Race Director Jorge Sandoval is returning his five-day, international elite men’s road race, the New Zealand Cycle Classic to its Masterton base in 2020.  The Tour is the only Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) 2.2 event held in Oceania and was staged in the Wairarapa between 2016-2018. 

The last time the New Zealand Cycle Classic was hosted by the Wairarapa region it was Hayden McCormick who took the overall title in an electric final stage. Next year’s dates have also been confirmed for the 2020 New Zealand Cycle Classic, which will run from the 15th-19th January.

Sandoval was approached and invited to stage the 2019 event in the Waipa District and run in conjunction with RIDE New Zealand’s Cycling Festival, in first instance for at least three years but in the end the decision was taken by Sandoval to return the race to the Wairarapa after one.  The 2019 race was won by Aaron Gate who took the overall title on the back of his brilliantly taken stage 1 win. We got the chance to catch up with the race director about the return.

RC:  How happy were you with moving the NZCC to Cambridge in 2019?

Jorge:  In the beginning I was excited to be offered the opportunity to move the New Zealand Cycle Classic to the Waipa region especially after so many great promises made to me. It was a decision made with the view to grow the event in the coming years. It’s not a secret that I’ve always dreamed of taking this to a UCI 2.1 race and I thought this may be the base from which to achieve that dream.  Unfortunately a number of issues that escalated in the weeks prior to the tour really made up my mind to come back to Wairarapa as soon as possible. 

RC:  What worked well for the race up in the Waipa?

Jorge:  It was nice to take in a unique part of New Zealand, however there were a few limitations to the terrain as well for example, in the first three days we struggled to find a suitable climb for the king of the mountains and with the exception of stage four it was a reasonably flat and predictable race. 

RC:  Why have you made the decision to move the race back to Masterton?

Jorge:  First and foremost, the nature of the five-day New Zealand Cycle Classic is better suited to the terrain and variety of challenging road routes found throughout the Wairarapa.  Secondly, after having staged the race in the Wairarapa, as well as other national road races such as the Trust House North Island Team Series, I’ve developed a team of experienced volunteers and officials who know and understand the ins and outs of staging a UCI 2.2 level event, including planning for those unpredictable things. 

The 2020 New Zealand Cycle Classic will have an ‘old-new’ home in the Wairarapa. Photo: Dave Lintott / lintottphoto.co.nz

Thirdly, good accommodation.  The Wairarapa is most fortunate to have a large accommodation provider in the Copthorne Hotel & Resort Solway Park that can accommodate all the teams for the five days.  Not only does this allow the riders to solely focus on the race, but it makes it seamless for the team managers having that one base. Their meals are all in the one place and there’s plenty of room for the mechanics to do their thing which is extremely important.  Over the years, we’ve received a lot of positive feedback from the managers about this aspect of the event. Of course, there’s great old-fashioned Kiwi hospitality here too.

RC:  With the NZCC coming back to Masterton will there be any other changes to the Cycle Classic in 2020 in terms of format, length or course compared to previous editions in the Wairarapa?

 
Jorge:  I’m still finalising the stages but it will take riders through many Wairarapa townships and past many landmarks giving maximum opportunity for media coverage and for our entire community to be involved.  I can confirm that Admiral Hill which has previously been an important Queen Stage, will again play a major role in next year’s tour.  For the first time there may be even a bit of gravel road.
 
Over the years it’s been staged in Masterton, there’s been a noticeable increase in large groups of spectators out with their colourful signs supporting the riders as they hurtle along Masterton-Stronvar Rd, Millars Road in Gladstone and along Puruatanga Road in Martinborough. I hope to capitalise on this again in 2020.

Being held in the January school holidays presents both challenges and opportunities however local participation will also be a big focus with community and fun events planned to be staged simultaneously under the Huri Huri Bike Wairarapa umbrella. 

I’m excited that the 2020 event will bring riders of the highest calibre here for over a week and along with them their entourage of bike mechanics, health professionals, supporters and media.  This will generate a sense of pride for our Wairarapa community to be part of something on the international cycling calendar. It will also inspire our community to come out and watch the Tour and ideally become involved in the sport of cycling in greater numbers as a rider, volunteer or official.  

Photo: Dave Lintott / lintottphoto.co.nz

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