Young cyclists ready to stake claim at road nationals

The nostalgic final appearance of Julian Dean and Kiwi cycling's Magnificent Seven is not going to daunt the young guns in this weekend's Calder Stewart national road cycling championships in Christchurch.

There will be plenty of plaudits for the retiring Dean, after 17 years as a world class rider including 20 Grand Tours, a host of podiums and top-10 finishes in the sport's greatest races and two national road titles.

For the first time a record seven World Pro Tour riders will all be competing at the championships, led by Dean, who is to take up a management role with Orica-GreenEDGE next week, George Bennett (Nelson, RadioShack Nissan Trek), Jesse Sergent (Feilding, RadioShack Nissan Trek), Sam Bewley (Rotorua, Green Edge), Greg Henderson (Melbourne, Lotto-Belisol), Hayden Roulston (Christchurch, Radioshack Nissan Trek) and Jack Bauer (Golden Bay, Garmin Sharp).

But a burgeoning bunch of young riders will be looking to continue their successful run, unfazed by the occasion and quality of the field.

"I am not daunted with all the top pros," said defending champion Michael Vink. "It is all very well having the top pros there but if they are not in top form then they are just average bike riders really. That will be the factor - to see who comes there and is going well."

The Cantabrian had his confidence buoyed with his overall victory in the road championships last year on the same course and coming into the race following a win in the Tour de Vineyards in Nelson, ahead of Bauer and Bennett.

"Last year it gave me a lot more confidence going into the year knowing I could beat the big names and I could do the big numbers I was doing at that time.

"Having won the Tour de Vineyards over the likes of Jack Bauer and George Bennett is very confidence-boosting. I will have real confidence going in which is half the battle really.

"I love the circuit, I love the crowds, I love the time of year and the atmosphere so for me it is a big personal thing.

"The strongest guy wins on this course. It is a war of attrition and the field gets whittled down. It's a case of last man standing. It could be slightly different with the last lap not including the climb but we will have to wait and see."

Twenty-year-old Josh Atkins comes in with plenty of credentials, as the youngest winner of the Tour of Southland in 2011 and fresh from placing third in the Jayco Herald Sun Tour in Victoria, Australia.

The under-23 group also includes Livestrong Bontrager's James Oram (Auckland), with a top-10 finish at the Herald Sun Tour, among a talented bunch comprising Taylor Gunman, Pieter Bulling, Alex Frame, Fraser Gough, Dylan Kennett, Hamish Schreurs and Dion Smith.

Others to be considered include last year's elite winner James Williamson and Mike Northey, both riding for UK-based Node4-Giordana pro cycling this year, Olympic track medallists Marc Ryan and Westley Gough and five-time champion, Gordon McCauley.

The women's race could also feature the rise of the young aspirants, led by talented professionals Emily Collins, Emma Crum, Kate Chilcott, Georgia Williams (all Auckland) and Sophie Williamson (Alexandra).

Former champions and Olympians Jo Kiesanowski (Christchurch) and Rushlee Buchanan (Te Awamutu) are likely favourites along with Auckland's Linda Villumsen, who is starting a season domestically based after seven years as a European professional.

Watch out too for the prodigious talent of national club champion Reta Trotman (Otago) while there will be interest in the debut of Olympic mountain biker and super-mum Karen Hanlen (Whakatane).

The championships begin with the time trials from Lincoln College tomorrow (Fri) where Villumsen, a four-time world championship medallist, is a clear favourite in the women and Paul Odlin defends his title in the men.

The women's elite road race over 120.5km on Saturday comprises eight laps with six climbs of Dyers Pass.

The elite and under-23 men's race on Sunday is 12 laps in total for 183.7km, starting with the usual full lap on the flat before 10 circuits up the Dyers Pass climb.


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