Cycling Southland's Cameron Karwowski has been named a powerful BikeNZ-Pure Black team to tackle the first of the Nations Cup road cycling classics in Belgium on Sunday (NZ Time).
A six-man team will compete in the Under 23 Tour of Flanders, a 173-km one day event that concludes the annual Tour of Flanders involving the Pro Tour male and female races last week.
It is the first of the six-race series in Europe that forms the UCI Nations Cup, which is an international series for the world’s best under-23 riders and is regarded as the ideal springboard for young riders to gain experience against top class competition but come under the eye of the professional team scouts.
It is the first major test for the BikeNZ-Pure Black squad, an initiative with Avanti to create an international road racing development programme with the aim of the group forming a nucleus working towards the 2016 Rio Olympics on both the track and road.
As well as the core group based in Europe, BikeNZ-Pure Black have tapped in to the talented pool of under-23 New Zealand riders currently on professional contracts to bolster the team for the Nations Cup.
US-based riders Patrick Bevin (Team Bissell) and the Trek Livestrong pair of Josh Atkins and James Oram have joined the team for the Tour of Flanders along with Cam Karwowski, Dion Smith and Taylor Gunman.
Bevin is forging an outstanding career on the road in the US and Europe, while Atkins won the Tour of Southland last year and Oram won a silver medal in the junior time trial at the world championships. Karwowski is a former world junior champion on the track; Gunman was a podium finisher in the Tour de l'Abitibi in Canada and Smith was the best kiwi in the under-19 race at last year’s world championships.
The New Zealand under-23 road champion Michael Vink, also riding professionally in Belgium, withdrew due to illness.
The 173km race takes in most of the same course used in last week’s Tour of Flanders classic won by Tom Boonen including many of the telling climbs and sections of the famed cobbles.
“It is the first big test for the team,” said BikeNZ High Performance Director Mark Elliott. “The Nations Cup is the road Olympics for under-23 riders. It is brutally hard and will be a massive step-up and challenge for our riders against the absolute best young riders in the world.
“It is hard to appreciate on this side of the world the pure talent and the depth of standard of under-23 riders in Europe which is quite boggling.”
Pure Black Racing Director Greg Cross said the Nations Cup programme is an important building block in the partnership’s long term goals.
“We are committed to making a difference in the development of road cycling in New Zealand,” said Mr Cross. “This European programme is an incredible opportunity for our best young talent and we are excited that our top young riders are getting the experience to race on such famous and challenging races against the best riders under -23 in the world.”
The BikeNZ-Pure Black squad have been racing in Europe for the past three weeks, mostly in flat kermesse (criterium) races in Belgium.
The BikeNZ-Pure Black team for the Under-23 Tour of Flanders is: Patrick Bevin (Taupo), James Oram (North Harbour), Dion Smith (Auckland), Taylor Gunman (Auckland), Josh Atkins (Christchurch), Cameron Karwowski (Invercargill). Coach: Dan Healey.