The New Zealand Cycle Classic was ridden by two Bike Bug.com-Forza Capital riders last week, Ben Johnson and Trav Nuttall. Previously called the Tour of Wellington the race as long been regarded as one of the better races in the Oceania region and riders of the calibre of Robbie McEwan, Matthew Lloyd, Julian Dean and Hayden Roulston have ridden and won the race.
Ben Johnson and Travers Nuttall give this race report:
"Now located in Palmerston North the tour has UCI 2.2 status and is New Zealand’s only UCI sanctioned race. This year’s race had possibly the strongest field ever assemble in New Zealand. Professional Continental team Team Type 1 led by Ruebens Bertogliati where the most well-credentialed team, but it was Continental domestic teams from Australian (Jayco AIS, Drapac, Genesys) and Kiwi (Subway, New Zealand Track Endurance) squads who would prove to be the strongest in the race. The race was also animated by a significant amount of riders in composite teams consisting of riders who spent the 2011 season racing abroad in Europe and America for teams such as Bissell Pro Cycling and Trek Livestrong.
Having trained very hard for the nationals Ben and Trav came to New Zealand with good form in the legs and were looking forward to racing against a strong continent of professional teams and the very best of New Zealand’s amateur riders. The race consisted of five stages. A seven kilometre prologue, and four road stages ranging from 110km to 150km.
Ben and Trav were entered into a composite team consisting of South Australian Lachlan Ambrose, Brodie Talbot (Search2Retain) and kiwi rider Josh Aldridge. ‘Team Expert’ as they were called were perhaps the best managed composite team of the tour. Local cycling coach Denise Brown went to amazing lengths to ensure that the riders were well looked after. From ensuring that lunches were prepared and available post race to organizing massage and a bike mechanic, there was no task that was too large for Denise.
Stage One saw riders set off at one minute intervals on a rolling course which would prove very tough. Some of the favourites for the prologue included current New Zealand road champion and former Trek Livestrong rider Michael Vink, the kiwi riders gunning for an Olympic medal in the 4000 meter team pursuit Sam Beweley, Aaron Gate and Shane Archibold and former Credit Agricol rider Jeremy Yates riding for Mico Protrain. However it was young Genesys rider Campbell Flakemore who surprised the more fancied riders with a brilliant ride winning by a mere one second. Ben and Trav rode solidly with Ben finishing in the middle of the field 42 seconds shy of Flakemore and Trav finishing 1.06 down.
Team Jayco-AIS dominated the second stage of the NZ Cycle Classic, with Jay McCarty taking the stage ahead of Drapac’s Darren Lapthorne who took the Yellow Jersey. The early 22 man break established along the 30km section of false flat heading into the hilly Manawatu region. The break was well represented by Team Jayco-AIS and Team Type 1- Sanofi each having 4 riders in the break. The main bunch splintered in an attempt to bridge to the break in first 50km. With the break held at 2min 30sec, two riders bridged across and were assisted by a slowing of the break due to a crash caused when the Jayco Team car hit a Sanofi rider Fabio Calabria. With the break well established and the remaining groups on the road coming together the gap quickly extended to a 6min 40sec advantage at the 80km mark and with no co-ordinated chase the peloton had all but conceded the stage win and as it turned out any possibility of an overall GC result for the rest of the tour.
The action up the road was sparked by McCarthy and Lapthorne (Drapac Professional) who broke clear of the break with 40km remaining and held a 1min advantage at the finish ahead of a splinted chasing group. McCarthy easily took the stage win with the Yellow Jersey awarded to Lapthorne who sat ahead on GC from the previous days Prologue. The peloton rolled in some 16min in arrears. Ben and Trav rode well to finish in the main group.
Stage Three was run in the reverse direction of Stage Two and the longest stage of the tour at 155km. With no false flat, the hills were set to be steeper and more ‘punchy’. The locals were saying this would be the hardest stage of the tour and conditions were tough with steady rain and a cool wind present for most of the day. A nervous bunch left Palmerston North on a “Category 3” Highway, which and unbeknown to the riders only had a road permit for left hand side. A strong north westerly produced some gutter action on the opposite side of the highway with one rider side swiping a parked car and skewing back into the peloton bringing down 10-15 riders. Ben was ahead of the fall and Trav had a front row seat however managed to stay upright and after a small chase re-joined the main bunch.
The break took a while to establish, but eventually three riders were allowed to get clear, including fellow Team Expert rider Brodie Talbot along with Sam Bewley (former Radio Shack and Bejiing Bronze Medallist) and Nick Lovegrove (Subway Cycling) . The lead extended to a 6min advantage as the main bunch were feeding and taking nature breaks through the flatter section between the two main climbs. Jayco AIS took up the chase and set a solid tempo over the remaining climbs which resulted in the main field splitting into three distinct groups on the last and longest climb of the day. Talbot succumb to the tempo of the break and re-joined the main field at the 90km mark, leaving the duo out front to hold off the chase. With 40km of downhill to the finish it was going to be fast. With speeds in the mid to high 50s on the long decent and gutter to gutter action, the first and second group (containing Ben) took 10km to merge, with the third (containing Trav) re-joined a further 10km down the road thanks to some strong work by Andy Hagen (Wheel Works). The pair out front worked solidly and despite Jayco AIS best efforts to reel them in, the two riders managed to hold on for a 7 sec advantage over the fast finishing peloton. Bewley took the stage ahead of Lovegrove for a well-deserved win. Ben again rode well and finished with the main bunch with Trav coming in 32sec down suffering from cramp in the final 3km. GC after stage 3 saw Lapthorne in yellow with McCarthy 3sec behind.
Fatigue was beginning to settle into the legs and riders were looking forward to more flat terrain. However, Stage Four was going to prove a very challenging day. Though the course was flat riders were to be exposed to significant cross winds and the two ascents of the ‘Valley Road’ climb. Although the climb only registers 3km @ 4% on the profile this hill consists of three parts, 1.2km @ 8% followed by a 500 meter false flat and another 1.2km @ 8%. The 8% gradient proved enough to split the field into 4 or 5 groups. With Genesys putting the bunch into the gutter prior to the first climb. Turning into the corner to begin the climb it was Genysis who lit up the race when the road when upwards. Ben got over with a small group containing Drapac and Team Type 1 riders and managed to make contact with the bunch after a few kms of chasing, while Trav was further back he also managed to chase back on to the front group.
Shortly after the groups converged it was time for more cross winds and gutter action. Ben and Trav where caught in a split but were able to chase back with Mitch Lovelock Fay (Ricoh) teammate Josh Aldridge and Subway rider Nick Lovegrove. Coming back to Valley Road the climb was ridden fast enough to shatter the peloton. Again, there was re-grouping of the bunches followed by more gutter action in the last 30 km. Ben managed survive in the front bunch while Trav finished in the 2nd of four distinct groups on the road 6.47 down. Tom Palmer (Drapac) won a very fast sprint ahead of the new Yellow Jersey Jay McCarthy (Jayco AIS) and USA based kiwi Patrick Bevan.
On paper Stage 5 looked the easiest of the road stages. No major climbs to speak of and only 110km. Prior to the stage Ben was middle of the field in GC eager to move himself up while Trav was keen to animate the race and get in an early move. Early in the race Trav made the break with a Team Type 1 rider but the break was brought back when Jayco AIS who were now in yellow dished out some serious gutter action.
The race split and regrouped a number of times, however, after the first of two laps both Ben and Trav found themselves in small groups off the back of the main peloton. Riders had to battle 50km cross and head winds throughout the day and it was incredibly tough going after four days of solid racing. The stage was eventually Olympic hopeful Aaron Gate from the New Zealand national team while Tom Palmer and Joe Lewis took out 2nd and 3rd. Jay McCarthy held on to the Yellow Jersey to take out the tour ahead of Darren Lapthorne (Drapac) and Campbell Flakemore (Genyses).
Ben and Trav have returned with some very tough racing in the legs and this should stand them in good stead for the 2012 season. While Trav had completed in many of the domestic NRS races, this was Ben’s first major tour. With the road season kicking off in April both riders are looking forward to a mini break before ramping up the training again."