Rio Olympians Regan Gough and Raquel Sheath prevailed to claim the Skoda National Criterium Championships for the first time around the streets of downtown Takapuna.
Both races were won in a sprint finish, with both Gough and Sheath positioning themselves well on the final lap to hold off would-be sprints from behind.
The exciting multi-lap course took in Hurstmere Rd and The Strand in the Takapuna CBD, with the elite race over 35 minutes and one lap and the men 45 minutes and one lap.
The elite women’s bunch stayed intact throughout the 35 minute race, with the pace high throughout.
Sheath was well positioned to push to the front come over the top of the lead-out to win from fellow Cycling New Zealand high performance training mate Kirstie James, who rides for Southland, with young Auckland rider Georgia Dunford third.
“It was a good race and a lot more positive than can be the case sometimes. The girls kept the pace high which made for an exciting race for the spectators,” said Sheath.
“There were some good riders there that I was expecting to come out for the sprint and I knew I had to get in front of them at the final turn, or it would have been all over for me.
“The atmosphere with the crowds here makes it special and you really want to race well, especially with your friends and family who have travelled to watch.”
The men’s race was typically aggressive and fast with a high quality field of some of the country’s brightest young riders competing.
There was little chance of a breakaway surviving, with the key being the ability to position well in the final lap. Outstanding Hawkes Bay rider Regan Gough did that best, and managed to hold off the frantic finish from fellow world champion team pursuit teammates Alex Frame and Aaron Gate.
Both Frame and Gate had been pre-race favourites after their excellent exploits in the Tour of Southland, which played an ironic part in Gough’s success, after finishing close before.
“I came off the Tour of Southland and got sick so I have not been on my bike a lot this week. I guess I was fresh but honestly pretty blocked up with a cold,” Gough said.
As he was feeling less than ideal, Gough decided to play more of a waiting game.
“I rode as smart as possible and it seemed to pay off. I’ve come to this race a few times and it is probably the first time I have played it smarter and it has paid off.
“You have to back yourself around here. If you get a little gap which I did on the final lap, then you can hold on to it around this course.
“This race is my favourite of the year – Takapuna is a great atmosphere, the people come out and get on board and it makes for a great race.”
Some of the exciting schools riders were to the fore in the under-17 races with Nelson’s Finn Fisher-Black winning the boys’ race from Kiaan Watts and Josh Kench, to reverse their fortunes from the recent national second schools points race.
The girls’ was taken out by Auckland’s Stella Nightingale from Olivia King and McKenzie Milne.
Elite women: Racquel Sheath (Waikato) 35:09, 1; Kirstie James (Southland) same time, 2; Georgia Danford (Auckland) same time, 3.
Women B: Millie McNie (Auckland) 22:26.11, 1; Mireille Sitters (Auckland) 22:26.36, 2; Nia Dixon (Waikato) 22:26.37, 3.
Under-17: Stella Nightingale (Auckland) 19:03, 1; Olivia King (Waikato) 19:10, 2; McKenzie Milne (Waikato) 19:11, 3.
Elite men: Regan Gough (ECNI) 46:52, 1; Alex Frame (Canterbury) same time, 2; Aaron Gate (Auckland) 46:53, 3.
Men B: Aidan Cook (Auckland) 21:58.07, 1; Dan Cross (Auckland) 21:58.77, 2; Paul Bishop (Bay of Plenty) 21:59.89, 3.
Under-17: Finn Fisher-Black (Nelson) 21:40, 1; Kiaan Watts (Bay of Plenty) same time, 2; Josh Kench 21:41, 3.
CAPTION: Raquel Sheath celebrates her victory in the Skoda National Criterium Championships in Auckland.
Photo courtesy: Scottie T Photography