Jason Christie of Tasman had to call on a last ditch sprint to take his second national title in the space of three years. Christie led out the sprint but had enough in the legs to see off Hayden McCormick of ONE Pro Cycling and Michael Torckler of Blindz Direct. James Fouche, second last year, took the win in the U23 road race ahead of Ryan Christensen in a similarly tense finale.
The elite & U23 men’s race covered 171km of racing on the final day of the BDO New Zealand Road Cycling Championships in Napier. 2 laps of the large rural circuit would then give way to 8 laps of the inner city circuit. This year Sam Bewley & Jack Bauer of Mitchelton-SCOTT, George Bennett of LottoNL-Jumbo, Alex Frame of Trek-Segafredo and Tom Scully of EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale lined up as the World Tour riders in the field with Hamish Schreurs of the Israel Cycling Academy, Shane Archbold and Aaron Gate of Aqua Blue Sport and Dion Smith of Wanty-Groupe Gobert all present from their ProContinental outfits. But they would have a battle on their hands to wrestle the national champion’s jersey off the shoulders of Joseph Cooper of Bennelong SwissWellness Cycling Team p/b Cervelo.
Gunman & Heaney kick off attacks
Two riders broke away early on in the race and quickly gained a 10 second time gap over the field. Alex Heaney of Waikato Bay of Plenty and Taylor Gunman of Auckland broke clear to make the racing early on. Ollie Jones of Canterbury, Josh Scott of NZ Cycling Project L&M Group Ricoh – both of the U23 category – and Brett Grieve of East Coast North Island and Michael Vink of Canterbury looked to bridge across. There were a number of keen riders though ready to join in the early action at the front of the race including Jason Christie of Tasman, Dion Smith of Wanty-Groupe Gobert and Sam Bewley of Mitchelton-SCOTT. The size of the group was large and dangerous and that resulted in a lift in the pace from the peloton to bring the move back.
Ben Barry of NZ Cycling Project L&M Group Ricoh, Josh Page of Tank Guy / Bike Box Rental and Brad Evans of Cycling Otago were the next to chance their arms in a break. But up ahead of the trio was one individual rider in Glenn Haden of Tank Guy / Bike Box Rental who was not waiting around for the race to happen, instead choosing to take the initiative himself. Haden led the way as the race hit the second lap of the rural circuit, with 45 seconds in hand ahead of Barry, Page and Evans, while the group of 25 had been brought back into the peloton and now found themselves 3.44mins adrift with 45km covered of the 171km.
Meanwhile a chase group of some 8-10 riders formed in pursuit of the leaders, and in that group was LottoNL-Jumbo’s George Bennett. He had company from the likes of Nicholas Magill of Crediflex Pro4mance, Alex Ray of Wheelworks Handcrafted Wheels, Paul Wright of Cycling Southland, Brett Grieve of East Coast North Island, Dion Smith of Wanty-Groupe Gobert, Kees Duyvesteyn of NZ Cycling Project L&M Group Ricoh, Sam Horgan of Canterbury, Joseph Cooper of Bennelong SwissWellness Cycling Team p/b Cervelo, Nick Reddish of Waikato Bay of Plenty, Ethan Batt of Tasman, Sam Gaze of Waikato Bay of Plenty and Michael Torckler of Blindz Direct. They had just a 20 second lead over the peloton though with 60km covered so their fate was very much an unknown, meanwhile Glenn Haden was pressing on although with the pace going up his lead was dropping to 1.40mins.
All together as winning move gets ready to go
As the race reached Seafield Road the bunch caught the chase group, leaving just Haden out in front of the rest of the field and maintaining a lead of some 3 minutes. The first crash news though sadly came with regards to Hamish Bond who took a tumble on Seafield Road. He remounted and was able to continue on though although with a little work to do to regain contact with the main peloton. He made it though around the same time as Glenn Haden was being swept up by the peloton.
After a brief lapse of aggression the next move went up the road with a group of about 14 riders attacking. This move featured Route du Sud stage winner in 2017 Tom Scully of EF Education First Drapac p/b Cannondale who drove the group on the way into Napier. He had Jason Christie back in the move along with Dion Smith, Glenn Haden, Paul Wright, Hayden McCormick and James Oram of ONE Pro Cycling, Jason Thomason of Blindz Direct, James Fouche of Auckland, Connor Brown of Auckland, Luke Mudgway of East Coast North Island, Paul Odlin of Canterbury and Ryan Christensen of Waikato Bay of Plenty. The group enjoyed a lead of some 35 seconds but it wasn’t a large time gap by any means and as the group went up Hospital Hill for the and then crossed the start/finish line for the first time to begin the city circuits it was all to play for.
But the bunch were comfortable to allow the break their stay out front with a lead of 1.30mins. On the climb of Hospital Hill Jason Christie led the pace from the front, not attacking, but perhaps just stretching the legs a little. Meanwhile out of the bunch Hamish Bond launched a move that saw him gain a slight advantage of a little over 10 seconds on Hospital Hill. He went off in pursuit of two riders in Cameron Wynniatt of Blindz Direct and Alex Heaney who were in between the two groups.
Leaders function well but nothing left on the line
Through the start/finish for the second time the group looked comfortable but not fully committed to burning all their matches at this stage. Wynniatt and Heaney came through in no man’s land, as did Bond who was in sight of the chasing peloton who were showing a little urgency with Jack Bauer sitting second wheel at the head of the pack. Next time up the climb it was James Oram, Tom Scully and Dion Smith who took on the pace setting, with Christie this time sitting on the back. Back in the chase, the peloton had split with a group of some 10 riders getting away following another crash. It didn’t look like George Bennett or Jack Bauer were in that first group, caught out by the crash. As for Heaney, Wynniatt and Bond the three of them had been caught.
With 6 laps still to go the break’s lead was sitting at 1.18mins to the first chasers. At this stage the cohesion was good between the break, with more and more buy in from each of the members in the move. But out of the peloton a new move was ready to go clear, and surprisingly it was George Bennett and Sam Horgan choosing to break away on the flat from the chase group in the company of Sam Gaze and Aaron Gate. Their intensity was beginning to see the race break up behind them although the group behind them remained large with Sam Bewley and Jack Bauer still present in the peloton as well as Shane Archbold.
As the next lap began it was Hayden McCormick and Paul Odlin leading the way through but the chase group of Gaze, Gate, Horgan and Bennett had closed to within 30 seconds of the leaders. That all changed one lap later as the group closed to within just 12 seconds to the front runners with 40km left to race. Those 12 seconds were swept up pretty easily by the chasers and some extra firepower was added to the move. Back in the peloton cooperation was struggling and the intensity appearing to dwindle from the peloton, but then the same scenario unfolded in the breakaway briefly as the riders approached the next climb up Hospital Hill.
Torckler shows his hand
The next move to go came from Paul Odlin of Canterbury who stretched the lead group a little more on the climb as the gap to the bunch increased to around 2 minutes. The group stayed with him but once again on the flats George Bennett proceeded to make another attack, this time right off the front of the breakaway group. The rest of the group were wise to the move though and as the riders hit Marine Parade all was together again.
But crucially for the leading group the dynamic had changed from cooperation mode to competition mode, with a very stop-start attitude as riders tried to test the water briefly and then were brought back. Allegiances were over and eventually it showed as Dion Smith, Sam Gaze and Tom Scully were all among those caught out as an attack went up the road from George Bennett once again. This time on the clim of Hospital Hill he managed to draw away a small group containing Michael Torckler, Jason Christie, Hayden McCormick and James Oram.
Of the group it looked like Michael Torckler was strongest as he struck out on a solo breakaway attempt. Heading to Marine Parade Torckler went through 2 laps to go with about 10 seconds in hand to George Bennett, while behind them Jason Christie led the chase group through with Dion Smith in tow. At this stage though the chase group had Bennett in their sights; but the intent from Bennett and Torckler was there for all to see as gradually the distance increased. In the chase group it was a case of do or die and if it was a case of do then they had to do it together with Christie, McCormick, Oram, Mudgway, Christensen and more all still in contention but watching the race go away from them as Bennett and Torckler continued to throw caution to the wind.
Can Torckler hold on?
On Hospital Hill this time Torckler began to make his strength tell as George Bennett found the gap extending between himself and the Taranaki rider. The gap was dropping though between Bennett and the chasers as Hayden McCormick launched a big attack out of the chasers. Tom Scully looked to be on the ropes a little bit as they approached the final lap but just about still in contention. At the front though Torckler looked in control and pushing a big gear to try and consolidate his lead and secure what would be a famous win.
Torckler was out front and with clear daylight to the chasers as he crossed the line for the bell lap. Behind him Hayden McCormick and George Bennett just led Jason Christie 30 seconds in arrears while James Oram led the group through at about 50 seconds deficit. In the Smith group were U23 riders James Fouche and Ryan Christensen, staring at the prospect of victory in the U23 race. But neither the group of six or Bennett, McCormick or Christie were able to do much to rein in the Blindz Direct rider who was squeezing every piece of energy out of his legs.
For the final time up Hospital Hill the lone figure of Michael Torckler could be seen labouring up the climb with open road separating him from George Bennett, Jason Christie and Hayden McCormick. The time gap was down to 24 seconds but Torckler was holding on although the small group was now being pursued by Dion Smith. Heartbreakingly though for Torckler as the climb ended so too did Torckler’s stint out front as the catch was made by Christie, McCormick and Bennett.
Christie wins the sprint
The four riders headed to the final slope together just ahead of Dion Smith onto Shakespeare Road. Hayden McCormick led the way as the group looked extremely nervous around each other, not sure how to proceed and attack or whether to wait for a group sprint. Torckler sat on the back of the group for now, although on the climb he once again put a big effort one last time to get away. He couldn’t do it although he could put the heavy pressure on McCormick as Christie and Bennett took over on the descent towards Marine Parade.
As the riders made their way to the finish Christie led the way with Bennett on his wheel with Torckler and McCormick behind. In the sprint for the line it was Jason Christie led the sprint out but he also had enough power in the legs to gap Hayden McCormick and Michael Torckler; with George Bennett taking fourth place on the line. A few seconds later James Oram crossed the line for fifth place with Aaron Gate sixth. But the battle for the U23 title was still on and in the sprint for the line Ryan Christensen opened up the sprint but almost lost his balance altogether. James Fouche kept his composure though and took out the U23 crown. Sam Dobbs took third place.