City circuit will test riders seeking national jersey

Julian Dean says wearing the national jersey in the 2009 Tour de France was a huge honour. File Photo / Graham Watson.
Julian Dean says wearing the national jersey in the 2009 Tour de France was a huge honour. File Photo / Graham Watson.

The battle to wear the national champions jersey in cycling events around the globe is a major draw for riders in this weekend's Elite Road Championships in Napier.

All competitors are riding into the unknown on a new course in Napier, the sixth time the championships have been staged in Hawkes Bay, but the first time venturing into the inner city.

Organisers, supported by Napier City Council, have developed a testing road course with an initial long loop into the rolling country near Taradale, before returning for several laps of a 13km inner city circuit that includes a climb up Bluff Hill.

The championships begin today with the time trials based at Church Road Winery, with the course offering a mix of technical challenges and hills.

The national champions are entitled to wear the New Zealand colours throughout 2016 wherever they race.

One of the country's most celebrated riders in recent times, Julian Dean, said the honour of wearing the champion's jersey was a thrill.

"I got to wear my New Zealand jersey in races like the Tour de France. Not only was it a real honour, it also drew a lot of attention for the country," said the now-retired, two-time national champion who is the event ambassador.

The new road course is the major talking point as riders of all types, from climbers like Nelson's George Bennett to sprinters such as Otago's Greg Henderson, weigh up who is best suited on the circuit.

Young hope Patrick Bevin, who recently signed for World Tour team Cannondale Pro Cycling, believes the course will be a tougher overall test that the daunting Cashmere Hill climbs in Christchurch, host of the championships for the past five years.

"It is so hard. I do not think riders realise just how tough it will be. If it is a typically hot Hawkes Bay day then it will be absolutely brutal," Bevin said. "You will have to hang tough for as long as you can and hope to have some legs left for the final lap."

Double Olympic medalist and World Tour pro with Orica Green Edge, Sam Bewley, says there is something for all riders.

"It is a good course for a number of guys. The climbers will have a chance for sure. Greg Henderson is one of the fastest guys going around and he won't struggle too much on these climbs.

"Hopefully it is a hard race - the harder the better for me. If it is a hard race then those pure sprinters will feel the fatigue more."

The sentimental favourite will be Henderson, the three-time Olympian and highly credentialed professional in Lotto Soudal, who at 39 is likely to be contesting for the last time in an event he has never won.

There are five World Tour riders competing - Henderson, Bewley, Bevin, Jesse Sergent (AG2R Mondiale) and Bennett (LottoNL-Jumbo).

It is one of the most open fields, with Avanti Racing looking to produce another strong team performance as they did last year when they helped propel Wellington's Joe Cooper to victory.

There is also young talent on show, including first-year elites James Oram and Dion Smith, both standouts at age levels on the world scene, who have joined the new UK-based Pro Continental team ONE Pro Cycling.

- NZ Herald

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