Great Britain’s Christopher Lawless of JLT Condor won the opening stage of the New Zealand Cycle Classic in the Wairarapa, New Zealand, this afternoon. Lawless led a JLT 1-2 ahead of teammate and Kiwi Alex Frame, with eight Kiwis in the top ten after the first stage.
The opening stage of the New Zealand Cycle Classic took the riders on a 123.4km trek starting and finishing in Masterton. Two king of the mountains points featured along the race, with two intermediate sprints also featuring in the first 50km; giving the breakaway a good chance to tally up some points. At the first intermediate sprint all was together, but Nick Kergozou of the New Zealand National Team was looking to chance his hand with his fast finish; and it paid off. Kergozou took the first sprint ahead of Dylan Newberry of Data#3 Cisco Racing Team p/b Scody and ONE Pro Cycling’s Hayden McCormick.
Avanti IsoWhey Sports appeared to be showing clear intent at the front of the peloton in the early stages, having dominated the 2015 edition that led to victory overall for Taylor Gunman. Their push at the front led to the first KOM points for Sam Crome. The principle breakaway took off at the 50km mark with Crome being joined by Ryan Christensen of Oliver’s Real Food Racing, Data#3’s Dylan Newberry and Michael Cuming of State of Matter/MAAP-Australia. Behind them a chase was launched by Sam Hill of GPM Stulz, but the break ahead were committed and determined to make their move count.
The break’s lead extended to 6.10mins at the second KOM point with Crome again on hand to take the points. But from there the break proceeded to lose their advantage with ONE Pro Cycling and the New Zealand National Team lending their aid to the chase effort. Approaching the 100km covered mark the break’s lead had been cut to 2.28mins and with 20km remaining that lead had dipped again to 1.40mins.
The peloton had left a lot of work to do though, especially with the breakaway proving resilient and as the race reached 10km to go the gap had only dipped to 1.18mins and there looked like there was hope for the break. Gradually though bit-by-bit the race was clawed back together, with 30 seconds the gap at 5km to go and just 15 seconds at 3km. It was heartbreak for the escapees who were caught just before the line, but from there the sprint was all on. A peloton of some 60-strong made it to the finish to contest the win, but it was Britain’s 20 year old talent Lawless of JLT Condor who took the win ahead of Alex Frame and Jesse Kerrison of State of Matter/MAAP-Australia.
Dion Smith finished 4th for ONE Pro Cycling, with Brad Evans completing the top 5 for the New Zealand National Team.
Afterwards Lawless reflected that the bunch had been pretty fortunate to catch the breakaway so late. “Our team were all brilliant today and we were lucky that we were all together and that we didn’t panic when the wind switched. George [Atkins] did a hell of a ride in the cross wind and did a really big turn which basically took us back up to the front group,” said Lawless. “If we carry on like that we’ll have a good tour.”
The conditions today were windy and favoured Lawless who is hoping for similar weather tomorrow. “I am hoping it’s windy again tomorrow because I won’t say I enjoy the wind, but I seem to go okay in the wind. While it makes everyone else a bit stressed, I enjoy it. I enjoy sitting in the gutter and scuttling the wheels … it makes it a bit more fun as opposed to when there’s no wind and you’re waiting for the last 20 minutes to come,” said Lawless. “Sometimes it’s mentally tiring but you’ve got to be switched on, you never know … especially when you don’t know the roads. If you turn a corner there could be a howling crosswind and it can blow the race to pieces and that’s your lead gone. We’ve a good team and hopefully that won’t happen.”
As well as Lawless taking the overall race lead, overseas riders took out the rest of the category race jerseys. Australian Sam Hill of Team GPM Stulz was awarded the Most Aggressive Rider Jersey; Great Britain’s Mike Cuming of State of Matter/MAAP was awarded the Sprint Ace Jersey and Australian Sam Crome won the King of the Mountain Jersey. The latter pair were especially pleased to be rewarded following their hard work out in front in the leader’s group for more than half the race.
Stage 2 of the New Zealand Cycle Classic continues tomorrow and features a 136.4km route from Masterton to the wine village of Martinborough, including 8 laps through the town square. Riders are expected to finish at an estimated time of 1.25pm.