The future for women’s cycling in New Zealand seems in excellent hands after under-23 riders dominated the Vantage Elite and Under 23 Women’s Road Championship in Napier on Saturday.
Highly regarded Marlborough rider Georgia Christie (nee Catterick) went solo as the race returned to the city for five laps of the city circuit including the daunting climb of Napier Hill and was never caught.
Christie crossed the line in 3:13:34 for the 109km journey, finishing 12 seconds clear of the chasers, with under-23 riders claiming the first four placings, headed by Deborah Paine (Waikato Bay of Plenty) and Vantage elite track rider Michaela Drummond (West Coast North Island) completing the podium.
Drummond’s national track teammate Holly Edmondston out-kicked the other elite riders in the remains of the peloton to claim the elite honours in 3:14:04 in a photo finish ahead of Canterbury’s Sharlotte Lucas and defending champion Georgia Williams of Auckland.
"I can’t believe it. I am overwhelmed," said Christie, whose husband Jason will defend his men’s national championship title on Sunday.
It proved a day of outstanding tactics from the Mike Greer Homes women’s team after Libby Arbuckle, who was awarded the King of the Mountain jersey, made an early break as the peloton traversed the hills on the rural loop in the Puketapu hills behind Taradale.
Christie, who has ridden strongly for US pro Team Illuminate in 2017 and 2018, has made her name mostly in time trials, winning the under-23 honours in this discipline last year.
Today she bridged up to Arbuckle and Vantage elite track rider Kirstie James before going it along when the race returned for the gruelling climbs of Napier hill.
“I was hoping to keep with the two riders who had gone up the road and form a little break but it didn’t work out. I was thinking oh my god it is a long way to go. But I just paced myself and I can’t believe it,” Christie said.
Her two-minute advantage was whittled down to just 13 seconds with two laps remaining and the catch appeared imminent. But Christie dug deep and managed to extend the bungy cord to the finish.
“I tried to use the tailwind as much as possible – just get down and go hard. I was dying up the last climb and was holding on for dear life and resting on the downhill. It was as hard as I could go up the last climb.”
There was no double-double for Mitchelton Scott world tour rider Williams, who had to be content with the defence of her time trial honours on Friday, finishing third today in the photo finish that decided the elite podium.
Williams came with a target on her back as the race favourite and did much of the work to spark the peloton which did not react after closing down the gap to the leader with two laps remaining.
“It was a frustrating race. I knew it would be. I think I did all I could,” said Williams who was the marked rider throughout the race. “It was hard. We got the peloton going a few times but then it would sit-up. It was yo-yoing and frustrating.
“I am glad that Georgia (Christie) did it like that and that the win went to a deserving winner. If I had to lose it then she so deserves it. She rode awesome.”
The focus moves to the Vantage Elite and Under-23 men’s road race over 166kms on Sunday, that includes UCI World Tour stars George Bennett, time trial winner Patrick Bevin, Tom Scully and Dion Smith, two-time and defending champion Jason Christie and Commonwealth Games mountain bike champion Sam Gaze.
The race, starting at 8.30am, includes two laps of the rural loop and eight laps of the inner-city course with nine climbs of Napier Hill.