Cycling Southland's Nicky Samuels thought so little of her chances of winning the RaboDirect Elite National Road Cycling Championships in Christchurch today that she planned a training run for immediately after she finished.
The triathlete with Olympic ambitions had hoped to jump straight off her bike and go for a short run, but the victory podium, media attention and medal presentation put an end to that plan. Her main focus is the ITU World Championship triathlon race in Sydney in April, where she and third place getter Kate McIlroy hope to qualify for the London Olympics. Whangarei born, but now based out of Wanaka, Samuels was as surprised as most of the cycle specialists about her win, but did eventually concede to being “pretty happy”.
“My focus is on April and qualifying for the Olympics, but this was a good hit out like I needed and of course it’s nice to win.”
The 28-year-old pulled away in the eighth and final lap of the 123km race to beat Waikato-Bay of Plenty’s Courteney Lowe by 12 seconds with McIlroy (Wellington) a further two seconds back. Samuels’ coach would have been quick to forgive his star pupil for missing her run as he, BikeNZ High Performance Director Mark Elliott, was the man presenting the medals.
Samuels said it wasn’t until she’d broken away on the final lap of the tough Cashmere course that climbs 114m over just 1.47kms up Christchurch’s Port Hills on each of eight laps that she even thought about winning. And even that break away was an accident, she said. “I was sitting down for most of the hills, trying to use them for strength training,” she said. “I stood up for a few pedals and I heard over the PA that I was apparently putting in an attack. I thought ‘well if they think that’s an attack, I better put a few more big pedals in’.”
She opened up a small lead near the top of the climb and stretched it on the descent. McIlroy and Lowe worked together but could not reel in Samuels and were left fighting for the minor placings.
Samuels had only entered the event as a training ride and said her main goal for the race was just to get a hard workout. She didn’t get that early and said she found the slow pace of the race “a bit boring” before the first successful breakaway.
Just a day after winning the time trial national title, Mid South Canterbury’s Lauren Ellis was always going to find the hilly course tough, but she and Southlander Sequoia Cooper pulled away on the second lap. Their lead almost reached the two minute mark before they were caught on the fifth lap by Samuels, Lowe, McIlroy and Otago’s Reta Trotman.
The four new leaders worked well together and a series of attacks from the peloton failed to bridge the gap. Trotman caught a pedal on a roundabout with 1km to go on the penultimate lap and was dropped leaving the two triathletes and Lowe fighting for podium places on the final lap.
Runner-up Lowe said she was hoping to prove too strong for the two triathletes, but cramped up going up the climb for the eighth time. “I’m a bit disappointed, cyclists never like losing to triathletes or coming second at all for that matter.”
The 182km men’s race is tomorrow.
Results, RaboDirect National Women’s Road Race, 123kms: Nicky Samuels (Southland) 3 hours, 33 minutes, 54 seconds, 1; Courteney Lowe (Waikato Bay of Plenty) 3.34.06, 2; Kate McIlroy (Wellington) 3.34.08, 3.