James Fouche and Olivia Ray battled through tough weather conditions to be crowned elite winners at Sunday’s National Road Cycling Championships in Cambridge.
It was a wild, wet and windy day at the start of Cyclone Dovi, with a change of course after the winds knocked down trees and power lines on the main climb of Maungakawa, and later the men’s race was was interrupted after a tree came down on the course.
Without the climb, the course was rearranged into a mostly flat 22km circuit, with women required to complete four laps and men six laps. Once the climb was cut from the course, there were few opportunities for 2021 champion George Bennett (UAE Team Emirates), one of the most renowned climbers in the world.
The world’s first all-Kiwi professional cycling team, Bolton Equities Black Spoke Cycling, entered its third year with a decisive victory on the elite podium in the men’s race.
* George Bennett leads the ‘stacked’ Kiwi team in the NZ Cycle Classic
* Campbell Pithie wins the third stage of the Tour of Southland
* Cyclists under 23 show courage with aggressive riding at World Championships
USA-based Aucklander Ray, who managed a late sprint and MIQ berth, scored a decisive victory for her new UCI WorldTour team, Human Powered Health, in the elite women’s ranks.
Fouché, 23, benefited from excellent racing tactics from the Black Spoke Brigade, pushing the front of the field back in the high winds on the second lap while his teammates, led by Michael Vink and Ethan Batt, managed to control the pace of the peloton.
Fouché pushed clear, and without pursuers, he extended with a two-minute advantage, before the race was neutralized on lap four after a tree fell. With the riders navigating safely past any obstacles, the officials decided to shorten the race, with the riders racing the rest of the lap for the podium.
Fouché came home in 2:10.27 with teammate Tom Sexton winning the peloton sprint with teammate Ryan Christensen third.
“It was one of the windiest days I’ve ever had. I almost dropped out several times. It was a wild day,” Fouché said.
“We were told that if the race was shortened, the first person to cross the line on that lap would win, so that was on my mind.
“I pushed on lap two and nobody came with me, so I put my head down and ran every lap like it was my last.”
The women’s race split into two groups after the first 22km loop, before the super-six broke free on the third of four laps – Ray, her WorldTour teammate Henrietta Christie, defending champion Georgia Williams (Team Bike Exchange-Jayco), Tokyo track Olympian Bryony Botha, Bronwyn MacGregor and recent national criterium champion Ally Wollaston.
“I didn’t think I would be going home, but a late place came up for me. All year I trained for the climbs and then we did laps that worked well for me and my sprint,” Ray said.
“Everyone was trying to let me down before the final sprint. Georgia and Bronwyn kept attacking so I had to hang on to them. The conditions were difficult, we were riding diagonally in these winds.
“It’s so cool for my new team to compete in the WorldTour for the first time. Representing New Zealand with the jersey is exciting. It will give me a lot more confidence to have the jersey on my back.
Canterbury’s Laurence Pithie, who rides for the development team of prestigious French team Groupama-FDJ, took the Under-23 honours, after receiving an excellent tow from UCI WorldTour rider Shane Archbold (Bora Hansgrohe).
“With the leader of the elite on the road, Shane Archbold sacrificed himself for me, closed the gap to the leaders and put me in position to win the Under-23 title. I can’t thank him enough,” said Pithie
“It will be great to wear the national jersey in Europe. I have a few Under-23 road races this year with my team, so I will be able to wear the New Zealand jersey with pride.
Wollaston followed a national omnium title on the track before Christmas, and the elite criterium title last month with national under-23 honours.
WorldTour riders are now heading overseas for their season, with some eyeing the Commonwealth Games in August and the World Road Championships in Australia in September.