Georgia Williams has put the memories of three second place finishes behind her with her first road race title at the BDO New Zealand Road Cycling Championships in Napier.  Williams added to her time trial title of the day before as she claimed the win ahead of Sharlotte Lucas and Kirsty McCallum with Grace Anderson taking out the U23 title.

The elite & U23 women’s race in Napier got underway under grey skies but crucially dry roads.  The conditions were reasonably windy which would doubtless play a factor in the race as the day unfolded over the 114km of riding which included five laps of the inner city circuit after the one large rural lap.  After 7km of neutral riding the race proper got underway.

 
Kerri-Anne Page returns to familiar territory on front

 

It didn’t take long for an early breakaway to go clear.  Three riders went up the road with Ione Johnson of Wheelworks Handcrafted Wheels racing in the U23 category and escaping alongside Natalie Kerwin of East Coast North Island and Kerri-Anne Page of Tank Guy / Bike Box Rental.  Last year Kerri-Anne Page had done the same thing with an early attack that would see her claim the Queen of the Mountains classification at the end of what proved to be an exhausting day.  

The trio seized their opportunity afforded them and grew their lead to 1.14mins after just 40 minutes of racing.  The trio became two though as Natalie Kerwin dropped off the break, leaving Kerri-Anne Page and Ione Johnson left out in front of the peloton.  The two leaders appeared undeterred though, stretching their lead out to 1.52mins.  Back in the peloton the two favourites for the honours at the finish, Georgia Williams and Rushlee Buchanan were quite content to relax at the tail end of the peloton; knowing that the race would light up a great deal more later.

While the peloton was reasonably relaxed there were riders prepared to launch away from the bunch in pursuit of the leaders.  Jojo Bauer of Canterbury and U23 rider Bryony Botha of Waikato Bay of Plenty left the peloton and went off in pursuit of the two leaders.  As the first hour of racing closed out they had succeeded in closing to within 1.17mins of Johnson and Page, while the peloton were now sitting 2 minutes adrift.

 

Botha, Bauer & Sheath lead pursuit

 

Perhaps it was the attack of Botha and Bauer that had instigated a change in the peloton, whatever the reason though after a little more than an hour of racing the break’s lead had been reduced a fair bit to 1.27mins; with a little more action apparent in the peloton.  Racquel Sheath was the next to attack from the bunch, going off in pursuit of both Jojo Bauer and Bryony Botha.  But the break weren’t done yet as they pushed onward to stretch their advantage to an impressive 4.25mins, while Botha and Bauer continued to pursue them at 1.21mins back.

As the break neared the end of the large opening lap the time gap had stretched to 4.34mins.  The impetus had appeared to drop a little from the chase trio of Botha and Bauer who had caught Kerwin.  They found themselves 1.48mins adrift while Racquel Sheath and Renee Wootton had built a slight lead of 38 seconds over the peloton.  Meanwhile Johnson and Page in the lead looked to be quite comfortable at this stage on the front.  In the peloton Rushlee Buchanan and Georgia Williams had both moved themselves closer to the front of the race.

That was reflected in the time gap as the lead for Johnson and Page dropped to 3.38mins as the pair passed the airport ready to reach the city centre and the 55km point which would signal the first of the five small city circuit laps.  The first climb of Hospital Hill spelled the end of Ione Johnson’s time on the front of the race as Kerri-Anne Page dropped her and went solo up the climb.  Page quickly opened a ten second gap on Johnson and extended the gap confidently, looking very much like she would replicate the ride of 2017.

 
Georgia Williams breaks clear

 

It looked like the city circuit was beginning to take its toll on the leaders as the gap continued to drop to 2.20mins to the peloton.  The peloton itself was also beginning to fracture leaving the race a little uncertain as the race passed the start/finish line for the first time.  Behind her the race had been lit up by Georgia Williams who had broken away in her Mitchelton-SCOTT colours to catch Ione Johnson and go in pursuit of the lone leader.  Behind them 10 riders, including Buchanan, crossed the line 1.10mins behind Page.

On the second time up Hospital Hill Georgia Williams was breathing down the neck of Kerri-Anne Page and about to make the catch.  Williams had succeeded in dropping Ione Johnson who in turn was still the leading U23 rider ahead of the remnants of the peloton.  On the front of the peloton Mikayla Harvey was leading the way and it looked like Kate McIlroy was right there too; while Buchanan was still hanging back in the bunch for now.  By the time the leaders were descending the catch had been made and two riders once again led the elite women’s race; but that too was not to last as Williams dropped Page just a couple of kilometres later.

Williams crossed the line for the second time 30 seconds ahead of Kerri-Anne Page; as the dynamic of the race well and truly shifted.  Her gap to the peloton was a healthy one too with 1.43mins the gap.  Rushlee Buchanan was right on the back of the bunch, while Mikayla Harvey led the chase on the front of the race.  It was on this next lap though that Rushlee Buchanan opted to attack and try to bridge across to her former track teammate.  The lift in the pace was matched by the rest of the bunch though and the 14-strong peloton continued to tap out the pace in pursuit of Williams while the lone leader simply knuckled down and pressed on towards the final two laps of racing.  

 

Williams untroubled as lead stretches

 

Up Hospital Hill for the third time Williams looked perfectly composed as she powered onwards with Kerri-Anne Page continuing to sit between Williams and the peloton at 1.40mins adrift.  Over 2 minutes was the gap to the peloton who were in pursuit, and it was here that the first big attacks on the hill came from the bunch.  Mikayla Harvey and Kate McIlroy were the major instigators, but the gap was growing between them and Williams.  Buchanan looked to have been left behind as the acceleration brought about half the peloton away.

With 3 laps to go Williams appeared a picture of confidence as she enjoyed the tailwind down Marine Parade.  2.15mins ticked away and still there was no sign of the peloton.  Eventually the bunch did come through but crucially there was no Rushlee Buchanan in the move.  Kerri-Anne Page had been caught but she was determined to continue illuminating the race as she led the seven-strong peloton through at 3 minutes adrift.  Meanwhile the Buchanan group came through at 3.12mins back.  In the group ahead of Buchanan was just one U23 rider in Lydia Rippon of Mike Greer Homes Women’s Cycling who was in the ideal position to take the U23 title with the other U23 riders behind her.

Eventually the Buchanan group succeeded in regaining contact with the seven ahead and a peloton of about 14 in number resumed order.  But at this stage it looked like the peloton were racing for second place.  The U23 riders who were now accompanying Lydia Rippon in the bunch had no need to chase as their race was between themselves.  As for the elite riders if they wanted to now chase Williams and bridge the gap they may find themselves expending too much energy which could result in sacrificing a medal altogether.

 
Peloton races for second place as Williams piles on pace

 

On the climb of Hospital Hill for the third time the win for Williams was all but in the bag as the chase bunch finally reached the climb over 4 minutes in arrears.  Finally the group came into view as Buchanan and Deborah Paine looked to be setting the pace but 4.15mins was the new time gap.  All Williams had to do was stay upright and keep pressing on and the title would surely be hers.  Through the start/finish line for the penultimate time before the finish Williams crossed the line setting a strong tempo and not looking back.

The chase group crossed the start/finish line 4.35mins behind Williams, and now for them it became about how the minor placings would be won and how the U23 title would be claimed.  Five riders were up for the U23 win with Lydia Rippon of Mike Greer Homes Women’s Cycling, Georgia Catterick of Tasman, Grace Anderson of Auckland, Mikayla Harvey of Cycling Southland and Deborah Paine.  It looked like they would be happy to contest a bunch sprint along with the remaining elite riders who would take on the fight for second place.

For Georgia Williams the legs were clearly fatigued as she climbed up Hospital Hill once again.  The victory was just about certain for her and she never looked like losing her massive lead.  The peloton finally made their way onto the climb but the riders appeared too nervous to attack the climb, with Deborah Paine and Kate McIlroy taking on the pace; but not lifting the speed enough to drop anyone.  The gap kept on growing to Williams whose advantage was at a quite phenomenal 5.25mins.

 
Georgia claims the double as Grace Anderson wins U23 title

 

On the final lap Williams was on the drops and putting the last of her energy into getting through the last lap successfully.  The chase group had once again split with five riders pulling away from the rest.  Georgia Catterick had dropped off of that group, potentially ruling her out of the U23 battle.  Rushlee Buchanan and Lydia Rippon had also fallen off the pace leaving the contest for second and third pretty wide open.

One final time up Hospital Hill Williams put in one more big effort to get to the top while once more the peloton that had split up found itself once again united; reigniting the possibilities for Buchanan to claim a silver medal.  Eight riders were in the group though besides the defending champion, with Racquel Sheath and Lydia Rippon bridging the gap with Buchanan.  Grace Anderson, Deborah Paine and Kate McIlroy were all present as well.

But it would be impossible to catch Georgia Williams who continued to press onwards towards the win and finally her first road race title.  Williams turned onto Marine Parade for the final time and was able to sit up and enjoy a famous win.  The crowds cheered enthusiastically as she rode over the line with just enough energy to raise her arms aloft and claim the win after a 50km long successful breakaway.

Left in the first chase group on the road though were Grace Anderson and Deborah Paine along with three others.  With the finish line nearing the fight for the U23 title would be between the two of them.  As the quintet approached the finish line the small group sprinted for the line with Sharlotte Lucas having remained in the group the whole time.  Lucas produced a sharp kick to take the sprint for second place with Kirsty McCallum taking third.  Grace Anderson crossed the line to take first place in the U23 race ahead of Deborah Paine, with Lydia Rippon third.

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