Southland’s chances of a medal at the Elite Road National Championships this week are as good as they’ve ever been.
Southland’s Andorra-based road star Corbin Strong is back in New Zealand and will compete in road race, alongside his brother, Hayden Strong, New Zealand track star Tom Sexton, 2022 Tour of Southland winner Josh Burnett, Robert Huisman and Eliot Crowther, in what is a strong group of Southland riders.
In the under-23 division, Mitchel Fitzsimons, Marshall Erwood, Lucas Murphy, and Tom Kerr are three quality riders, while Max Good, Liam O’Rourke and Carter Guichard line up in the under-19s as does Finnella Guttmann, the only female rider from the province attending.
Strong said it’s been a few years since he last raced the road nationals and was looking forward to the challenge.
“I am really looking forward to it. I have only done nationals a couple of times before but it’ll be nice to get out there and race against friends and my brother.”
Despite being from Southland, Strong is representing his international team Israel Premier Tech for the event and is fortunate to have a couple of teammates lining up in the race also - George Bennett and Kiaan Watts.
“Usually international teams don’t have more than one international rider in the country at the same time, so I’m super lucky that George and Kiaan are around and will be racing too.”
“We will have a small team of three but we will be going for a win for anyone of us. Nationals is always a good challenge and it can often go a number of different ways. There’s a strong field so it won’t be easy, but we can go into it with the confidence to win.”
This year the field features some outstanding riders in Bennett, Laurence Pithie, who is shaping as the one to beat, Aaron Gate, George Jackson, Sexton, Luke Mudgway and Anton Cooper, while numerous others could take the honours.
“It’s a strong field. Josh Burnett is a big talent from Southland. Laurence Pithie is a really strong rider too alongside Aaron Gate and George Jackson are in a team together and will be tough to beat.”
The championships are taking place in Timaru, somewhere Strong’s raced a few times but not in some years.
“I have done a couple of races in Timaru in the past. It’s just really nice to have my parents coming up to watch and my brother is going to be in the race as well.”
Strong said there’s no sibling rivalry and would be more than happy for his brother to win the race.
“I don’t often get to race in New Zealand. The last time I did was the Tour of Southland a few years ago. It would be nice to wear that national champs jersey for the year.”
“It’s a cool course for him too and really good to be racing against him. I don’t think there’s too much competitiveness between us. We both really like to see each other do well. If it is him finishing ahead of me it will still be a nice win.”
The elite men and under-23 race over 196km, the under-23, elite women and under-19 men battle it out over 122.5km, while the under-19 women’s road race is over 73.5km.
The time trial on Thursday, which Strong and several others missed, saw Hamish Keast representing Transport Engineering Southland finish sixth, while Sexton placed eighth.
The under-19 men’s, under-23 and elite women road race take place on Friday.
Saturday sees the women’s under-19 race and under-23 and elite men battle it out.
Brayden Lindsay - The Southland Times