Joseph Cooper celebrates his second Elite Road National Championships road race title, photo Bruce Jenkins Photography

Joseph Cooper of IsoWhey Sports SwissWellness has been crowned elite national road race champion for the second time.  Cooper time trialled away from the field to take the win ahead of defending champion Jason Christie and ONE Pro Cycling’s Dion Smith.

The Elite Road National Championship’s final event of the weekend, the Elite & U23 men’s road race, got underway to reasonably calm but cool conditions on Napier’s Marine Parade.  Jason Christie lined up in defence of his national title, but he would face a stern competition from a large and strong field full of talent and World Tour pedigree looking to make their impact on the day and claim the white jersey.

Up ahead of the field was a 169km course that would really bring out the strongest by the end of the day with the traditional war of attrition-like race becoming a signature of Elite Road National Championships past.  The opening 7km of neutral zone gave the riders a bit of time to break into the day before the first attacks headed off up the road.  While Hamish Bond played a patient game initially, uncharacteristically staying towards the back of the main field, the race quickly got into a very hasty and intense pace with the field some 90 riders strung out in the opening kilometres after just 25mins of racing.

 

 

Smith gets in early move

 

The early kilometres saw a few riders pull up with mechanical issues, including the defending champion Jason Christie.  But for the time being nothing was able to go clear with the pace being far too intense on the front of the race.  With the first hour of racing covered that appeared to be the pattern for the race, with a very high intensity start carrying on, with the very present danger of splits appearing at this early stage.

A small group of five riders pulled away early on and Jack Bauer of Quick Step-Floors and Sam Bewley of Orica-SCOTT took it upon themselves to drag the field along in pursuit of them; as well they might given the composition of the break.  Out in the lead were Callum Gordon of Team Skoda Racing, Frank Sutton of Waikato Bay of Plenty, ONE Pro Cycling’s Dion Smith, Matt Zenovich of Mike Greer Homes and Michael Torckler of Blindz Direct.  Behind them a couple of riders had taken off in an effort to catch on and further establish a break of the day including Sam Phipps of Waikato Bay of Plenty.

The group was a very strong one.  The course was one that certainly suited Torckler’s climbing strength, while Dion Smith needed little introduction given that he was runner-up in 2016.  Frank Sutton performed strongly in the Dynamo Team Championship’s first edition but had enjoyed a reasonably quiet season so far, while Matt Zenovich’s work ethic in a breakaway made him a brilliant asset to the move.  Meanwhile Sam Phipps – if he could get across – would also benefit the move significantly as Phipps came to the Elite Road Nationals on the back of a Tour of Southland stage win which he’d picked up with Team Skoda Racing.  

 

Groups bridge across

 

Meanwhile further back another move was pulling away from the peloton as James Oram of ONE Pro Cycling, Morgan Smith of Auckland, Andy Hagan of Wheelworks and James Fouche of L&M Group RICOH broke away from the bunch in an effort to further bolster the lead.  They had a 23 second advantage on the peloton for now.  Gradually they managed to bridge across, with Phipps dropping back, to make contact with the leaders.  But there was more action back in the field as Brad Evans of Drapac – Pat’s Veg, Hamish Bond of Waikato Bay of Plenty and Tim Rush of Mike Greer Homes leapt out of the bunch and also went in pursuit of the leaders.

So at the head of the race the new formation of the break consisted of Callum Gordon, Frank Sutton, Dion Smith, Matt Zenovich, Michael Torckler, Andy Hagan, James Oram, Morgan Smith and James Fouche.  Tim Rush, Brad Evans and Hamish Bond also managed to bridge across; as did two others.  However, the gap was not a large one with just a 50 second lead for the break over those behind.  Bit by bit the break’s lead did grow though to the point where they were enjoy a 2.30min advantage; a healthy lead but not insurmountable, not yet anyway.

As the race headed towards the start-finish line with 8 laps remaining, things were heating up very quickly though as Hamish Bond led the break through for the first time.  13 riders were in the move but in pursuit on his own was Jason Christie of Tasman.  He was digging deep, backing his time trialling ability that had taken him to silver on Friday, to get across to the leaders.  Meanwhile another group had formed behind him with Jack Bauer, Tom Scully of Cannondale-Drapac, Sam Gaze of Specialized Racing, Regan Gough of An Post-CRC and Aaron Gate of Aqua Blue Sport going on the hunt as well.  The peloton was virtually obliterated, leaving it all up to these groups that had formed and potentially some 20 riders in all.

 

The field make their way through the Napier countryside in the Elite & U23 Men’s Road Race, with Scott Ambrose front of the group, photo Bruce Jenkins Photography

 

Torckler strong on climbs as Christie makes catch

 

On the climb of Hospital Hill Michael Torckler and Dion Smith were heading things up for the break which remained together with Bond towards the back of the group.  Behind them Jason Christie was still chasing hard, while the chase group with Bauer, Scully and co had bolstered a little in numbers.  But Christie was flying bringing the gap back to just 12 seconds to the leaders after the climb of Hospital Hill.  In fact by the time the riders came around for the start-finish line for the second time Christie had succeeded in getting on the back of the break; a near mirror move of the one he carried out last year that led to a first national title.

The following lap saw Christie take a bit of a breather as he sat on the wheel of James Oram, ready to take on Hospital Hill once again.  Having taken a breather, Jason Christie now made his way straight to the front of the race to lead the break up the climb.  He had Hamish Bond right on his wheel as Frank Sutton dropped back just slightly leaving James Fouche as the only remaining U23 rider in the group.  Behind him Jack Bauer led the chasers onwards less than a minute back on the lead group.

Riding strongly Christie’s pace setting was seeing riders really begin to feel the heat, with Morgan Smith being forced to dig deep.  But it wasn’t just the riders in his group he had to pay attention to as the chasers behind were gathering momentum to find themselves just a handful of second in arrears with 6 laps or roughly 62km remaining.  Andy Hagan now took an opportunity to take a breath at the back of the move, but there were a few nerves in the lead group as the chasers were virtually breathing down the necks of the lead group.

 

 

 

Bauer makes lead group

 

Uphill once again Jack Bauer and Aaron Gate made the catch to the leaders to really make the race even more unpredictable.  Scully, Gough and co were also on board, resulting in a group of 19 making the race now.  Former champion Joseph Cooper of IsoWhey Sports SwissWellness was also able to bridge across/ Hamish Bond was just beginning to show the first signs of struggle as he crested the top of climb, allowing a little daylight to grow at the back of what was now the peloton.  That, sadly for Bond, continued to grow as he dropped back off the pace along with Andy Hagan.

The main field now appeared a little more settled at the head of affairs, with Michael Torckler, Dion Smith, Aaron Gate and Tom Scully leading the way up the climb.  Brad Evans for now was just hanging on the back of the bunch, with Regan Gough and Callum Gordon just ahead of him.  The U23 race was looking like it was deciding itself with Regan Gough and James Fouche in the leading group, but chasing them quite a distance behind was Ethan Batt looking to grab a potential bronze medal in that category.

Through the start-finish once again it was Joseph Cooper who just tested the waters a little bit with an attack.  The IsoWhey Sports SwissWellness former national road race champion launched a move that went unchallenged.  At the back of that group Brad Evans and Christie looked to be playing a more tactical game along the flats for the time being.  But the next climb up Spencer Road towards Hospital Hill saw Dion Smith throw caution to the wind and attack.

 

Joseph Cooper leads the main field en route to victory, with Dion Smith and Michael Torckler in tow, photo Bruce Jenkins Photography
Attacks fly

 

Jack Bauer and Michael Torckler led the chase but Smith had a reasonable advantage as he went solo up the climb.  He quickly got a 13 second gap on a group of 2 that included Cooper, while Bauer was forced to lead the chasers .  Out of the saddle his pedalling style appeared a little laboured but he’d put a stake in the ground, bringing away a small group that tried to get on board alongside him.  But the rest of the chasers were able to get back on board; nullifying the move as the race continued on with the main group still together.

With three laps remaining Jack Bauer began to put the hurt on the group, seeing if he could develop a crack or two in the group.  He had Michael Torckler and Dion Smith right on his wheel though keeping him in check, with the rest of the group still there and remaining in contention.  Bauer put in a pretty big turn as he took control at the front, while Regan Gough marked him closely with Tom Scully close at hand, Michael Torckler was up the front and so too was Aaron Gate and Joseph Cooper; with Christie, Regan Gough and Callum Gordon on the back at the moment. 

Surprisingly it was not the next climb of Hospital Hill that brought about the next attack, but a stretch of flat road in the run up to that.  Jack Bauer was left on the front but wasn’t chasing down the attack which triggered a move from Jason Christie to try and join the front of the action.  It was James Oram who’d launched the move, one lap after teammate Smith had made a move himself, but Christie was able to catch and pass Oram on Hospital Hill.  The attack was just about identical to the one he’d launched that led to the win in this very race a year ago and the chasers were having to dig deep to try and get on board with him or let the race get away from them.

Joseph Cooper, Brad Evans and Michael Torckler were sharpest to the move, chasing hard and catching Oram but still having to dig deep if they were to get across and challenge Christie who has just a four second lead as they headed back towards Marine Parade.  But there was more to come as Dion Smith caught the group and then launched another attack coming around towards 2 laps to go.  It fractured the group initially but Smith opted to wait for the rest to come back to him, with Cooper, Evans, Torckler and Christie all there with him.

 

 

U23 battle heats up

 

The chase group was just behind them with Scully, Bauer, Gate, Oram, Fouche and Gough still there and not wanting to lose the race now.  Maybe recognising that they were possibly running themselves into the red the leaders sat up and the four front-runners allowed the Bauer group to come back on board; with Christie again moving to the back to bide his time; presenting a serious threat as he looked like he might well be the freshest in the group.

James Fouche’s performance was of particular note, with the new U23 rider flying with New Zealand’s top professionals and challenging Regan Gough to take the win in the U23 classification.  As the field approached the climb Jason Christie moved to the front, poised to push the pace once again on the climb of Hospital Hill.  An attack did go clear with Joseph Cooper launching another effort to go clear as Jack Bauer again pulled the race along.  He was chased by Aaron Gate while at the back of the race there were signs of struggle, with James Oram dropping back.  

 

Cooper rides to win

 

Cooper’s lead was a slight one of some 30-40 metres from Aaron Gate.  The time gap was just 8 seconds to Gate with the rest just 10 seconds or so back from the 2015 champion.  But as the final lap came ever closer Cooper extended his lead to 17 seconds with 9.9km.  Crucially for Regan Gough, misfortune had struck as he punctured and had to change his wheel; all but guaranteeing Fouche’s victory in the U23 category.

To his advantage, Joseph Cooper not only was a former road race champion, but he also was a former national and Oceania champion in the time trial and well capable of going into the red and staying there longer than most.  Behind him Jack Bauer continued to have the weight of leading the chase on his shoulders as Christie remained at the back of the group.  Amazingly also in the group was the rejoining of Regan Gough, once again igniting the U23 battle but the race for line honours was going away from them as Cooper’s lead extended to 20 seconds.

5km to go and it was still Cooper in the lead and he was grimacing and giving everything he had to win a second national title.  But there was no one to catch him and Cooper succeed in time trialling away from the field to win his second national road race title.  Behind him Jason Christie claimed the silver medal with a well timed attack; while Dion Smith sprinted to the bronze medal.

Regan Gough, having caught the main field then proceeded to sprint clear of James Fouche and claim the U23 men’s road race crown.

 

Joseph Cooper celebrates victory in the Elite Road Race. Cooper has now got three titles to his name with two road race titles and a time trial title to his name, photo Bruce Jenkins Photography

 

Provisional results:

Elite men:
Pos. Rider Team Time

1

Joseph Cooper IsoWhey Sports SwissWellness 4.14.58

2

Jason Christie Tasman +0.14

3

Dion Smith ONE Pro Cycling +0.18

4

Brad Evans Drapac – Pat’s Veg Racing ST

5

Aaron Gate Aqua Blue Sport +0.19

6

Jack Bauer Quick Step-Floors ST

7

Michael Torckler Blindz Direct +0.20

8

Tom Scully Cannondale-Drapac +0.25

9

James Oram ONE Pro Cycling +5.59

10

Callum Gordon Team Skoda Racing +8.07

11

Andy Hagan Wheelworks +9.39

12

Hamish Bond Waikato Bay of Plenty +9.40

13

Tim Rush Mike Greer Homes +11.12

14

Alex Frame JLT-Condor +11.21

15

Sam Horgan Mike Greer Homes +11.38
  Nicholas Magill Waikato Bay of Plenty DNF
  Vaughn Pretorius Wellington DNF
  Roger Grierson Auckland DNF
  Jack Sowry Team Skoda Racing DNF
  Nicolas Monroy East Coast North Island DNF
  Ben Earnshaw East Coast North Island DNF
  Winston Briggs West Coast North Island DNF

 

U23 men:
Pos. Rider Team Time

1

Regan Gough An Post-CRC 4.15.17

2

James Fouche Auckland +0.01

3

Jake Marryatt Canterbury +9.48

4

Sam Dobbs BMC Development +11.02

5

Liam Aitcheson L&M Group RICOH +11.05

6

Thomas Carter Waikato Bay of Plenty ST

7

Alex West Team Skoda Racing ST
  James Denholm West Coast North Island DNF
  Blake Sunde Auckland DNF
  Cory Cannings Auckland DNF
  William Green East Coast North Island DNF
  Ryan Christensen Waikato Bay of Plenty DNF
  Frank Sutton Waikato Bay of Plenty DNF

 

 

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