Organisers and riders are looking forward to a final double header weekend of cycling action in Canterbury after the Covid pandemic saw rounds two and three of the Calder Stewart Series cancelled after a successful start in Southland in March.
“After such a challenging and frustrating year, not only for us trying to run a cycling series, but for everyone, it’s so good to get to the finish line this weekend and have some racing to wrap this year’s Calder Stewart Cycling Series,” Richard Scott from Revolution Events said.
“We had such a great start running the opening round in Southland in March before Covid hit that saw us having to first move, then cancel, the two rounds on the West Coast, so to be able to run this weekend’s racing is fantastic.”
Scott said he was expecting aggressive racing as riders tackle the Kiwi Style Bike Tours Kermesse on a 5.66 kilometre circuit in Ladbrooks, on the outskirts of Christchurch on Saturday followed on Sunday by the iconic Kiwi Style Bikes Tours Hell of the South that features gravel in Canterbury’s Selwyn District near Leeston, south of Christchurch.
“What the cancelled racing has done has resulted in the series being wide open this weekend where practically anyone could win,” Scott said.
“Every point will count on Saturday and the series is up for grabs with a number of riders across the elite and masters categories all capable of taking away the 2020 series leader’s titles and adding their name to an impressive list of previous winners.”
Sunday’s Hell of the South is on a modified course with racing on a 20 kilometre loop with one section of gravel just under two kilometres in length.
The master’s riders will aim to complete five laps to cover 100 kilometres while the elite men will do an extra two laps to race 140 kilometres.
One local rider who has tasted success three times on the gravel in the Hell of the South is two time Calder Stewart Series elite men’s winner who just narrowly lost his bid to win the SBS Tour of Southland for a third time earlier this month Michael Vink.
Vink, who has his Ridge Homes team mate Ollie Jones in the elite men’s leader’s jersey this weekend after winning in Southland says he’s looking forward to the gravel as it’s a surface that is rarely raced on in a cycling road series.
“New challenges and course changes are always good because it keeps thing fresh for both the riders and spectators,” Vink said.
“The race around Ladbrooks on Saturday is a fantastic idea. Such is the quality of the racing, many riders travel from all over the South Island to participate and giving everyone a couple of opportunities over the weekend is great. The two races are quite different so that's also good in that it gives different riders a chance each day.”
Vink, who did not start in the first round of the series, said his focus at the weekend was looking after his team mate Jones to give him the best opportunity to win the series for 2020.
“I had an easy couple of weeks after (The Tour of) Southland and I'm planning to ride the national championships in February, so this is a bit of an in between race for me but in saying that, good races are few and far between at the moment so I'm certainly going to try and make the most of the day.”
“I've won the hell of the South at least three times so I know it's a good course for me and being a past winner is always good for the confidence.”
Leading contenders in the elite men’s race are Team Skoda Fruzio team mates World Junior track champion Bailey O'Donnell and double gold medallist at last year’s Junior World Track Championships Laurence Pithie, former national champion James Williamson (MitoQ-SBS NZ) who won the Hell of the South in 2010, experienced local coach Paul Odlin (Ridge Homes) and another previous series winner Jake Marryatt who is riding as an individual.
Campbell Pithie (ChCh Doorman Elite Cycling) is leading the under 23 points table, Luke Price (Oxford Edge Cycling Team) will wear the under 19 leader’s jersey while Logan Currie (Transport Engineering Southland) gets to wear the SBA most combative jersey as leader Jones will wear the series leaders jersey.
Another rider who should make his presence felt is professional long distance triathlete Mike Phillips who is making his first appearance in the series riding for the strong Ridge Homes team.
Vink said he had not spoken to his team mate for the weekend Phillips, but thought like so many of the riders, he will be missing racing and competing so is looking for a competitive weekend out on the bike.
“The gravel will be his biggest test,” Vink said. “As triathletes and ironmen often struggle to stay on their bikes at the best of times,” he quipped. “But we’ll try to keep him out of trouble and I think he’ll surprise a few as he’s a top athlete.”
The masters racing will see Dunedin dentist Jacob Grieve (Cycle Lab Joyride) take the series 34 to 44 age group leaders jersey into the weekend while Wellington doctor David Rowlands (Christchurch Mitsubishi) leads the 45 to 49 age group and Dunedin’s Geoff Keogh (Cyclelab Joyride) will defend his over 50’s lead.
The masters SBA most combative jersey will be worn by Carl Smith (Spark Kiwistyle Bike Tours) as leader Stu Crooks (Cycle World Emersons) is not starting.
Racing gets underway at Ladbrooks at 12.30 on Saturday with the elite men starting the day on Sunday at 10am.