Despite pandemic restrictions preventing international riders from competing in last week’s thrilling NZ Cycle Classic, there has been plenty of international interest, says race director Jorge Sandoval.
Wairarapa and Wellington hosted the first Union Cycliste International sanctioned road cycling stage event in the world after the world body granted dispensation to Masterton based Sandoval. This meant that Kiwi teams could gain the first world ranking points for 2021, without the mandatory number of international teams competing because of border restrictions.
After 400km of racing through Wairarapa, the event came down to a thrilling final sprint on the final lap in Wellington city on Sunday afternoon. This saw New Zealand National team’s Corbin Strong claim the Yellow Jersey by a mere eight second margin from his teammate, Finn-Fisher Black.
Sandoval said it was a dream conclusion to months of planning.
“It was a fantastic event and the highlight for me was the finish in Wellington, in front of such a large crowd and seeing Corbin Strong take the title basically with the last sprint of the tour. Another highlight was earlier in the day watching kids, some as young as 3-years old – racing around the Lambton Quay circuit with their parents in our new community event called Cycle the Golden Mile – it was so great to see.”
Across the five days of racing, Sandoval said 78 countries engaged with his NZ Cycle Classic website with much visitation coming from the United States, the Netherlands, Australia and the United Kingdom. In addition, the race’s Facebook page had experienced much growth while Dutch pro team Jumbo-Visma, whom Kiwi George Bennett rides for, reached out during the tour as they were following their development rider Fisher Black. Specialist media from Germany and Switzerland also touched base to do follow-up stories on cycling in New Zealand from both a race and destination perspective. Sandoval has begun working with Cycling New Zealand and Destination Wairarapa, the regional tourism on this.
In addition, feedback from riders this year was very positive.
“I spoke to riders almost every day as well as their team managers and everyone was really happy with the tour,” said Sandoval. “The Wairarapa stages were challenging, scenic and saw great racing and spectators were on the circuits with the third stage in Martinborough a real highlight as many people lined the town square.”
Tour winner Corbin Strong, who is a member of the Vantage elite track cycling squad heading to the Olympics and the current Points Race World Champion, commented that riders feel very lucky to live in New Zealand and be able to train and compete and do what they love without the restrictions in other parts of the world. He was also one of many who relished the chance to race the final stage in Wellington following a 10-year hiatus.
“I really wanted to come here and get a good result so to be able to achieve that and finish in such an exciting manner here in Wellington in front of so many supporters is great,” said Strong.
Wellington Mayor Andy Foster said: “Wellington city came alive (on Sunday) as several thousand lined our city streets to watch the final stage of the 2021 New Zealand Cycle Classic. Not only did they see world-class cyclists’ race through our picturesque capital, but they also saw an incredible race that came down to the wire.” “This sporting event added another dimension to our vibrant event scene and world-renowned restaurants, cafes and bars,” he said.
“Wellington was proud to be a sponsor of the Classic and Cycle the Golden Mile, the new community event held earlier in the day which saw leading city personalities race each other around the course. We hope to welcome both these events back to Wellington in the future and position ourselves as one of New Zealand’s premier cycling and lifestyle cities,” said Mayor Foster.
UCI Chief Commissaire Zac Prendergast said this year’s tour was the first international road race on the calendar and offered young riders, such as Strong, the chance to claim their first UCI win. He said having stages in rural Wairarapa as well as the circuit in Wellington provides other opportunities.
“The condition of the roads used were uniformly acceptable, there are good-sized hills as well as short pinches. (There was) a good level of awareness from the public that the event is on and being based at one location for accommodation takes some pressure off team managers and mechanics,” he said.
“It was good to see a large crowd enjoying the final stage. The wet and windy conditions enabled the riders to display their handling skills. I have no say over where an organiser wishes to conduct a race, but always great to see any road cycle racing in my city of birth.”
Sandoval thanked his team, race officials, the NZ Police and ambulance staff, who helped keep the race convoy and road users safe, volunteers and spectators for supporting this year’s event.
“The support from race officials, police and volunteers ensured the safety of the riders which is my priority, and everyone did a great job in helping stage a top-class event. I am also very grateful to all our sponsors especially our main sponsor Trust House and I look forward to start working on the 2022 event over the next few weeks following a briefing with my team.”
The 2021 NZ Cycle Classic took place thanks to the generous support from Trust House, Wellington City Council, Mobile Communications Service, Wizwireless, Fagan Motors, Mitre 10 Mega Masterton, Cross Country Rentals, Tineli and Lion Foundation plus all three Wairarapa District Councils.