A former ITU triathlete turned road cyclist not only grabbed his first stage victory for his Australian based team, but Jesse Featonby of Oliver’s Real Food also his first UCI points after giving a blistering performance during stage four of the Grassroots Trust New Zealand Cycle Classic held on the outskirts of Cambridge in the Waipa region today.
The 31-year-old from Aubrey in NSW, was part of a 15 strong chase group trying to close the gap on race leaders Aaron Gate of EvoPro in the yellow jersey and Team Nero Bianci’s Jay Vine who led by 48 seconds heading into the second time up the steep and windy Maungakawa Hill. But with 1km to go, Featonby backed himself to take the win.
“I was feeling pretty comfortable in the chase group and lots was happening. James (Oram) was upping his rate and everyone was very animated. With 500m to go I thought I’d go for it. I backed myself for the win and I am absolutely stoked. I am just so happy,” said Featonby at the finish line.
Featonby won the stage in 3hr 33mins 45secs with Vine, who had done the majority of the work leading Gate up the hill, crossing the line two seconds later. Gate finished seven seconds down on the stage winner but did more than enough to retain the yellow jersey.
“It was definitely hard. The first lap I managed to hold on after Cyrus Monk had put in a huge effort for me, again … but when Vine made his break I managed to dive in and we worked hard together to extend our lead. But it was in my best interest to sit tight and to be fair, he (Vine) deserved the win as he put in so much effort. But I am pleased to get on the podium and to hold onto the yellow jersey for another day,” said Gate.
It was also a surprise finish for Race Director Jorge Sandoval, who earlier today predicted the big moves in the bunch would come from hill climbers Michael Torckler (GDP), who finished 7th, or Michael Vink (St George), who finished 16th.
“Man, he (Featonby) just came from nowhere! One minute he wasn’t there and the next … he was flying past Jay Vine who had pulled himself and Gate up that hill. Talk about exciting,” said Sandoval.
Today’s gruelling 143.8km Queen Stage began in Cambridge and circled through Pukemoremore, past the Hobbiton Movie Set before finishing on top of Maungakawa Hill. At 30km, a breakaway of five riders formed that was eventually caught by a chase group of three. Together the eight riders from teams New Zealand, Swiss National, Oliver’s, Futuro Cycling, GD Pringle, Rauland, AMR Renault and Mobile Communications wound through the hilly Waipa countryside extending their lead to 2min 30 over the peloton.
At 81km the bunch was all back together and at 90km another group of eight riders broke away. Whilst there were lots of attacks coming from New Zealand and Team BridgeLane nothing really stuck. At approximately 100km, Gate and Vine made their move and extended their lead to 56sec on a 15-strong chasing group that included BridgeLane, Swiss National, Nero Bianchi, New Zealand and Oliver’s.
This formation continued until the second lap up the hill when the chase group fractured and closed the gap on the race leaders. With crowds lining the narrow, steep hill road ringing cow bells and cheering the riders on, it was Featonby who took his chance.
Vine’s powerful performance didn’t go unnoticed. It earned him the Winger Suzuki Most Aggressive Rider Jersey while Swiss rider Stefan Bissegger kept the BNZ Sprint jersey and his team mate Cyrille Thiery, the Three Peaks Manuka Honey King of the Mountain Jersey. Local team GD Pringle’s Theo Gilbertson won the Foster Construction U23 Jersey and arguably got the loudest cheer of the day from the crowd at the presentation.
The fifth and final Stage of the Tour concludes tomorrow around Cambridge and is nicknamed the Circuit of Champions.
The New Zealand Cycle Classic celebrates its 32nd Anniversary this year. After being staged in the Wairarapa for the last three years it is being staged entirely in and around the surrounds of Waipā and features new race routes that will test all riders.
Being held simultaneously with the Grassroots New Zealand Cycle Classic is Three Peaks RIDE New Zealand’s Cycling Festival, a week-long festival encouraging people of all ages and stages of cycling to get out and ride more regularly. These two events have been made possible thanks to the generous support from the Brian Perry Charitable Trust and the Waipā District Council.