Our New Zealand U23 team had its first major challenge at the weekend in the Ghent-Wevelgem U23 race.  The race was one of a number of crucial races in Europe this season for our boys as they pursue success that will lead to a strong team tackling the world championships later in the year.  We spoke to Sam Dobbs after the race who placed in the top 20 at the end of a tough day in the saddle.

Ghent-Wevelgem U23 covers much of the same roads that the World Tour event does, and it’s therefore understandable – given the race we saw that resulted in Greg van Avermaet taking the win – that the U23 race would be similarly epic! Up ahead for the U23 riders were 187km of racing, starting and finishing in Ieper and taking on six notoriously trying climbs en route to the finish.  They began at the 119km mark and didn’t stop until the 161km point; with the climbs of the Baneberg, Kemmelberg and Monteberg to be tackled twice each.

“Ghent Wevelgem was a great race,” said Dobbs when we caught up with him.  “A very big race for the U23s as well as Tour of Flanders.”  As typically goes with a good Belgian classic, the racing was furious and frenzied with plenty of attacks and crashes.  “It was crazy racing, some big crashes so it’s so important to be on the ball focusing the whole time and being in good position for the keys parts, small roads etc.”

Of the Belgian classics Ghent-Wevelgem is definitely the most sprinter-friendly of them.  Fast finishers of the class of Thor Hushovd, John Degenkolb, Tom Boonen and even the great Mario Cipollini have all won the classic.  But that said a lot needs to go the way of a sprinter for that opportunity to come about; as we discovered on Sunday with van Avermaet’s breakaway win and again in the U23 race.

Tom Carter in the thick of the action during Ghent-Wevelgem U23, photo provided

“Yes it is I guess more of a sprinter’s classic however anything is possible, with the wind it can blow to peaces like it did last year, even in this edition their was a point 60km into the race where there were only 20 or so of us left, but none of the big nations committed so it all came back again. So really anything can happen.. also being 185km people are pretty tired by the finale, so even though the run in is all flat it can be a very hard race,” Dobbs said.

New Zealand lined up with the two Sams – Dobbs and Gaze, Ollie Jones, Tom Carter and Ryan Christensen all together in a field made up entirely of national teams.  Throughout the ride it was Sam Gaze and Sam Dobbs who were being protected by the team, and Dobbs paid full credit to the work of his teammates throughout the ride.  “The race went pretty much as expected,” he said.  “The NZ team rode great, I think some of the big nations got a surprise to be honest.  We had Ollie Jones in the breakaway, we were in the front in the key parts of the race, Tom Carter and Ryan were helping a lot to keep Sam Gaze and I as fresh as possible.”

Not everything went the way of the Kiwis though, with Christensen unfortunately sustaining a nasty crash which broke a couple of teeth; sadly bringing an end to his day in the saddle!  “In the finale Sam Gaze and I were in the front to fight for a result. I think no one expected the early break to stay away but in the finale it was a bit of cat and mouse with which nation wanted to take up the chase,” Sam said.

“In the finale groups were riding away and coming back [and] eventually one stuck that I was not in.  With 4km to go I attacked and got away with 4 Guys but we ran out of road to catch the front group.  But that’s racing and when the level is this high everything needs to be perfect.”

Great Britain’s Jacob Jennessy took the win in 4 hours 22 minutes 55 seconds ahead of the USA’s Ian Garrison and Norway’s Rasmus Fossum Tiller.  Sam Dobbs was the first of the Kiwis to cross the line, taking 18th place at the head of a small group of riders.  Behind him Sam Gaze came through solo after teammate Dobbs went up ahead; while Ollie Jones arrived home a few minutes later after his work earlier on in the race for Gaze and Dobbs.

From l-r: Tom Carter, Ollie Jones, Sam Gaze, Sam Dobbs & Ryan Christensen.
Results:
Pos. Rider Nation Time

1

Jacob Hennessy GBR 4.22.55

2

Ian Garrison USA ST

3

Rasmus Fossum Tiller NOR ST

4

Simon Sellier FRA ST

5

Hartthijs De Vries NED ST

6

Andreas Lorentz Korn DEN ST

7

Simon Guglielmi FRA ST

8

Ole Forfang NOR +0.19

9

Franklin Six BEL ST

10

Patrick Müller SWI ST

11

Damien Touze FRA ST

12

Marc Hirschi SWI ST

13

Mikkel Froelich DEN ST

14

Neilson Powless USA ST

15

Alexys Brunel FRA ST

16

Edward Dunbar IRE +0.23

17

Benoit Cosnefroy FRA ST

18

Sam Dobbs NZL +0.54

19

Maximilien Picoux BEL ST

20

Milan Menten BEL ST
OTHERS      

49

Sam Gaze NZL +2.29

71

Ollie Jones NZL +9.17
DNF Tom Carter NZL  
DNF Ryan Christensen NZL  

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