Bolton Equities Black Spoke Pro Cycling team has retained the yellow jersey following a strong performance from Mark Stewart in today’s second stage of the UCI 2.2 New Zealand Cycle Classic while Keegan Hornblow’s final sprint saw him take the stage win for Team Coupland’s.
Stewart, a Scottish road and track cyclist who won the Points race Gold medal at the 2018 Commonwealth Games and has remained in New Zealand since the first lockdown, said it was his team’s goal to retain the Yellow Jersey after team-mate Regan Gough won the Team’s Time Trial in Masterton last night. However, he said the way in which it was retained, was not part of the plan.
“When you’ve had a day like that – when it’s off and on and relentless and quite lumpy in the middle, you just don’t know how people are going to respond to the finale, so I thought if I put myself in the front in a safe place, we will see what happens,” he said.
“The way we got it (yellow jersey) definitely wasn’t the plan – it was pretty hard work for me, but it’s my first yellow jersey and I hope I look good in it.”
Stewart was the only Black Spoke rider in a 14-person breakaway that formed approximately 20km into the 158.1km stage that wound through rolling farmland east of Masterton. Unusually for the NZ Cycle Classic, this group stuck the entire stage and at 133km had pushed their lead out to a staggering 15-minute time gap over the peloton. This lead group also featured: George Jackson and Kees Deyvesteyn (Mito Q), George Bennett and Laurence Pithie (NZL), Liam Morrison (Mitre 10), Ari Scott and Hornblow (Couplands), Adam Bidwell (Fagan Motors), Cameron Pithie and Ollie Jones (St George), Bailey O’Donnell (Oxford), Tyler Burbage (Trust House) and Samuel Ritchie (NZ Selection team).
They worked relentlessly together through all different types of weather conditions including sun, rain and strong head winds. Even though all riders attempted to splinter the group with a flurry of attacks, nothing ever stuck. After Scott crashed with 30km to go, the 13 riders were together until the final 400m which included a short, sharp hill climb to finish outside the Masterton Golf course.
However, Hornblow timed his final sprint to perfection taking the stage in 3hr 48min 14sec and earning a 10sec time bonus while Stewart finished two seconds behind. O’Donnell clinched third place.
“I knew I was in for a pretty tough time,” said Stewart. “I really respect the way the guys threw it all me, like I couldn’t have faulted it even though I was cursing them at times.”
Hornblow’s solid ride saw him also win the King of Mountain Jersey, the Most Aggressive Jersey and U23 Young rider jersey. There was no denying his ecstatic he was – especially after his team came so close to winning last night’s time trial.
“It was pretty unreal. I knew we had a good group of guys, but I wasn’t really sure what was going to happen. Mark was hesitating a wee bit from Black Spoke but once the gap below out, we were all working pretty well and took it to the line. There was a bit of cat and mouse going on,” he said.
“It’s going to be an interesting next couple of days, we are now down to four riders as we had one of our guys crash today, so I hope he gets better.”
Duyvesteyn was also rewarded for his efforts taking the Sprint Jersey.
“Being in that break was quite pivotal to the general classification and KOM. Being in that was pretty important,” he said. “I am really looking forward to the next few stage, especially Saturday, it’s quite meaty.”
Afterward Bennett congratulated Hornblow, a rider he often trains with in his hometown of Nelson.
The NZ Cycle Classic continues tomorrow with riders heading south from Masterton to the pretty wine village of Martinborough while on Saturday, 8 January, riders will complete the 137.2km Queen stage including its new hilltop finish on Te Wharau Hill, one of the steepest climbs in Wairarapa.
The fifth and final stage is 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.