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Benchmark Homes Elite Cycling series leader Brad Evans will be hoping to repeat last year’s success in Nelson when the second round of the series is held in the region on Sunday.
Evan’s, an Otago University student racing for the Fitlab team, won the Nelson round of the series last year. He also won the opening round’s elite men’s race in early March in Canterbury in a large frantic bunch sprint finish from Bradley Tuhi (Benchmark Homes) and Joseph Chapman (L&M Group Racing) to claim the tour leader’s elite jersey.
Evans, the series under 23 competition winner last year, faces a strong field on Sunday that includes Sam Horgan who rides for Australian UCI Continental team Budget Forklifts but will be in Benchmark Homes Cycling team colours on Sunday, Chapman and Tuhi, former Olympian Robin Reid (Scotty Browns Vision Systems) and Tom Hubbard (Homestyle).
There are also a number of promising young national representative under 19 riders who could make an impact on a course that includes several tough climbs. Breads of Europe All About Plumbing teammates Samuel Friend, Connor Stead and Max Beckert should all feature as could Homestyle’s Adam Bull and Ben Johnstone and TotalPOS Cycling’s Daniel Whitehouse. Friend in particular has been in fine form, finishing third in A grade in Easter’s tough Vital Signs Tour de Lakes and Whitehouse was an impressive fifth in the recent Coffee Culture Le Race.
Lee Johnstone (Warmup Cycling Team) will wear masters series leader’s jersey on Sunday after his win in the opening round from Justin Sims (Armitage Williams) and Glen Rewi (Kiwi Style Bike Tours). Johnstone should have good support on the climbs from teammates Wayne Smyth, Darron Burns and Mark Forsey and has shown he is very tough to beat when in the mix in a sprint finish.
Dunedin’s Mark Spessot (Cycle World) leads the over 45 master’s category and has won the overall masters category in the elite series before. Reon Park (Team Calder Stewart Road Masters) makes his first appearance in this year’s series. Park is a former elite men’s round winner and in recent years has had a number of impressive performances on the track, claiming two UCI Track Cycling Masters World Championship titles and a world record in the 3000 metre individual pursuit. Park has also represented New Zealand in triathlon and has worn the yellow jersey in the Tour of Southland so his form in the master’s race will be watched with interest.
The hilly nature of the course should see proven climbers Neil Sutherland, Blair Stuthridge and Brad McFarlane (Thule Cycling), Ron Pithie, Ben Hillary and Nigel Pink (Velocity) and Craig Lawn and Brian Grant (Team Tineli Masters) all put some pressure on the sprinters.
Benchmark Homes Sharlotte Lucas has been in fine form, comfortably winning Le Race two weeks ago after winning the opening round of the series, but will face tough competition from touring professional and multiple world championship medal winner Linda Villumsen (Benchmark Homes), two members of the New Zealand team's pursuit squad that finished fifth in London, Jamie Nielsen (Altherm Window Systems) and Lauren Ellis (Benchmark Homes) and Karen Fulton (Soul Star Racing).
Villumsen has been in New Zealand taking a break from the women’s pro tour but has recently signed a contract with the Wiggle Honda Team and will join them in Europe soon. She comfortably won Easter’s Tour de Lakes, dominating the time trial and riding away from the field on the final tough stage.
Sophie Williamson (H & J Smiths) has had a frustrating start to the year, with a small Baker's cyst (swelling of the knee) keeping her off her bike until recently. Williamson has signed with US based women’s pro team Vanderkitten and is now due to join her team in San Francisco later this month.
Williamson, 19, has made a strong impression as she has moved from the junior to senior ranks after a big 2012 that included two silver medals at the junior world championships on the track and a fourth-place finish on the road.