UCI 2.2 NZ Cycle Classic

The first tour of the 2014 season for Team Avanti took place in New Zealand with the UCI 2.2 New Zealand Cycle Classic. I was excited to race having come off a great first month of racing in Australia and I was confident, being surrounded by my teammates who had performed strongly in their early season racing too.
After some minor baggage issues at the airport upon arrival, our bikes eventually turned up that afternoon and we settled into our accommodation. Before the racing began, we rode the important sections of the final stage as well as the first stage time-trial course. The idea of this was to visualize the course and know what to expect on the day we raced on them. On one of the rides, some of the local AvantiPlus Bike Shop staff and riders, all eager to come and ride with our team accompanied us for the morning.
Stage one. Day one saw a 5.1km fast and flat individual time-trial course to test our ability against the clock in what would be an explosive measure of 6-7min power. My morning roll with teammate Taylor Gunman (2014 NZ National TT Champ) was great because we decided to go and have another look at the afternoon’s course and fine tune the lines and cornering skills we would use in the race. I know when I’m on a good day because not only do my legs feel good, my body and mental focus is great also. With each of us in Team Avanti starting at different time slots, I was first off from our team and rolled out with teammate Sam Davis to the start line. Before I arrived at the start line, I got a flat tire halfway out and had to call team director, Andrew Christie-Johnston (ACJ) to come and collect me. I didn’t let it bother me, instead, I focused on the job and prepared myself for the ITT.
I was so mentally pumped up and focused on the start line, that heading down off the start ramp, into the first tight corner and onto the first open straight, I forgot to start my Garmin and was only focused on what my power and speed were doing. Around the very sharp turn-a-round point - which surprised all riders as it was 100m shorter than expected - I had set a good time and my rhythm and legs were great and I had one final head-wind section towards the finish line to go. One kilometre to go and my legs were killing me but riding strong. The last 500 metres were so painful, but with my teammate Taylor and ACJ yelling from the team car (whilst on the horn), I finished in a great time of 6 minutes 17 seconds. Despite my teammates Aaron Donnelly (6 min 19 sec) and Taylor Gunman’s (6min 26sec) very strong performances, the only other rider to go a few seconds quicker than me was team Budget Forklifts’ Michael Vink who stopped the clock in a time of 6 minute 13 seconds. I was so happy to have posted a solid time which I had been so sure was going to be beaten by my teammates or another strong TT rider. We may not have won, but with Aaron in 3rd place and Taylor top 10 and myself in 2nd, it was a good day for Team Avanti.
Stage two. The first of the road race stages saw a solid course, which included some steep climbs between the 75km – 110km mark. The tempo wasn’t super aggressive until we got to the climbs and although it stretched the field out, there was still 50-60 guys left in the front group. Sam Davis tried his luck off the front with a few other strong guys, but nothing was going clear so the boys helped me to ride good position when we knew the bunch sprint looked certain. It was a fast finish. The final three kilometres were on straight roads and there were lots of lead-out trains and the usual sprinting aggression - banging bars with the guy next too you. With three kilometres to go, I tried to find the perfect wheel for the finish. I probably didn’t pick the ideal wheel to sit behind but most of the guys went too early and I waited perfectly. Just as I began my final sprint, my chain over-shifted on the front chain rings and although I got it back on within a few seconds, I had lost my momentum. I was determined to explode to the line after this, my aggression and determination was at its highest and so I did, coming back from seventh position with 150m to go to finish within ½ a wheel of both first and second place. I just wish I hadn’t of had that slight problem but that’s racing and team Drapac rode well for the final lead-out to help Wouter Wippet to the line. Tomorrow was another day and my focus had already shifted to the next opportunity that would come my way. I was just happy to have made the UCI podium once again and finished with all skin still intact.
Stage three. On the morning of stage three, we followed our previous pre-race routines and headed into town to grab a brew from our favorite coffee shop. The course was the same as stage two, except in the reverse direction and a little bit longer, totaling 160km’s. The race started aggressively with teams and riders all looking to benefit from the stronger winds which were set to make the racing even harder to control. A few small moves broke clear but were controlled by team Budget Forklifts who were still leading both teams GC and individual GC.
Once on the climbs out the back of the course, many teams were taking it in turns to put Budget under pressure and reduce their strength in numbers. Teammates Sam Davis & Ben Dyball were riding superbly at the front to create the pressure. Sam was eventually rewarded for his efforts by making the major break of the day, which stayed away until 10km’s to go. It was important to eat and drink as much as you could, however the many attacks and short but sharp climbs throughout the race meant that there was little time to replenish the body. Yellow jersey wearer Michael Vink was isolated going up the last major ascent of the day, but not even solid efforts from teammates Taylor Gunman and Ben could disrupt Vink who was riding well enough to keep the main bunch together over the top. With 40km’s left to race, a fast but open road saw the field split to bits in the cross-winds. Small groups were scattered along the long stretch of road with the leading breakaway only one minute in advantage. Eventually, organization at the front from teams Baku, Budget, Rapha-Condor and my teammates Aaron & Ben got the pace rolling and we were catching the leaders slowly but surely. Wind direction changes and two short climbs with 20km’s to go kept everyone at the front of their seats, fighting hard to hold position. I was feeling confident, my legs were good and it’s hard finishes like this that are my favorite. Just as we caught the breakaway with 8km’s to go, a train at a level crossing stopped us momentarily before we raced the final 6km to the finish line.
Turning right onto the final 3km stretch was a little hectic because the cross-wind immediately put everyone onto the right-hand side of the road and we were only allowed to use the left-hand side (with rolling road closure). We all knew the finish, as it was the same as yesterday so it would be interesting to see how the sprint would unfold today. 2km’s to go, two riders broke clear of the main field but Aaron, Ben, Sam & Taylor all contributed to the pace making bringing them back and giving me the best possible chance in the bunch sprint. I was locked onto Drapac’s Woulter Wippet who had won stage two, it was the perfect wheel for me to follow. With 500m to go, his teammate Malcom Rudolph gave him a perfect lead-out and we kicked with 200m to go. In the very fast, tail-wind sprint to the line, I timed my run perfectly to narrowly beat Woulter and take the win for Team Avanti. It was my first UCI stage win and I couldn’t have done it without the tremendous teamwork from my teammates. They put a lot of trust in me and there was no way I was going to loose for them, teamwork wins races.
Stage four. Another sunny day welcomed us to the start of the 136km stage four. It would be crucial to hold a good position once we began racing around the five laps of the 18km circuit, as the wind today would be just enough to cause the field to split. In the opening laps, a small break broke clear of the bunch but was brought back by the teams chasing King of the Mountain (KOM) points. There was only one KOM sprint on each stage so things settled down after the early KOM climb.
Team Budget controlled the pace-making to the three leaders who had escaped up the road, so it wasn’t really a physically hard race - just tactically challenging to position yourself well in the cross-wind sections which strung the bunch out. My legs were good and so were my teammates who applied some pressure on the fourth lap going up the 1.5km climb to try and split the field. Budget had a firm hold on all the moves however, and even on the aggressive final lap, nothing was getting away. It was going to be another bunch sprint and teams began to get organized for their sprinters. The last 20km’s had a mix of cross and tail winds that made it difficult to ride near the front. I was positioned perfectly behind the yellow jersey and his team, making it much safer for me to ride at the front. Approaching the finish, I needed to jump onto another lead-out train but I didn’t. It was a messy finish, with riders everywhere and a crash at 300 metres to go made for an interesting sprint. I came from way too far back to finish fifth, still up the pointy end of a UCI level race but not what I’d hoped for. I remained second on GC, with my teammate Aaron in third overall and we were still leading the Team’s GC with only one more stage to go.
Stage five. After four days of racing, the fifth and final day of the New Zealand Cycle Classic would test the tired legs of all riders with a 164km course to decide the 2014 winner. A solid climb early on in the race was hard but not as hard as we had expected with the pace controlled well by team Budget. A few moves broke away but they were brought back before the bottom of the climb. A big crash on the flat roads saw half the peloton involved, but no one was seriously injured and our team all missed it riding safely at the front. The race was momentarily neutralized, before attacks and small moves took over the aggressiveness of the race once more. The roads were rolling with short but solid climbs of between 1-1.5km’s long. They were enough to cause the field to split and we were able to isolate team Budget who only had three guys left after 100km’s. The wind direction was coming from the south east and the course layout made for a speedy final 50km’s with cross and tail wind sections that were ridden at speeds of 50-60km/hr. Only 40 guys remained in the front bunch, we still had everyone from Team Avanti and the final three kilometre climb was set to decide the tour. Approaching the climb, it was like a sprint. Full lead-out trains from every team going full-gas, cross winds making it even harder to position yourself and the occasional head-butt or two to try and hold your wheel, it was furious!
Teammate Aaron set us up nicely before the climb, riding into the wind as he does best! At the bottom, fireworks went off, attacks were 100% and the climbers were going for glory. I obviously had some good form but the speed on the steep climb was too much and I gradually lost contact. My teammates were aggressive at the front but just struggled to hold onto the leaders, Ben was our best placed rider in fifth. Sam & Taylor finished top 20 and I placed 24th on the stage. Although the stage hadn’t planned out to be the way we wanted it too, we finished the Tour off with something to smile about - winning the overall team’s classification, placing on the podium in stages 1 & 2, plus a winning stage three, enough for us to be content with. A big thanks to all of our sponsors who support the Avanti Pro Cycling Team, you can check out the latest news and our sponsors websites via this link: http://avantiracingteam.com.au. To our team staff, thanks for your hard work behind the scenes, we all appreciate your efforts and we wouldn't be able to stand on the top step of the podium as a team without your assistance. To Diadora Australia for their support with Cycling Shoes, I love the products and recommend to any cyclist out their wanting style, comfort and performance. Thumbs up to my coach Matt Wallace, our hard work is paying off, love your work Matt! My masseur Jude and Chiropractor Sharon, thanks for the work you both do to keep the body fit and healthy. Last but not least, to my Mum & Dad, brothers, girlfriend Lucy, grandparents, extended family and all of my friends, I can't thank you all enough for your support and encouragement. Well done to my other Avanti teammates who raced the 2014 Jayco Herald Sun Tour last week, awesome job against a quality field boys! Some top 10's and the white jersey for Jack Haig, not too bad at all. A few state and club races are on the cards, before the 2014 Oceania Road Championships in Toowoomba, QLD take place on the 23rd February. Safe riding, cheers Brenton.


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