The news that the New Zealand Cycle Classic will be moving to the Waikato in 2019 was met with curiosity among the cycling community, but it is fuelled by one principle desire; to give New Zealand its first UCI 2.1 event and attract the biggest names in cycling to our shores. We spoke to Jorge Sandoval about what lies ahead and the desire to see giants of our sport like Peter Sagan racing in the land of the long white cloud.
Over the last year and a half Jorge Sandoval, race director of the New Zealand Cycle Classic, has enjoyed a front row seat to some of the greatest moments in New Zealand cycling at his race. This year another great chapter was written in the history of the Cycle Classic, with the race for the yellow jersey going down to the final kilometres of the final stage before it was confirmed that Hayden McCormick had done enough to win the 2018 title.
But in 2019 the process towards a true evolution in the event will really kick into gear as a new location for the 2019 event brings the prospect of New Zealand’s first UCI 2.1 race towards becoming a reality. Sandoval told RoadCycling, “My vision is that New Zealand needs a 2.1 bike race; we are left behind. Our event as a 2.2 has been going on for many, many years. It’s been going on for 31 years and for the last 19 it’s been a UCI race. I don’t want the race to carry on as a 2.2 forever, I’ve been working really hard for the last 18 months trying to get the race to a 2.1 in the Wairarapa and Wellington region, unfortunately it didn’t work – we got really close – but it didn’t work.”
The Wairarapa region has been a fabulous host to the Cycle Classic, but the Waikato in 2019 has proved irresistible as Jorge looks to take that next step for the event. “Basically they [Cambridge]’ve made me an offer I can’t refuse. It’s a lot of good for the race, I’m moving the race to Cambridge, it’s going to be a bigger race, and hopefully after year one, we hope we should be good enough to go into 2.1. The reason for me to move there is to upgrade the race, get it bigger and get New Zealanders the opportunity to see some really big names here.”
Those big names Sandoval hopes to draw to New Zealand include three-time consecutive world road race champion Peter Sagan, who Sandoval was able to meet when he went over to Europe. While there Sandoval visited the Tour de Suisse – where Sagan won two stages – and met a number of World Tour director sportifs who have previously raced New Zealand’s highest level stage race. “I was pleasantly surprised to find out that a lot of the team managers of the World Tour teams who were ex-bike riders have been to my races in their younger days,” Sandoval told us. “I went to Peter Sagan and I said to him, ‘would you like to go to New Zealand one day to race,’ he said he’d love to come to New Zealand. He’s never been to New Zealand, but with everything he’s heard about New Zealand, the All Blacks and everything; he’d love to come here.”
Over the next few weeks the question of course-type will take precedence. The Wairarapa has been well known and well loved for the kind of race the course produces, with Admiral Hill being a great favourite during the race. But now a complete revamp needs to take place and we wanted to know what sort of thing that would mean if the goal for the race is a 2.1. Would the course remain its basic difficulty level or would it change significantly? Sandoval told us that his intent will be for a challenging, hilly tour which could potentially trump the Santos Tour Down Under in terms of the challenge it will provide the riders.
But what does this mean for New Zealand riders. In the past 31 years this race has become synonymous with drawing the best and brightest names the country can offer, but as the race reaches that next level this will change. “In a 2.1 automatically it will cut off [almost] every New Zealand rider out of the race. The only team from New Zealand in a 2.1 will be a New Zealand National Team. None of the club riders will be able to race, and half of the field will be made up of World Tour teams,” Sandoval said.
While the effect of the New Zealand Cycle Classic may no longer be to draw the best riders in New Zealand to compete at a UCI level, the effect of potentially drawing the world’s finest is set to have a quite different impact. “It will have a huge impact in two ways regarding the New Zealand cycling scene and also the tourism side of it. For example we all know the amount of people, the thousands of people, who go overseas every year to the Tour of California, Tour de France, Tour of Italy, Tour Down Under, and we’ve done our research and asked them why they go there, and the reason why they go there is not to see a bike race, it’s to see the big names race,” Jorge said. “So having any of those big names here, in Cambridge, it’s going to be a huge attraction for cycling fanatics, they’ll want to come from all over the place to watch the bike race.”
“It’s a win-win situation, we’ll give them the racing and the opportunity to come to New Zealand, and they’ll provide us with the opportunity to promote our sport, to give our fans the opportunity to see them and encourage young New Zealand riders to carry on with the sport and one day be like those guys. So I think it’s a huge benefit in every way.”