James Fouche celebrates victory in the Vantage Road National Championships, photo Marion Wright/RoadCycling.co.nz

Repeating the dominance of U23 riders at this year’s Vantage Road National Championships, James Fouche of Team WIGGINS took the race in fantastic solo style to win the U23 title and the national champion’s jersey outright.  He won ahead of Kees Duyvesteyn and Tom Scully; with the latter being the first elite rider across the line.

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Patrick Bevin stretches the field early on during the elite & U23 men’s road race, photo Marion Wright/RoadCycling.co.nz

Racing in the Elite & U23 men’s road race at the Vantage Road National Championships in Napier got underway to slightly calmer conditions than yesterday’s women’s race.  A light breeze was still present at the start of the 166km, and temperatures were expected to climb to upwards of 30 degrees celsius.  

It didn’t take long for the riders to quickly go on the offensive with a number of attacks stretching the field right out and catching a number of riders out early on within just the first 40 minutes of racing.  A group of 10 riders broke clear of the rest of the field featuring Tom Scully.  The group gained a quick lead of 1.10mins over the next group on the road and 3.18mins back to what was left of the bunch as they climbed the Devil’s Staircase.

George Bennett takes on Hospital Hill during the Vantage Road National Championships, photo Marion Wright/RoadCycling.co.nz

The breakaway group was motoring with Tom Scully joined by an ambitious group that included James Fouche of Team Wiggins, Logan Griffin of GD Pringle/Spoken Cycles, Joseph Cooper of Wellington, Matthew Webb-Smith of Wellington, Theo Gilbertson of Auckland, Alex West and Joel Yates of Team Skoda Fruzio, Kees Duyvesteyn and Ioan Fuller of Cycling Otago, Hamish Schreurs of the Israel Cycling Academy, Paul Wright and Corbin Strong of Cycling Southland.  Behind them as the first hour closed and the second got underway Frank Sutton of Waikato Bay of Plenty and Michael Torckler of GD Pringle/Spoken Cycles broke clear of the group behind and went off in pursuit of the leading group which was functioning very effectively behind them.

Behind Torckler and Sutton, a group of some seven riders featuring George Bennett of Jumbo-Visma and Ryan Christensen of Canyon dhb p/b Bloor Homes had a bit of a gap from the peloton.    But the Bennett group was splintering up and putting themselves under pressure as the tempo lifted in the peloton courtesy of Patrick Bevin.  After the first hour of racing that averaged a handy 44.2kph, with an 1.20 hours of racing covered the gap between the break and the Torckler-Sutton duo had climbed to 3.20mins while Bennett’s chase group was a further 28 seconds back; and the peloton another 8 seconds in arrears. 

Joseph Cooper leads the breakaway that worked extremely effectively together, photo Marion Wright/RoadCycling.co.nz

At the KOM on Puketitiri Road the time gap had continued to climb to 3.43mins but stabilised from there and as the riders sped towards the city to begin the circuit the lead was sitting at around the 3 minute mark; a sizeable but bridgeable margin.  However, the leading group was still functioning extremely effectively together and at the first time through the start/finish line the gap had stretched to 3.30mins once again.  Behind them the peloton had fragmented with a large group that included Dion Smith, George Bennett, Jason Christie, Patrick Bevin, Hayden McCormick, Michael Torckler, Dylan Kennett and Luke Mudgway all in pursuit but with plenty of work to do.

The city laps began to take their toll on the break, with Matthew Webb-Smith dropping back, but as he dropped back Jason Christie of Tasman and Michael Vink of Canterbury began to make a move; putting 34 seconds into the peloton but still facing 3.20mins of gap to chase across.  The city circuit also shook Hamish Schreurs, Logan Griffin, Alex West and Corbin Strong from the leaders as they now found themselves gradually dwindling in numbers and faced with uncertainty over how long they’d survive.

There was no catching James Fouche when he decided to put the hammer down, photo Marion Wright/RoadCycling.co.nz

At the end of the next lap Christie and Vink had been brought back into the chase group behind them which had split from what was left of the peloton.  Significantly Dion Smith was absent from the move, but both Patrick Bevin and George Bennett remained in the group which continued to press on.  Smith’s group behind crossed the finish line at 4.30mins back.  Around the next lap the breakaway group dwindled down to 7 riders with Cooper, Scully, Fouche, Duyvesteyn, Gilbertson, Yates and Wright all still present.  Behind them the time gap had dropped to 2.40mins as the Bevin-Christie-Bennett group made their way through the start-finish line; but crucially for them the pace suddenly dropped from the group almost completely, leaving Michael Torckler to take the initiative and go on a semi-attack with George Bennett also showing aggression.

The lack of cooperation in the chase group was showing as even they splintered apart with Bennett going on the offensive.  But ahead of them the seven leaders looked committed; remaining together on the climb and soldiering onward and continuing to commit to working together.  They continued to work together over the back end of the course and crossed the line with their lead having stretched out again to 3.40mins.

Tom Scully fought hard and crossed the line third overall and first elite, photo Marion Wright/RoadCycling.co.nz

The next time up Hospital Hill saw Theo Gilbertson at full stretch to try and maintain his place in the leading group that was still working its way uphill.  Steadily the gap began to open up, but he had just enough in the legs to keep pace and regain contact over the top end of the climb and from there they passed through 3 laps to go with their lead stable at still upwards of 3 minutes over the group behind them.

Finally Gilbertson cracked the next time heading up to the Party on the Hill as 6 riders remained in the leading group and it was now Paul Wright who began to show signs of fatigue on the back, losing contact as James Fouche made a big move that gapped Joseph Cooper, Joel Yates and Kees Duyvesteyn.  It was an exceptional move from Fouche who even dropped Tom Scully as the summit approached.  Scully had a handful of seconds in hand over Cooper, Yates and Duyvesteyn but Fouche was now on his own with the gap still strong at 3.10mins to the Bevin group.

Patrick Bevin leads home Hayden McCormick and George Bennett to take the second elite spot on the podium, photo Marion Wright/RoadCycling.co.nz

With 2 laps remaining Fouche rode through the finish line to resounding applause with a lead of 25 seconds and just 20km to go to resist Tom Scully who by now was a lone chaser ahead of Duyvesteyn, Yates and Cooper.  It looked like the Bevin group were now chasing for minor placings.  Over the course of the next lap Cooper cracked, losing ground at the same time as Scully also lost ground to Fouche; to such an extent that as the bell lap sounded Fouche had a surely insurmountable 2 minute lead over his nearest chasers in what had been an excellent display.

The final lap proved to be processional for Fouche, who raced away to the win by a comfortable margin with plenty of time to raise his arms aloft in victory.  Coming home in second was a three-way sprint for the line with Joel Yates, Kees Duyvesteyn and Tom Scully fighting it out.  Duyvesteyn took second place, with Scully third and Yates crossing the line fourth.  Scully’s third place secured him the first elite position, while in the end it was Patrick Bevin who sprinted to second place ahead of Hayden McCormick.

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