The 2020 edition of the New Zealand Cycle Classic kicks off in less than 24 hours with a scintillating line up of riders looking to write their names into the race’s rich history. Into the fray come four former champions all with a slightly different run in to this year’s race.
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Aaron Gate – defending champion. Black Spoke Pro Cycling Academy
Not since Hayden Roulston in 2007 has a rider successfully defended his New Zealand Cycle Classic title. Aaron Gate could be that rider. Stumbling blocks? His track-focus through the latter part of 2019 may mean he carries a little more pure speed and weight for the Admiral Hill stage than some of the other purer climbers. Assets? Well, just look at the team around him. In the newly formed Black Spoke Pro Cycling Academy are 2018 champion Hayden McCormick, 2-time podium on the GC James Oram, Tour of Southland king of the mountains Ethan Batt, Gravel and Tar defending champion and pocket rocket Luke Mudgway along with track prodigy and rising star Kiaan Watts.
His performances on the track over the latter part of 2019 showed his top end speed is well and truly there, from the Brisbane World Cup performances to his Madison performance on home soil with Campbell Stewart (also racing the Cycle Classic). His 2019 road palmares reads for pretty impressive reading too from one-day to stage races including Circuit des Ardennes International and Belgrade Banjaluka.
Hayden McCormick – 2018 champion. Black Spoke Pro Cycling Academy
Two former champions on one team. While some teams famously struggle with leadership issues when spoilt for choice – think Movistar – others seem to absolutely thrive; think Ineos. Hayden McCormick, James Oram and Aaron Gate in particular could be a highly effective three-pronged GC attack for Black Spoke.
McCormick’s 2019 crescendoed to a very strong finish from June onwards. The 26 year old took a top ten in the Tour de Hongrie and then went from strength-to-strength from the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah where he took the king of the mountains crown, to the Tour of China I and Tour of China II where he placed 4th and 5th on GC respectively and took second in an individual time trial, 5th in Jiuyi Mountain National Forest Park and 6th on the Mengding Mountain stage. Climbing prowess is unquestionable and he will be a danger on Admiral Hill; a stage he finished fourth in the year he went on to claim the title.
Joseph Cooper – 2017 champion. Team BridgeLane
One of New Zealand cycling’s favourite and understated sons. Write off Joe Cooper at your peril, one of New Zealand’s finest cyclists not to have ridden in the World Tour. The 34 year old had a lean year in terms of race miles last season but his thrilling versatility makes him an ever-present threat. If he has arrived in the Wairarapa in prime condition then we could be in for something special.
Whether or not Cooper targets the GC, if fitness is there then fireworks are a virtual certainty. He’s simply such an exciting rider to watch, particularly in a late breakaway effort. He will need to do some spade work pre-Admiral Hill if the yellow jersey is to end up on his shoulders but if anyone can do it…
Team BridgeLane are bolstered by the inclusion of the likes of talented youngster Ayden Toovey and Kiwi Kees Duyvesteyn. The latter took out the Calder Stewart Series in October and followed that up with the Holden Men’s Classic title at the BDO Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge. Watch this space.
Michael Vink – 2014 champion. St George Continental Cycling Team
The end of the 2019 season was almost paved in gold for Michael Vink. After shining at the Tour de Banyuwangi Ijen with a second overall and the Tour of Taihu Lake with a fifth, Vink claimed the Tour of Southland for a second successive year and took fifth in the Tour of Fuzhou. He then went to the Pioneer MTB Stage Race and took the title there alongside Tim Rush. He was unquestionably the in-form rider for the sunset of the decade.
He’s part of one of the most exciting Continental teams around too. St George Continental Cycling Team have so many options at their disposal, so many avenues they could pursue. The pure speed of Dylan Kennett, the Voigt-like aggression of Matt Zenovich, the blossoming GC threat posed by Alex Heaney that could easily transition into a super domestique role should the moment demand. Like Black Spoke Pro Cycling Academy, I imagine that their GC priorities will take shape as the race unfolds and be finally and definitively settled on Admiral Hill.