A perfect day greeted competitors in the Stonewood Homes Gore to Invercargill Classic on Saturday.
On a warm day with barely a hint of a breeze, fast times were bound to be set as riders made their way from Gore to Invercargill to build on the 90 year history of the longest running club classic in New Zealand.
The main event, over 74 kilometres, is run in a handicap format, with the fastest riders setting off last, and in this case being set the unenviable task of closing a 32 minute gap on the first riders off the mark. The event soon showed that it was building to a cliffhanger finish as some of the earlier groups joined forces out on the road, with the final two groups chasing desperately to catch up. The second fastest group on the road caught the front of the race as they entered Invercargill and rounded the roundabout at the Ascot Park Hotel to enter the finishing straight on Racecourse Road. That meant that a group of some 30 riders came charging to the finish line together, with Mitchell Fitzsimons, who had started in the second last group, managing to time his sprint to perfection to take the race win, ahead of Dylan Day and Hunter Gough.
The fastest overall time went to Theo Gilbertson, with Dave Rowlands second and Joe Chapman third. All three riders had started in the final group, but were unable to close the gap to erase the gap to the groups in front.
Emily Paterson claimed the double honour of being the first and fastest woman home.
The race also featured a junior event over 32 kilometres, which was won by George Thomson, riding most of the course solo after starting at the head of the race. Poppy McIvor was second across the line, and first girl home, with Jacob Hogan third. The junior fastest time award went to Reuben Thompson, with Jaz McLeod taking prize for the fastest girl home.
The race also featured a celebrity contestant, with Chris Jenner, the first New Zealander to claim a stage in the Tour de France (a team time trial win in 2001 with the Credit Agricole team), also taking to the start line. Unfortunately Jenner came to grief as the riders jockeyed for position in preparation for the sprint, and had to be helped across the line by 2019 Gore to Invercargill winner Josh Miller.
After the race, Fitzsimons thanked his Transport Engineering Southland team mates for their work out on the course, and he credited Griffyn Spencer with having given him a great lead out in the sprint.
The history of the event was not lost on Fitzsimons, nor the calibre of riders who had etched their names on the winner’s trophy in the past.
“It’s awesome to get my name on the cup, and good to know that the form is good leading into a big season ahead,” he said.
Cycling Southland race manager Glen Thomson was very pleased with how the event had turned out, given that it had to be rescheduled from its original date because of the flooding in Gore and Mataura.
“The weather was beautiful, and the way the handicapping came together in the end there was a real cliffhanger,” he said.
The event featured prize money of $500 for the first rider home and another $500 for the fastest time, with Thomson thanking Brendan Akeroyd from Stonewood Homes for the sponsorship, as it is a key element in ensuring a strong field takes to the start of the event each year.