Outstanding young Kiwi cyclist Georgia Williams has a plan to avoid constant references that she is Australian when she heads for her second year for Mitchelton-Scott World Tour professional women’s team. The 24-year-old would love to wear the black New Zealand jersey, as national champion, in races around the globe for her Australian-based team this year.
Williams is hoping for success in the BDO New Zealand Road Cycling Championships which begins in Napier with the time trials at Church Road Winery tomorrow, the women’s road race on Saturday, with the men’s road race on Sunday.
The Aucklander has plenty of credentials to back up her hopes for success. In four previous national championships she has placed runner-up three times in the road race, with a second and a third placing in the time trial. “It’s fair to say I am over being runner-up,” Williams joked of her efforts to finish second to Rushlee Buchanan in both the time trial and road race in Napier last year. Williams has been part of the Cycling New Zealand Vantage elite track programme for four years, part of the women’s endurance squad, and competing in the 2014 Commonwealth Games, world championships and Rio Olympics.
She was contacted after her exploits in Napier last year as a late replacement for the Australian pro women’s team, expecting limited opportunities and accepting her role as a team domestique. But she impressed so much that Williams became the busiest rider on the squad, completing six week-long Tour races and 15 one-day races as well as the world championships. “I absolutely loved it and it was great that I became trusted and they were happy with me,” Williams said. “I really enjoyed the environment. It was a lot of fun and quite relaxed, although we knew when it was time to be serious and when you needed to switch on.
“Things could change. I miss the girls and the staff at Cycling New Zealand but right now I think my future is the road. I am loving it and especially love the racing.”
She was based with some of the team at Australia’s European endurance sport based by Lake Varese in Italy which was an ideal set-up with access to gym, equipment and facilities. Looking for a change of environment, Williams will move to Spain this year with a fellow World Tour rider, based in Girona, which is home to a large number of Kiwi pro cyclists.
After a huge year for Orica-Scott (now Mitchelton-Scott), Williams has had a limited build-up for the national championships, although her team has freed her from commitments in the Santos Tour Down Under that follows the national championships. “I would love to get a national jersey. I know there’s a lot of great competition. It is quite funny though because I often get mistaken for an Aussie given I am in an Australian team. So to be able to wear the New Zealand jersey would be nice.”
The remarkable Rushlee Buchanan will be the rider everyone will need to beat as she chases her place in history as the first female rider to win the road title five times. The Vantage Elite Track Squad will all compete including Racquel Sheath, Kirstie James and Bryony Botha, along with emerging young road professionals Georgia Catterick, Mikayla Harvey and Grace Anderson, and defending under-23 road race champion Amanda Jamieson.
Last year’s podium place-getter Kate McIlroy returns with the benefit of a season with Team Specialized in Australia following successful careers in mountain running, steeplechase and triathlon. Others to watch include Kerri-Anne Page, Hannah van Kampen, the 2013 elite champion Courteney Lowe and in-form Sharlotte Lucas.
The time trial, over 40kms for men and 25km for women, is based at Church Road Winery on Friday from 10am with elite men at noon.
The road race is a similar course to 2017, although there is no added flat lap at the end of the course to bring the riders back in the opposite direction to the finish line. Instead after the rural loop to Taradale hills, the riders climb over Napier Hill to the start-finish line on Marine Parade. The men, who race 171km, will then complete a further eight full city loops over the hill, and women, who race 114kms including five full city loops, with a final 500m along the foreshore to the finish.
The women’s race starts at 10am on Saturday.