Record entries including WorldTour riders, Tokyo Olympians, leading national road teams and promising future stars will line-up for the Criterium National Championship in Christchurch on Sunday.
There is a record 166 entries confirmed for the exciting inner-city races around a 1km course that runs alongside the Avon River in front of the Bridge of Remembrance.
With the original November date postponed by covid, Cycling New Zealand has reorganised to fit in with the annual Canterbury Track Championships at Denton Park on Saturday.
The action-packed criterium comprises seven races from 2pm incorporating the Koha Fitness Street Race, Sals Pizza/Myovolt U17 Male and Female; Joes Garage U19 Female, Lone Star Papanui U19 Male; Barberra Senior Females and Fiddlesticks Senior Male, finishing at 6.35pm.
Neither of last year’s champions have returned from overseas, but 2017 winner Regan Gough and 2020 winners Laurence Pithie and Ally Wollaston are racing.
Bora-Hansgrohe WorldTour rider Shane Archbold has entered, after impressive form in the New Zealand Cycle Classic, joining fellow WorldTour rider Henrietta Christie (Human Powered Health), and European-based UCI Pro team riders, Georgia Danford, Ally Wollaston and Michaela Drummond. The latter two riders paired up to represent Cycling New Zealand at November’s Track World Championships.
Tokyo track Olympians competing include the women’s trio of Bryony Botha, Jessie Hodges and Nicole Shields, along with Gough and Nick Kergozou.
Gough is coming into the event with success on the track and road, having won the New Zealand Omnium (four-event) Championship in December, and claimed the first-day leader’s yellow jersey at the New Zealand Cycle Classic and rode brilliantly to win the final stage criterium.
“It was a wicked week with my Bolton Equities Black Spoke team, and I definitely rode my way into some form as the week went on,” said Gough.
“In the final criterium, my role was to look after Mark Stewart as the Tour leader, but he was in such good form, it was a matter of keeping things in check. I did not plan to go so early, but I pushed with 15kms to go and opened a 10 second advantage and then had to really dig deep to hold that.
“The course was longer this year and was fantastic with loads of public out to support. It was pretty cool to be able to race in the inner city in Wellington.”
Gough said he would love to add a second national criterium title to his list, but feels that any of the six Bolton Equities Black Spoke racing this weekend could take the title.
They won’t have it their own way with some other strong teams including MitoQ-NZ Cycle Project led by last year’s runner-up Josh Scott and third placed Ben Oliver; St George Continental, led by Kergozou and hometown Ollie Jones; and with strong representation from other NZ teams.
Wollaston, runner-up last year and champion in 2019, has come off a splendid performance in winning the 2022 national omnium title.
She will have much competition from a deep field including Botha, Hodges, Drummond and Danford, with the latter pair both two-time podium placegetters in previous criterium nationals.
There is a host of up-and-coming talent on display in the age racing including Under-17 riders Caoilinn Gray (Cambridge), Erin Green (Blenheim), Nate Boness (Auckland) and Noah Hollamby (Timaru).
The outstanding Amelia Sykes will be a target in the Under-19 along with Ruby Spring and Seana Gray (Cambridge) with Lewis Bower (Auckland), Jonathan Fish (Waimate) and Jaxson Whyte (Timaru) in the male race.
Cycling is very much a family sport, with the Auckland Pawson family competing. Mother Penny is a multi-world age group champion competing in the A grade, sons Bernard (under-17) and Edward (under-19) and father Tim, a former Commonwealth Games medallist, riding in the Street Race.
The race will be live-streamed from 2pm on Sunday on SkyNext.
Photo Credit: CMG Sport