The international cycling focus remains on New Zealand with the UCI 1.2 Gravel and Tar event for men and women in Manawatu on Saturday.
This follows the UCI-registered New Zealand Cycle Classic in the Wairarapa, as New Zealand takes advantage of its current covid-free status in the community while other early-season races are being cancelled around the globe, including in Australia.
Gravel and Tar comprises the only women’s UCI road race in New Zealand, over 87kms including around 30kms of gravel sections on the circuit from Feilding, around a country loop before heading via Ashhurst to finish in Palmerston North.
The men’s race is over 164kms with six gravel sections, over the same course with three loops of the country circuit before heading to Palmerston North.
The Vantage New Zealand national team will be looking for add to their success from the New Zealand Cycle Classic, with overall winner Corbin Strong and runner-up Finn Fisher-Black back in action. Joining them is Jumbo Visma World Tour star George Bennett, currently ranked 24th in the world, and Strong’s fellow Vantage Elite national track teammate Tom Sexton. Rounding out the team is the Christensen brothers Ryan and Drew from the Waikato, who rode for the Cycling New Zealand development team last week.
Bennett, who is enjoying a summer build-up back in New Zealand before returning to Europe, will also compete in next month’s Vantage Elite Road National Championships.
He is looking forward to a rare chance to ride for the national team in a one-day race.
“It’s a bit like how it used to be in that I’ll be travelling around with my mates, cleaning my own bike and it’s like I’m returning to the magic of cycling and before it all became really professional,” Bennett told Cycling News.
“I still really love it, obviously, but this is about travelling and racing with my friends. It’s a great opportunity but it’s also a great chance to support New Zealand racing. We’ve got so many good young riders but it’s a bit of an unrecognised scene and this is a good chance for them to ride against WorldTour guys
“My main priority is to stay safe and then to have fun and enjoy it. I’m not race-ready but I’ll still give it a crack and take this as a cool opportunity.”
He will have some WorldTour experience in support with former successful professional Greg Henderson Director Sportif for the national team.
The Vantage New Zealand track endurance riders are sprinkled through the eight teams in the men’s race with Strong and Sexton in Vantage New Zealand, Aaron Gate and Campbell Stewart in Black Spoke Pro Cycling, Regan Gough riding for Next Gen Racing and Nick Kergozou with Couplands Bakeries.
Professionals Sharlotte Lucas and Olivia Ray will lead the Vantage Cycling New Zealand women’s team alongside Alicia Evans, Lee Boon and Jorja Swain with the team directed by Katri Lake.
Lucas is an Oceania road champion and rode for WorldTour TIBCO last year, Ray has ridden professionally in USA and is the current national criterium champion.
Evans has considerable cycling experience overseas, and mixes her busy life as a keen rider with a career as senior development engineer at Fisher & Paykel Healthcare.
Boon from Taranaki has been a national representative over recent years and has experience at Gravel & Tar, while Northland’s Jorja Swain who was in the New Zealand team in the Herald Sun Tour last year and has other international experience.
The Vantage New Zealand national team had success last year with Niamh Fisher-Black winning ahead of teammate Samara Sheppard.
Event details: http://gravelandtar.com/