A brave front-running performance from London Olympian Rushlee Buchanan produced an outstanding victory in the Calder Stewart Elite Road National Championships in Christchurch today.
Buchanan (Te Awamutu), who has moved to the United Healthcare professional team in USA, gave them their first national champion and her second New Zealand title after winning in 2010.
After relinquishing the lead to Auckland’s Linda Villumsen with 800m remaining, Buchanan found another gear, using her track speed to good effect, to sprint her way to victory.
Villumsen, who was second in the time trial yesterday, had to settle for runner-up with Otago’s Reta Trotman third.
“I just had to give it everything today. Then Linda passed me and you just don’t even think about it, you just go somewhere you can’t go any other time,” Buchanan said.
“It’s a pretty emotional win. I won it in 2010 and I haven’t really been back at my best since then. I’m on a new team this year, and with the Commonwealth Games this year as well it means a lot.
“The track riders have performed this weekend and it’s a good way of putting our hands up and saying yes, we’re ready.”
Buchanan and yesterday’s time trial winner Jaime Nielsen caught runaway leader and fellow BikeNZ High Performance track rider Lauren Ellis on the third of eight laps in the 120km race. The trio pushed their lead out to over four minutes before a select group of six riders took up the challenge.
Auckland’s Emily Collins, who rides for Wiggle Honda on the women’s world pro tour in Europe, was the prime mover as the chase group, including her teammate Villumsen, Olympian Jo Kiesanowski, Trotman, last year’s runner-up Georgia Williams and the outstanding young prospect, Sophie Williamson.
As Ellis dropped off the front to the chase pack, the lead whittled down to 2min 30sec after five laps, 1:40 after six and 45 seconds with the one final lap on the flat after six climbs up the daunting Dyers Pass on the Cashmere Hills.
Buchanan went out on her own with Nielsen’s legs gone, with Villumsen, so disappointing in the special time trial yesterday, attacking from the chase group that had also hauled in the attacking Trotman.
Villumsen rounded up Buchanan before the track specialist went into auto-drive, jumping on to the wheel in-front and sprinting clear for the victory in 3:32.25.
Villumsen was second in the same time with Trotman seven seconds back in third from the chase pack led by Collins.
“It is quite hard to be competitive this early in the season but while I was surprised with my form in Australia last week, I didn’t have the legs yesterday,” said Villumsen.
“I want this national jersey so I am disappointed today. I thought Rushlee was gone when I went passed but she really did well to get back on my wheel.
“We let them get away but Emily did a good job organising us and we worked well to chase them down. I just have to come back again next year to win it.”
Tomorrow is the men’s race over 184kms and 12 laps, starting at 10am.
Women’s results: Rushlee Buchanan (Waikato Bay of Plenty. United Healthcare) 3:32:25, 1; Linda Villumsen (Auckland, Wiggle Honda) same time, 2; Reta Trotman (Otago) at seven seconds, 3; Emily Collins (Auckland, Wiggle Honda) at 14 seconds, 4; Sophie Williamson (Southland, Vanderkitten) same time, 5.