After claiming his first yellow Union Cycliste Internationale jersey yesterday, Black Spoke’s Mark Stewart wasn’t about to relinquish it today … and he didn’t.
The Scottish Road and track cyclist continues to lead the general classification (GC) leader board after finishing today’s stage three of the New Zealand Cycle Classic in the wine village of Martinborough in a bunch sprint. Stewart finished 19 places behind stage winner Nick Kergozou of St George Continental but his time of 2hr 55mins 51secs meant he remains top of the GC by 13 seconds. Coupland’s Bakeries/Booth’s Group Keegan Hornblow is second while New Zealand National team’s Laurence Pithie is in third place, 24 seconds behind Stewart.
“It’s my first one … I’m a bit older now, so I can appreciate these little moments – I’m trying to slow down and take it in,” said Stewart after racing 127.3km from Masterton to the pretty wine village of Martinborough today.
Battling windy conditions and narrow winding country roads, Stewart said the conditions put some riders on edge. But his Bolton Equity Black Spoke teammates stuck to their game plan.
“You could tell people were quite nervous. When you’ve got guys like Shane Archbold in there – they’re wily old dogs and they’ll throw everything in the book at you,” he said. “But we came into today trying to race it from the front, show authority and we were willing to protect the jersey I guess, so we were kind of expecting anything and everything.”
“It ended up being quite an aggressive day. A lot of teams didn’t get in the break which meant nothing really went until we got to the circuits, which actually ended up suiting us a bit because we didn’t have to chase breaks down. It was quite a nice flow to the race.”
Today’s stage began with a few riders attempting to make a breakaway from the get-go, however nothing stuck until 30km when Coupland’s Bakeries Paul Odlin raced ahead to an 18 second advantage. Soon after he was reeled in by the peloton and then was part of a group that saw Pithie put his head down to claim the King of the Mountain. Winds made it difficult to establish further breakaways, however heading into the first of nine laps around the wine village, James Krzanich (MMM), Odlin and Daniel Bridgewater (BSS) attacked, before being swallowed up quickly.
As the circuit racing continued, another trio of Raphael Amouroux (Trust House), Krzanich and Mike Phillips (NZL) formed and at one point had a one-minute lead over the main bunch. But with four laps to go, the trio was caught. Odlin, however, was determined to gain more points for his team and struck out on his own until the final 1000m where he was caught and joined in the all-out bunch sprint.
Buoyed on by the large crowd, it was Kergozou who positioned himself perfectly to take his first ever UCI stage win, while Pithie crossed the line in second and Zakk Patterson third.
Kergozou was thrilled to make history, especially because it reversed a placing at the same event a few years ago.
“I had a second a few years ago and it was pretty bittersweet to Campbell Stewart … there was like millimeters in it, so to win like that it was pretty awesome. I was really happy with that,” he said, before thanking his St George teammates.
“We wanted to be a bunch group today and a break went up the road which looked quite dangerous, so the boys got on the front and brought it altogether and had a pretty awesome lead out. James Harvey was my man and he just sat on Nobby (Archbold) and had the legs to pop over him, so I couldn’t ask for much more.”
Kergozou said St George was 100% committed to today’s stage and already thinking about tomorrow’s “Queen Stage”, a 137.2km slog with multiple fast, steep downhill sections as well as grueling hill climbs.
“Now, I’ve got a UCI stage win - and we’ve got some great guys in the team and we are sitting good on GC, so tomorrow I might be on the front doing some pulling and hopefully we can get some GC time.”
Also thinking about tomorrow’s stage was Stewart and Pithie.
“I’m actually quite excited to see how the other teams are going to race it. And I’ll have a chat with our guys about how we are going to race it,” said Stewart. “We rode down it (the hill) last year, I believe … I we went like 100km/hr, so any hill you go 100km/hr down it’s going to be pretty savage and slow on the way back.”
Meanwhile Pithie said his NZL team will work hard for team mate and hill climber George Bennett. Bennett crossed the line in 24th position today and currently sits 37 seconds behind Stewart on GC.
In today’s classification jerseys, Kergozou also won the Sprint Jersey; Pithie won the KOM jersey, Keegan Hornblow retained the U23/Young Rider jersey and Odlin earned the Most Aggressive jersey.
The fifth and final stage of the NZ Cycle Classic will be held on Sunday and include a circuit around Wellington’s streets, including along Lambton Quay. Prior to this, there will also be an opportunity for recreational riders to participate in a fun event called Cycle the Golden Mile, which debuted this year and was very successful with riders of all abilities taking part on a variety of different bicycles – including a Penny-farthing.