Two of New Zealand’s most exciting young cycling stars will be on show at the Vantage Elite and Under-23 Road National Championships in Napier this weekend, but don’t expect them to be firing on all cylinders.
That’s because the pair of 20-year-olds from the deep south – Dunedin’s Ella Harris and Wanaka’s Mikayla Harvey – is heading to Europe in the New Year to debut as professionals in the UCI Women’s World Tour.
There are four Kiwi females currently lining up for UCI Women’s professional teams in 2019 at the top echelon of the sport in Europe with Harris and Harvey joining Georgia Williams (Mitchelton-Scott) and Sharlotte Lucas (Team TIBCO).
While both Harris and Harvey are keen for good showings at the national championships, their focus is also on the long and winding road ahead.
Harvey will compete for the Swiss-based Cervelo-Bigla Pro Cycling while Harris will ride for German-registered team Canyon SRAM, which boasts multi world champion Pauline Ferrand-Prevot and world No 9 Katarzyna Niewiadoma (POL).
“I missed out on nationals in 2018 after a crash which required surgery so I was initially targeting it as redemption,” said Harris. “Things have changed and instead of this being the key race, it is the first race in a long and hard season. That said it is a course that suits. It is a race of attrition so I would like a good result.”
Harvey said her new team manager has said there is no pressure of expectation on her in Napier.
“In the past the Nationals and Oceanias have been hugely important but now my season is 10 months long and this is the start.”
Harvey suffered an elbow injury in a training crash recently, which has restricted her to several weeks on the indoor trainer.
“In some ways it is a blessing because it has made me take stock of things and focus on building a really good base. Nationals is a bit of an unknown at this stage.”
Both Harvey and Harris are excited and daunted about the challenges ahead but both realize the opportunity.
“I am living the dream really. I still can’t quite believe it,” said Harris who will base herself in Spain’s Girona, cycling central for many Kiwi riders.
“I am super-excited about what lies ahead. I know it is going to be totally different and so hard but at the same time amazing and incredible,” said Harvey.
The pair arrived at Europe’s professional doorstep by vastly different pathways, although both advanced through Mike Greer Homes team, which has been a long-time supporter of burgeoning women’s cycling in this country.
Harvey progressed to US-based Team Illuminate with some eye-catching performances this year including second in the youth classification at the Santos Women’s Tour and sixth best young rider at the Tour of California. Two top-10 efforts in this division when the team ventured to Europe at Giro Toscana and the Ardeche led to selection to the New Zealand team for the world championships and also caught the eye of the Cervelo-Bigla manager.
“Mike Greer Homes gave me my start and have been hugely supportive which led to Team Illuminate. Without their support and guidance this would not have happened.”
Harris’ opportunity came in the sport’s equivalent of Cycling’s Got Talent. She entered a global search through the Zwift Academy with a series of gruelling tests on the erg which eventually reduced the 4500 entries down to three, including fellow Kiwi Ione Johnson, who ventured to Spain for a two-week trial.
“I really had no idea how I would do even when I went to the camp. I thought it would be a great experience at least. But I was so shocked when I came out on top. I’ve not done much on a trainer but I managed to get comparable watts on the erg as I do on the road.
“I know it is a different pathway than with race experience and results. That said you need the power and raw physical attributes.”
Harvey will take part in the time trial and both will compete in the road race at the national championships.
The championships begin on Friday 4 January with the BDO elite time trial on a course around the Church Road Winery with the elite and under-23 women competing over one lap of 20kms and the men over 40kms.
The elite and under-23 women’s road race starts at 10am on Saturday 5 January over 109kms and the men’s elite and under-23 race from 8.30am on Sunday is 166kms.