Niamh Fisher-Black has won the elite women’s race at the Vantage National Road Championships in Cambridge.  The Kiwi took the title with a perfectly timed late attack that proved enough to take the win ahead of Ella Harris and Teresa Adam.

The women’s race got underway to a rather subdued start.  The field of elite and U23 riders were largely together early on heading through the first QOM climbs of the day.  Annamarie Lipp of Velo Project led the field over the first QOM climb, ahead of Wellington’s Kate McIlroy and Canyon-SRAM’s Ella Harris.  There were a few early skirmishes with Mikayla Harvey of Katusha-Bigla and McIlroy paying early attention to the goings on at the head of affairs; but initially there was little ground being successfully made for lone escapees.

Kate McCarthy of Waikato Bay of Plenty, Georgia Perry of GD Pringle p/b Spoken Cycles and Oliva Ray from Auckland launched the first serious attack of the day.  The three broke clear before McCarthy led the way onto the climb of Maungakawa with a handy solo advantage but behind her the race was about ready to explode.  The climb, which averaged around 8% but hit sections of 14-15% blitzed the peloton behind her as a select group of four riders developed in pursuit of the lone escapee.  Kate McIlroy was clearly in good form, heading away from defending champion Georgia Christie and the rest of the field; that found themselves rapidly dropping off in ones and twos and small groups.  She was joined, however, by Ella Harris, Katusha-Bigla’s Niamh Fisher-Black and newly crowned national time trial champion Teresa Adam; appearing to thrive on her triathlon background.

Kate McCarthy spent almost the whole day out in front solo, but was caught with 1km to go after a brave performance, photo Ed Wright/RoadCycling.co.nz

Ray and McCarthy were still clear with a healthy advantage as they approached Turkey Hill.  The duo were separated though, and both expending a lot of energy; while the chasing quartet looked to be functioning effectively.  The quartet caught Ray over the climb of Turkey Hill with Fisher-Black leading the charge along with Harris.  French Pass still awaited before the town circuits, but there was a lot of work for the group to do if they were to catch McCarthy.  Ray sat on the back for a while, recovering from her solo effort as they turned onto French Pass Road.

McCarthy was able to hold off the chasers, however, and was in time trial mode as she headed towards the end of the big lap and into the first of two town centre laps that were completely flat.  The chasers were still on the climb of French Pass but had managed to offload Olivia Ray.  At the feed zone the chasing quartet had a deficit that was sitting at around 2 minutes.

Steadily the advantage trickled down but as the riders reached the finish line for the first time McCarthy hit the line with a 1.30mins over the chasing quartet, while a group featuring Mikayla Harvey, Georgia Christie, Sharlotte Lucas, Bronwyn Macgregor and Kirsty McCallum crossed the line 3.55mins back with the opportunities for a podium finish looking like they were dwindling away.

The chase group of Niamh Fisher-Black, Ella Harris, Kate McIlroy and Teresa Adam worked tirelessly and very effectively throughout the race, photo Ed Wright/RoadCycling.co.nz

From here McCarthy laboured onward with the changing wind direction making things very interesting and challenging for her as she battled on her own against the four-strong firepower of the chasers who continued to work effectively together.  As she made her way around the loop before the bell the Waikato Bay of Plenty rider showed the first signs of fatigue as she shuffled on the bike, trying to get comfortable; the brief disruption in her rhythm began to tell as she went through the  bell lap with 9km to go with just 52 seconds in hand.

The final lap was as tense as any in recent national championship memory as McCarthy – who had spent her entire day out in front – clung on to any advantage she could over the closing chasers who could sniff an opportunity to take a title that until now had looked destined for a surprise destination.  With less than 5km to go the gap had dipped to just 13 seconds but still McCarthy wasn’t prepared to relent just yet.  

Finally, though, with 1km to go the catch was made and the five riders got ready for the finale.  It was an aggressive climax to the race though, with Teresa Adam not content to wait for a sprint.  The triathlete attacked and was pursued by Ella Harris, before Niamh Fisher-Black timed her effort to perfection and shot off the front just in time to take the final corner with a second or two in hand.  It proved enough as the reigning Gravel and Tar La Femme champion added a national title to her palmares ahead of Harris; with Adam and McIlroy finishing just ahead of the valiant McCarthy.

Niamh Fisher-Black is flanked by U23 riders Ella Harris and Ally Wollaston, photo Dave Morrison – Elko Media

Results:

Pos.RiderCategoryTeamTime
1Niamh Fisher-BlackU23Bigla-Katusha3.05.58
2Ella HarrisU23Canyon-SRAM+0.01
3Teresa AdamEliteWaikato Bay of PlentyST
4Kate McIlroyEliteWellington+0.08
5Kate McCarthyEliteWaikato Bay of Plenty+0.11
6Ally WollastonU23Velo Project+4.11
7Sharlotte LucasEliteTIBCO-SVB+4.12
8Jorja SwainU23NorthlandST
9Mikayla HarveyU23Bigla-KatushaST
10Alicia EvansEliteAucklandST
11Bronwyn MacgregorEliteWaikato Bay of Plenty+4.13
12Ainsley ThorpeU23Waikato Bay of Plenty+4.14
13Georgia ChristieEliteTasman+4.15
14Samara MaxwellU23Waikato Bay of Plenty+7.27
15Kirsty McCallumEliteVelo ProjectST
16Courteney LoweEliteWaikato Bay of Plenty+7.28
17Stella NightingaleU23Tank Guy+8.49
18Kate WightmanEliteTank GuyST
19Elyse FraserEliteVelo ProjectST
20Annamarie LippU23Velo Project+8.50
21Hannah BartramU23CanterburyST
22Poppy BuissinkU23Tank Guy+8.52
23Georgia PerryEliteGD Pringle p/b Spoken Cycles+12.24

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