Michael Torckler of Blindz Direct came up trumps with a well executed sprint finish to win the second round of the Grassroots Trust Team Championship presented by Dynamo Events. Torckler timed his move after the breaks of the day had been nullified to take the win ahead of Luke Mudgway and Nick Kergozou.
Roads for the second round of the Team Championship were more than a little wet to begin with. Up ahead of our feature race, the category 1 ride was 82km of racing around the South Waikato, with a new finish line to contend with a little sooner than in previous years. The roads are renowned for their rolling nature in the Tokoroa area, favouring strong riders and there were no shortage of riders willing to take the race to task early on in the damp conditions.
Early skirmishes were on hand to make life interesting, with a handful riders very quickly going up the road. The pace was high very early with speeds upwards of 45kph in places, and for that reason it wasn’t easy for a break to establish itself with the race coming back together pretty quickly. But attacks continued to fly with Team Skoda Racing getting involved with the action on the front as the riders turned onto Boundary Road and headed on the long drag up.
The first climb of the day only served to further emphasise the pattern of the race with riders quickly suffering and falling backwards as a trio of riders went up the road. Overall series leader Joshua Kench of Team Skoda Racing could be seen sitting in the back of the peloton for now, it would be interesting to see if he would take the role of protected rider or whether the team would opt for another option in the second round.
Our breakaway continued to push on but only had a 15 second time gap or so on the peloton, with one rider from Blindz Direct on the front along with Kiwivelo, Team Skoda Racing and CCN Factory Racing who all had a presence on the front of the peloton. They were in pursuit of Ryan Christensen of Crediflex Pro4mance, Alex Heaney of Spoken Coaching and Taylor Gunman of CCN Factory Racing who were up ahead of the rest. The move was a promising one with a lot of muscle in the move, Christensen had recently returned home from racing with the U23 National Team in Europe, Gunman had returned home after racing the Tour of Britain for his Madison-Genesis team and Heaney was the reigning Age Group National Road champion. But for now the peloton were able to keep the break in sight, although one or two riders were intent on trying to bridge across.
With 19km covered the time gap to the peloton was at 24 seconds as Team Skoda Racing took over the pace setting duties. They received support from 4 Zero p/b Solo CC, while Toby Atkins of Crediflex Pro4mance was also visible on the front of the race. But they’d allowed the break’s lead to build to some 2.20mins by the time lap 1 had ended at 29km. Gunman was a very prominent figure at the front of the group but the workload was being shared well with cooperation obvious between the three riders. It looked a little like Heaney and Gunman were most comfortable with the road rising though.
Impressively from the peloton’s perspective though the gap came down quite radically to just a minute by the time the field re-entered Boundary Road. That gap continued to drop to 50 seconds with 33.5km covered as the climb neared its completion. But from there the race proceeded to stabilise a little as the three leaders dug in and held the bunch off. It became something of a war of attrition between break and bunch as the kilometres ticked away and the peloton just couldn’t quite wear into the break’s lead sufficiently enough. Gunman, Christensen and Heaney worked hard to stay ahead and with 62km covered still had a handy 30 seconds in hand, and the peloton were beginning to really break up on the rises as they pursued the leaders. Blindz Direct were leading the way, but there was still work to do with less than 20km of racing remaining.
As the riders neared Mamaku South Road the peloton split in pursuit of the break, with Blindz Direct really piling on the pressure. Along with them were Team Skoda Racing, Crediflex Pro4mance, Spoken Coaching, Kiwivelo and more all in attendance. But crucially for the series leader Josh Kench he found himself in the wrong end of the split as the pressure continued to be piled on. The break were finally caught and with 16km remaining a bunch of 13 riders were all together.
Included in the group were Bryn Thorne-George and Aaron Wylie of Kiwivelo, Taylor Gunman, Karl Poole and Frank Sutton of Crediflex Pro4mance, Alex West of Team Skoda Racing, Michael Torckler and Josh Kuysten of Blindz Direct, Alex Heaney, Josh Lane and Luke Mudgway of Spoken Coaching. But no sooner had the break been swept up than the attacks started once again. This time, after a couple of attempts from the field, Luke Mudgway went on the attack and gapped the group behind him, leaving Blindz Direct to once again take charge of the chase.
Mudgway was able to establish a 10 second+ advantage over the chasers and the long downhill towards the final 5km was approaching. But the chase group eventually rallied and brought back Mudgway to within 4 seconds with 10km to go. As Mudgway finally sat up a new attack went up the road courtesy of Karl Poole and Josh Lane, but they were unable to gain the necessary traction to establish a gap.
It appeared as if the lead group had settled somewhat and were content to press on together at least for the time being. Blindz Direct were once again up at the front of the group, with Spoken Coaching in tow. But while they led the leaders the chase group were digging deep to regain contact with the front runners and leave us with a lead peloton of some 30 riders including the yellow and black jersey of Josh Kench.
Crediflex Pro4mance joined Spoken Coaching and Blindz Direct on the front as the 5km to go mark came and went. It looked like the race would end up in a big bunch sprint at this stage, with no one prepared to go on the hunt for a last ditch breakaway, but suddenly a move went from Crediflex Pro4mance and Spoken Coaching with 4km to go. It was the Spoken Coaching rider who was the stronger though and he pressed on to hold a slender lead with 3km to go. He had company though as eventually five riders made their way to the front of the race with Blindz Direct once again forced to chase.
Eventually though all was brought back together ready for the bunch sprint. The change of finish line venue caught a few riders off guard however, but there was no such trouble for Michael Torckler who took the win in the bunch sprint ahead of Luke Mudgway and Nick Kergozou of Revolution Cycling 100%.