Anticipation is hotting up for the return of the New Zealand Cycle Classic, returning to the Wairarapa from 15th-19th January.  We caught up with Jorge Sandoval to find out what it is that’s continuing to excite him about the race he has been at the helm of for so long.

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Cycle Classic comes back home in 2020

It’s set to be a happy return to the Wairarapa region for the 2020 New Zealand Cycle Classic after a brief detour into the Waipa region for the 2019 race.  Race director Jorge Sandoval, together with his fantastic team of volunteers who continue to give of themselves year by year for the race, are eagerly awaiting the return of New Zealand’s only UCI stage race.

“First and foremost, the nature of the five-day New Zealand Cycle Classic is suited to the varied terrain, quiet country roads and challenging road routes found throughout Wairarapa.  It’s also on the door step of Wellington meaning international riders can fly into the Capital City and be transported here easily,” Jorge told RoadCycling.

“Secondly, after having previously staged the race here before as well as other national road races such as the Trust House North Island Team Series, I’ve got a great team of loyal experienced volunteers and officials who know cycling and understand the ins and outs of staging a UCI 2.2 level event, including planning for those unpredictable things that often crop up.

Hayden McCormick wins the 2018 NZ Cycle Classic for the New Zealand National Team, photo: Dave Lintott / lintottphoto.co.nz

“Thirdly the Wairarapa is 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 and the mechanics to have plenty of room to work their magic. Meals are all catered for here too. Over the years, we’ve received a lot of positive feedback from the team managers about this aspect of the event.  And of course there’s great old-fashioned Kiwi hospitality, amazing scenery and award winning vineyards and restaurants meaning the spectators can enjoy themselves just as much as the riders.”

New Zealand is a nation that is entirely spoilt for choice when it comes to potential locations that could host a five-day tour to a great standard.  But time and time again it is the Wairarapa that proves a mighty host.  For Sandoval, the return to the Wairarapa is generated by the cycling-savvy calibre of the people there; a people who relish the prospect of the highest level of stage race cycling coming to their roads once again.  

Aaron Gate defending the yellow jersey in the 2019 New Zealand Cycle Classic, photo Danielle Ward – Concept78 Photography

“New Zealand is a beautiful country but what stands out for me as race director here in Wairarapa are the people I work with who are passionate about cycling and understand it.  All local authorities in the region support the event financially and as I’ve already said the roads around Wairarapa are great for an international stage race such as this. This is seen in the feedback from the riders themselves,” Jorge told us.

Back in 2018, the last time the race visited the Wairarapa, it was Hayden Mccormick who was at the head of the standings at the end of an electric battle for the yellow jersey which went down to the final day.  Behind him riders from Great Britain, Australia, South Africa, Switzerland and Denmark completed a memorable race.  It’s a point of pride that this particular corner of the world does such a consistent job of drawing top quality international names year in, year out and Sandoval is anticipating that we shall see a continuation of that in 2020.

“Over the years, riders have come from Canada, Taiwan, Wales, the Netherlands, Australia, Switzerland, Italy, Japan, Spain, USA, Mongolia, Uruguay and England as well as from all around New Zealand.  As race director sometimes you don’t know until days before stage one who will turn up but it’s fair to say, this race has developed the reputation as unearthing new talent. In the past we’ve had have young boys such as Robbie McEwen, Jay McCarthy, George Bennett or Chis Jenner who a few years later are winning stages in the Tour de France or many other top international races,” Sandoval explained.

Ian Bibby & Robert Stannard light up the 2018 New Zealand Cycle Classic, photo: Dave Lintott / lintottphoto.co.nz

This year’s event in Cambridge proved to be one of the pieces to the puzzle that saw the Flying Mullet return to World Tour racing later in the season with BORA-Hansgrohe.  Archbold played a key role in the EvoPro Racing team that would eventually go on to take the overall title courtesy of a start-finish lead from Aaron Gate.  What the start list for 2020 will look like is uncertain but there is already set to be a healthy international flavour to the tour.  “I’m still finalising teams for 2020 needless to say, but we will have UCI teams from Europe, Asia and Oceania plus two New Zealand teams.  In 2020 I am going for quality rather than quantity, 15 teams is what I am planning for at this stage,” Sandoval said.

“Because it’s a team race, I’m fortunate to have had specialists compete here – the top lead out riders, hill climbers and sprint specialists have all played a major part and this side of it is really great for spectators to watch. Those that aren’t familiar with the ins and outs of a road race, can see how strategic it is and how the team members work hard to protect their man.”

To find out more about the New Zealand Cycle Classic click here.

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