A storm forecast for much of New Zealand seems unlikely to cause major problems for the Summer Cycling Festival which starts in Napier tomorrow.

Incorporating the BDO Elite and Under 23 Road National Championships, the festival is, according to the forecast, expected to have some rain for the opening half of its six days, adding to the variety of conditions in which the events have taken place since the championships established a Napier home two years ago.

The first festival two years ago was affected by some wind, but only to the effect of slowing some of the racing and skittling a few advertising signs, while last year's events were raced in the more reputable conditions of a sunny Hawke's Bay summer.

MetService was yesterday forecasting "severe" rain and possible thunderstorms for an area from Northland to the ranges in the Gisborne area, from today until Saturday, along with high king-tide due to be at its peak on the Hawke's Bay coast about 9am tomorrow.


The general forecast said Hawke's Bay could expect rain from the front, but was less likely today to warrant any warnings, and the localised forecast for Napier has showers and rain later today with possible gale-force winds to welcome visitors, with the opening race day tomorrow expected to have periods of rain and northeasterlies, possibly gale strength at first but easing to westerly.

Napier City Council events manager Kevin Murphy said that was unlikely to trouble the opening individual time trials being ridden on rural roads out of Taradale, so most interest will be on the forecasts of weather for the weekend events including hill racing close to the Napier CBD with fields of up to 70 riders.

The forecast for Napier on Saturday is for clouds and occasional rain, though with southerlies, strong at times. Occasional rain was also forecast for Sunday, clearing later with the southerly "dying out". Mainly fine and cloudy weather is expected for the following three days ending the festival, with maximum temperatures around 26deg.

The festival starts tomorrow at 9am with a 20km Flying Lap from Church Road Winery, Taradale, for a limited field of 30 allcomers, followed by championships time trials, with riders starting individually at two-minute intervals over distances up to 40km on a circuit from Church Rd into Puketapu and Puketitiri roads. The trials are expected to be completed in time for medal presentations about 12.30pm.

The big events for spectators are the road races on Saturday and Sunday with fields of up to 97 riders (in the elite men's category), starting and finishing outside the Napier Conference Centre on Marine Parade (formerly the War Memorial Centre), including uphill racing on Spencer Rd past the Botanical Gardens towards the old Napier Hospital site, the hilltop ride on Napier Tce, a downhill on Milton Rd towards Ahuriri, and an uphill and downhill ride on Shakespeare and Coote roads as well as riding into the countryside.

The women's racing over 114km starts on Saturday at 10am, and the men's over 171km at 8.30am on Saturday. Rushlee Buchanan, of Te Awamutu, won last year's women's race in 3hrs 25min 28sec, and Joe Cooper, of Wellington, claimed the men's title for a second time, finishing in 4hrs 14min 57sec. Central Hawke's Bay riders Regan Gough and Amanda Jamieson won the Under 23 races.

Competitior Kirsty McCallum said she was "nervous and excited" for Saturday's race.

"I just love racing, its the thrill of racing. You're racing against everybody else and also for yourself, because you have your personal goals," she said. "I've been training for months and months, everything's for that one day."

She has participated in the event for the past three years, but this is the first time she will be part of a new national team 'The Velo Project Women's Cycling Team."

She was selected for the team, which has been around for awhile but recently was rebranded. New sponsors were also brought on board, meaning the dozen team members - seven of whom will be competiting - can race more around New Zealand and Australia.

Being part of the team meant "knowing we have more support out on the road, and we look out for everyone, and we have that comraderie with everyone."

For the past four years she has been trained by local rider William Green, on everything from nutrition, to mental preparation.

"He helps me with everything, apart from me actually pedalling."

Organisers are encouraging spectators to dress up for the events and create a Party on the Hill atmosphere to create some of the spirit of major professional cycling tours such as the Tour De France.

Other carnival events are a Big Bike Film Night tomorrow at the MTG Century Theatre on Marine Parade, a hill ride for non-championships cyclists starting at 11.30am on Saturday, a fun ride from Clive to Te Awanga and back next Tuesday, and the culmination of criterium races for both the public and the professionals next Wednesday, as well as a best-dressed bike competition.