The race saw the riders take on five laps of a challenging 20 kilometre circuit, featuring a good mix of terrain, with a freezing start to the morning making it even harder on the riders as they struggled to warm up.
On the second lap a strong group of nine riders moved clear, and held a lead of around 12 seconds going up the climb heading out of town. The lead kept building, but the group had reduced to just four riders by the time the riders hit the climb again, with Michael Carswell (Counties Manukau Cycling), Hugo Jones (Pegasus Cycling Club), Chris Denholm (Bike Manawatu), and Tom Sexton (Cycling Southland) holding a lead of around 1:30 over the field.
Meanwhile, Stannard was back in the field, trying to get some life into his frozen legs, and keeping an eye on the riders he considered his main rivals for the title – Stewart, James Fouché (Counties Manukau Cycling), and Hayden Strong (Cycling Southland), who had originally made it into the early move.
“At the start of the race, which was freezing in about zero degree temperature, James [Fouché] attacked and I followed with cold legs struggling to get on. I wasn’t feeling all too great. This happened multiple times throughout the first three laps by which time a small break was a minute up the road, and my legs had started to gain some feeling,” said Stannard.
By the fourth lap of five, and with the wind starting to pick up, Stannard decided it was time to act. “I decided the time was right to pull back the front group and hit it up the first climb, and over to the tight left hander at which the cross wind came into play. The strongest of the day ended up riding off the front as the bunch strung out in the wind, and about ten of us caught the front three [Sexton had been dropped by then] by the beginning of lap five,” said Stannard.
The break worked together well, making sure that the bunch would not have the opportunity to get back into the race. “This was also good because it forced all my competition to work, and wear themselves out, seeing as they had no option to sit at the back of the bunch and stay fresh. The course was also deceptively tiring, the cold making your legs a little numb it was hard to tell how I was feeling but it was clear that the last lap was more of a struggle than the previous four,” said Stannard.
However, with a group of twelve riders heading into the final climb together, anything could still happen. “After looking at the course I knew it had a good finish that suited me, so my plan from the outset was to break away from a hopefully tired group in the final kilometre,” said Stannard.
Carswell was first to attack on the lower slopes of the climb, and held a lead of around 15 seconds over the rest of the bunch when Stannard launched a searing attack from mid way down the bunch. Stewart desperately scrambled to get onto his wheel, and the two rocketed away from the bunch in pursuit of Carswell as the rest of the riders could not find the energy to respond.
Stannard pushed again and finally managed to rid himself of Stewart, then sweeping past a fading Carswell to charge across the finish line, claiming a title that he had come ever so close to making his in the past. Stewart crossed the line three seconds in arrears, just ahead of Carswell. Carne Groube (Bike Manawatu) crossed the line in fourth, followed by Ethan Batt (Tasman Wheelers) in fifth.
Stannard said that he had been surprised by how well Stewart had been able to respond to his attack, especially knowing that Stewart would likely have had the better of him in a sprint.
“I looked around and saw how much he was suffering so I went again just before it flattened out, and there was a tailwind at this point so it was fast to the finish and could see I wasn’t going to get caught. I could have waited and gone against him in the sprint but I knew I had higher chances if I finished it on the hill,” he said.
“Coming into the race I was looking at winning, as I wanted to improve on my second place last year. It’s nearing the end of the season so there’s not many chances to race u19 anymore so I also wanted to go out on a high. Also selectors will be looking at this race for world champs, which is a goal of mine for later in the year.”