Winners of all four elite titles will attempt to retain their crowns at the national road cycling championships in Napier next week.
Commonwealth Games medallist Georgia Williams will defend the women's time trial and road race honours she won this year at the Vantage nationals, as will fellow Gold Coast medallist Hamish Bond in the BDO elite men's time trial, while Jason Christie has the opportunity to join a special group to have won the elite men's road race title three times.
The championships, which begin on Friday and end on Sunday, have attracted an impressive 159 event entries which includes 83 males to contest the elite and under-23 road race titles.
Christie won the road race honours in 2016 and 2018 both in Napier, and a third win would see him join the late Lance Payne and Hawke's Bay's former professional Vern Hanaray as three-time winners, behind four-time champion Jack Swart and five-time winner Gordon McCauley.
That will be no easy task with a men's road race field that includes four UCI World Tour professionals comprising Halberg Award nominees George Bennett and Patrick Bevin, Dion Smith and Tom Scully. They are joined by UCI Pro Continental rider Hamish Schreurs; two-time champion Joe Cooper; the 2018 runner-up Hayden McCormick and national criterium champion and Commonwealth Games mountainbike winner Sam Gaze.
The under-23 riders compete in the same race but will battle for the prestigious New Zealand Cyclist Corps Memorial Trophy, presented for the first time in January this year, and honours the Kiwi soldiers in the Corp especially those who lost their lives in 1918 in the Battle of Kemmelberg, now a famous climb in World Tour races in Belgium.
Auckland's James Fouche, who rides professionally for Team Wiggins in the UK, will defend that trophy, after also leading the New Zealand under-23 team in a Nationals Cup race that took place through those key World War I battle spots including the Kemmelberg, Ypres and the Menin Gate.
Williams was in supreme form last year, winning both the time trial and road race on her way to an impressive silver medal in the Commonwealth Games road race. Her expected breakthrough year on the world scene for her Mitchelton-Scott pro team was thwarted with a training crash later in the season.
She will be looking to use the nationals to prepare for a big start to the year in a strong women's field that includes the top five finishers from last year with Sharlotte Lucas (second), Hawke's Bay's Kirsty McCallum (third), Alana Forster (fourth) and Racquel Sheath (fifth). Also racing is four-time winner Rushlee Buchanan, who is part of the Vantage elite women's track team preparing for the upcoming UCI World Cup in Cambridge. She is joined by track riders Sheath, Holly Edmondson, Kirstie James and under-23 riders Michaela Drummond and Bryony Botha.
Friday's time trials will again use a course around the Church Road Winery with the elite and under-23 women competing over one lap of 20kms. Williams, Buchanan and Bronwyn McGregor, who formed the podium this year, will ride again as will Mikayla Harvey and Libby Arbuckle, second and third respectively in 2018, returning in the under-23 division.
Bond, who has turned his attentions to the track in recent times, will defend his title in the elite men's time trial over 40kms that includes 2016 winner Bevin and two former under-23 champions in McCormick and James Oram, along with Christie, who was third this year.
Fouche, third in 2018, is the only podium placegetter returning in the under-23 division.
The road race is a similar course to 2018, with a rural circuit via Taradale to the Puketapu/Dartmoor Valley (56km for women and 82km for men to the start-finish on Marine Parade) before laps of the exciting city circuit including the climb of Napier Hill.
The elite and under-23 women's race from 10am on Saturday is 109km and the men's elite and under-23 race from 8.30am on Sunday is 166km.