In one of the most exciting ever finishes to the five-stage UCI 2.2 New Zealand Cycle Classic, New Zealand National team rider Hayden McCormick overcame his 5 second deficit to Robert Stannard and became the 2018 champion.
Beginning the final 120km stage held in hot conditions in Masterton in the Wairarapa today, McCormick was sitting second place on general classification behind Skoda Racing’s Robert Stannard – with only five seconds separating the pair.
As the race began it became evident early into the first lap that this was going to be fast and furious with both the New Zealand and Skoda teams involved in a series of breakaways as well as English based team JLT Condor. By the time it came down to the final lap of 12, the breakaway roared towards the finish line with a group of around 11 riders fighting it out for line honours.
Brisbane Continental’s Jordan Kerby’s powerful sprint finish saw him win the stage in 2hour 38mins04secs while JLT’s Ian Bibby was second and Thomas Stewart third and McCormick fourth. However because McCormick finished ahead of Stannard – who crossed the line 17 seconds behind McCormick and his breakaway group – it was enough to claim the overall yellow jersey.
McCormick was delighted to take the victory – his first major tour win since he was 19-year-old.
“The pressure wasn’t on us (at the beginning) but we knew it was going to be a hard day whatever happens. The boys were absolutely fantastic. There’s something to be said for morale of the team this week,” said McCormick at the finish line. “We turned up with nothing and we’ve left with absolutely everything. A big thanks for Mark for looking after us this week and for everyone else in this community that has helped us out, it’s been pretty bloody special actually.”
Stannard admitted he was gutted to lose the yellow jersey but paid tribute to the New Zealand team and was one of the first to congratulate McCormick. “It was pretty sad. The team did a great job, but we just didn’t have a lot of help out there today. I don’t think our team could have done anything else so full credit to New Zealand,” said the 19-year-old.
Race director Jorge Sandoval said today’s final stage was the most exciting race he’d witnessed in his 31 years of racing. “With 400m to go we didn’t know who was going to win the tour. It was just incredible. Incredible,” he said.
JLT Condor team manager John Herety was thrilled for his team who had a solid week on the bike culminating in second place behind New Zealand on the team’s classification points table and second place for Bibby in today’s final stage.
“We’ve had a really good week – two stage wins and a second today. But the main goal today was to move up the general classification and we managed to do that. Ian Bibby’s had a great tour and we just missed out on the first day a bit which was our own fault to be honest and we tried to rectify it,” said Herety. “There was some great racing today and shame for the yellow jersey. He rode an exceptional race here and just losing out to circumstances I think, the right combination in the breakaway, riders that were committed, they managed to stay away, so we are very happy with our little ‘holiday’ shall we say in Wairarapa. It’s been very good, we’ve enjoyed it, we like coming here. It is how we like to start our season.”
In addition to being presented the yellow jersey, McCormick was presented with a special Maori carving which had been crafted by an inmate at Rimutaka Prison from Rimu wood and signifies wind and sea. Sandoval has been mentoring inmates through a volunteer role with the Department of Corrections for the last eight years with the view to teach inmates life skills. On receiving the carving, McCormick dedicated the win to his close friend and Australian cyclist Jason Lowndes, who died recently.
Other highlights today included Mobius Future Racing’s Dylan Newbery retaining the King of the Mountain Jersey, despite racing today’s final stage with a suspected broken wrist; Bennelong’s Brendon Davis being awarded the Most Aggressive Rider Jersey; Stannard being awarded the U23 jersey and Bibby, the Sprint Ace Jersey. These presentations were made by Trust House’s Lucy Griffiths and Fagan Motor’s Keith Allan.
Many of the riders who raced in this week’s New Zealand Cycle Classic will now turn their attention to the Gravel and Tar event coming up next week.