rowlands sitting on the front and Strong just being a little reluctant to come through.  But Strong then went through again to lead in the final kilometre; setting up a scintillating final sprint for the line.  

Somewhat anticlimactically though it was not to be because as Rowlands launched his sprint his chain slipped and then slipped again leaving him to simply sit up and see Strong cruise to the win.  Impressively Lewthwaite managed to hold on to take third place after valiantly fending off the chasing pack.

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