Auckland's Dion Smith has won the feature race at the Contact Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge, putting a spill at the UCI World Championships in the United States well and truly behind him.

Smith held off Olympian Aaron Gate in a sprint finish today, during the 160km Holden Men's Classic race around Lake Taupo.

It is the first time Smith has won the race and he said he was rapt with the result, finishing in a time of 3h 46m 47s.

In September, a fall during a climb close to the finish line cost Smith a top finish in the under-23 road race at the UCI World Championships in Virginia, USA. He said that was not weighing on his mind racing in wet conditions in Taupo.

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"Not really. I mean I was gutted when that happened, but you just have to put that behind you really and focus on other things.
"This was a big race and it is really good for Taupo ... and I'm happy to pull it off. And I'm looking forward to the summer training and getting ready for nationals."

Auckland's Dion Smith on top of the podium after winning the 160km men's elite race today. PHOTO/SUPPLIED
Auckland's Dion Smith on top of the podium after winning the 160km men's elite race today. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

He said he and Gate were neck and neck coming into the finish. "I knew he had a good sprint on him so I had to leave it a little bit late, I guess, and thankfully I pulled it off."
Smith did most of his racing in the United States this year, but is off to join a Great Britain-based team One Pro Cycling next year.

Gate, who is primarily a track cyclist and won a bronze medal at the 2012 Olympics, said it was a good race.
"[Smith] had been riding well all day and he definitely deserved the win," Gate said. "It was almost a track-style sprint coming into the line and it was a bit of a cat and mouse, but he just had too much speed for me at the end."

Meanwhile, Cambridge's Racquel Sheath celebrated her 21st birthday in style after winning the 100km women's elite race in Taupo.

Sheath turned 21 yesterday, and was helped by her team mates to get to the front of a big leading pack.

She then out sprinted the rest of the field to win by the slightest of margins. She said she was out to prove a point and felt she certainly achieved that.
"It was kind of a redemption thing. I missed out on a selection for the racing next week [at the UCI Track Cycling World Cup in Cambridge] and I wanted to prove myself.
"I had an awesome group of girls to help me and I definitely feel like I did what I wanted to achieve."

In the major mountain biking events, Rotorua's Sam Shaw, second in 2014, took first place in the Contact Huka XL 85km elite mountain bike race in 3h 55m 40s. Taupo man Henry Jaine came second and Edwin Crossling third.

The winner in the women's Contact Huka XL 85km elite mountain bike race was Wellingtonian Samara Sheppard with a time of 4h 28m 18s. Second place was Taupo's Greta Donaldson with Amber Johnston from Rotorua third.

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The Contact Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge is New Zealand's largest cycling event. Today, almost 7000 participants from New Zealand and 21 other countries crossed the start line.
The 160km solo lap around Lake Taupo is the feature event of the cycle challenge, but there is 18 categories on offer.

Results:

Road:
Elite men (160km): 1 Dion Smith (Auckland) 3:46:47, 2 Aaron Gate (Cambridge) 3:46:47, 3 Roman Van Uden (Auckland) 3:48:06.
Elite women (100km): 1 Racquel Sheath (Cambridge) 2:46:43, 2 Mikayla Harvey (Wanaka) 2:46:43, 3 Helen Baillie-Strong (Auckland) 2:46:43.

Mountain biking:
Elite men (85km): 1 Sam Shaw (Rotorua) 3:55:45, 2 Henry Jaine (Nelson) 3:56:48, 3 Edwin Crossling (Lower Hutt) 4:00:53.
Elite women (85km): 1 Samara Sheppard (Wellington) 4:28:18, 2 Greta Donaldson (Taupo) 4:59:26, 3 Amber Johnston (Rotorua) 5:20:57.