At the helm of the New Zealand Cycle Classic is race director Jorge Sandoval. And as the race gets ready to enter its 29th year, Jorge took the time to chat to RoadCycling about the race which is the only UCI 2.2 stage race in Oceania.
In nearly 30 years of racing to say that the New Zealand Cycle Classic has taken off and become something incredible is something of an understatement. “It started as a 2 day tour in Lower Hutt, and then went to a 3 day Easter tour, then the 5 day Tour of Wellington going through Upper Hutt, Lower Hutt and it was amazing to arrive in Wellington. Now the race has grown a lot and gone into the UCI calendar,” Jorge told RoadCycling.
“It’s great having all these guys here coming over here year after year, Australian teams, top Australian professional riders come here, compete and win in the race, and sometimes one or two years later they are riding for top pro teams in Europe, riding the Tour de France and winning stages. Riders like Robbie McEwen, Travis Meyer, Richie Porte, Steele von Hoff have all ridden. Also include the likes of some of our Kiwis like Julian Dean and Hayden Roulston. It has grown a lot for what was only going to be a couple of years of racing, I never thought 29 years later it would grow to the standard it is today.”
Despite having grown into the only UCI stage race in New Zealand, the premier stage race of the calendar on our shores, Jorge keeps the race in the Wairarapa rather than taking it around the country. There is the obvious challenge of logistics, traffic management for a 5-day cycling tour is a big challenge; but there is also another reason for why Jorge keeps the New Zealand Cycle Classic in that Wellington area. “I believe that if the race is to be successful it has to be like other races like the Santos Tour Down Under, where riders stay in same hotel, eat in the same hotel, race and then return to the same hotel every day,” Jorge said. “Also be honest, I’ve been around cycling racing all over the country, and the Wairarapa has one of the best areas to have a cycling tour. You can have a flat tour, an undulating or a hilly tour, it’s just perfect for 5 day tour where a lot of pro and international riders do not just come here for racing but also for very hard training.”
This year sees 90 riders on the start list and 9 teams of international riders including ONE Pro Cycling and JLT Condor who arrive here from the UK. Jorge is particularly excited about welcoming a wider international field to the tour this year. “Having the English teams here really excites me, not just because they’re here but the way they cover social media they are so professional about everything. Last two weeks they’ve been talking so much about race, and as a result people from far away countries are asking about when it’s going to be and where it’s going to be,” Jorge told us.
But for Jorge it’s more than just the fact that such an international field widens the influence of the race, but there’s a more personal excitement that Jorge has for the Classic. “To me, I’m just passionate about the whole thing, it’s more than a 5 day tour. I’ve been doing this for 29 years, and gone through very high points and really low points with the race. To me, I’m passionate about providing a bike race and doing it to the best of our abilities. And I love being able to sit in the best seat in house, sitting in the car with bike riders chasing me for 5 days!”
While the international appeal is a definite draw card for the race, Jorge retains a race that is a vital part in developing young up and coming New Zealand talent. The results over the years have been impressive on an international scale. As Jorge tells us, whereas 10-15 years ago you would have 5-6 riders heading to Europe later in the season, nowadays – in part due to their exposure to quality racing on their doorstep that the New Zealand Cycle Classic provides – you now have 35-40 riders heading all over the world. “A lot of riders have come to the race and have found out what it’s like to be in race, to be in a teams race, and from there they have been seen by people, and have signed contracts. We’ve managed to create a step for riders to race overseas,” Jorge said.
This is the first time that the New Zealand Cycle Classic will go to Admiral Hill since 2011, and when it comes to talking about who could win this year’s race, Jorge is clear on one thing. “Every year we have Admirall Hill in the race, the rider who is top on the mountain is top at the end of the race. In 2011, which was the last time the race went to Admiral Hill, George Bennett won, the year before it was Michael Torckler,” Jorge said. “I think as a race organiser, I want to create a a race that is interesting and challenging. But whoever wins the stage to Admirall Hill will need the best team around them during the week, they will need good support from teammates, a lot of luck, and need to be a very good hill climber, Admirall Hill is about 11-12km long but before that you have about 7 hills to get over. That day will be a long day in Wairarapa really hot, but whoever wins the tour needs a strong team for when it’s flat, windy and for when we hit the hills. I think there will only be about 3-4 riders who could do it.”
Whoever wins the New Zealand Cycle Classic in 2016 they will need to come here with fantastic form. With the likes of the ONE Pro Cycling team, the reigning national road race champion and a host of top riders from around the world all converging on the Wairarapa; we can get ready for what is set to be a scintillating week of racing. And Jorge will get to sit back and enjoying holding the best seat in the house.
It’s safe to say, we are a little bit envious!