he New Zealand Cycle Classic is held over five "Stages", with one stage or race on each of the five days of the "Tour". The results from each stage are cumulative and determine the overall winner of the tour.
The stages take a different route each day. The most difficult stage is called the "Queen Stage" and in the 2024 event this is stage three with a very hilly 155 km stage finishing on top of Admiral Hill near Masterton.
The first stage in 2024 is a 158km race from Masterton to Alfredton and back, at Alfredton, riders will complete three laps of a 31km circuit before heading for the finish outside the Masterton Golf Club in Manuka St.
The fifth and final stage in 2024 will be a circuit race. This type of race is fast paced with lots of technical corners and covers a short circuit which makes it great for spectators. There is no set distance for a crit, instead they will race for one hour plus another three laps. Here's an excellent video on what is a crit.
The total distance of the NZ Cycle Classic is in excess of 400km across the five stages.
A cycling team is made up of a "Team Leader", the rider chosen to try and win the race. And "Domestiques", being the other riders who will do whatever's needed to help the team leader win, including getting drink bottles and food for them and even giving their wheel to the team leader if they get a puncture.
The "Race Director" will be moving back and forth through the race in a vehicle clearly labelled. The Race Director ensures that everything is safe and working well for the race.
The "Race Commissaire" is in charge of the "Convoy" of team vehicles following the race and generally ensuring that the riders and everyone involved are within the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) rules.
Team cars and other vehicles in the convoy are carrying food & drinks, spare bikes & parts and communication systems to keep the riders and operations running smoothly for the long stages.
Traffic management crew, police and motorcycle riders control the traffic on each stage with a "Progressive Road Closure" (previously known as a Rolling Block) where the police and motorcyclists stop traffic before the riders arrive and then allow them to proceed after the convoy has passed.
Cycling team strategy revolves around the notion that it’s easier to pedal when there’s someone in front to cut the wind. Cycling experts say that “drafting” like this can save between 20 and 40 percent of a rider's energy in a long event.
The various teams in a road race tend to ride in one tight "bunch" or "peloton", so each competitor gets the benefit of drafting. Except for the rider in the lead, of course; they are said to be “pulling” the bunch. The puller tires more quickly, as they set the pace for everyone else. After a short stint in front, they’ll move back and let another rider take over. Team leaders tend to hang back in the bunch to conserve energy, while their teammates take turns out in front.
More advanced strategy comes into play when someone tries to break away from the peloton. This is called an “attack” or "break away" and is a tactic used to try and split the field and ride away to a podium place at the finish.
An attack often prompts a “chase". In a chase, members of the peloton switch to pulling at a higher speed and expend lots of energy dragging the group to "close the gap" on the attacker. If the peloton decides not to chase, an individual might try to "bridge", or chase on their own.
If a rider or several riders surged ahead of everyone else, the competitors might take on the burden of quickening the pace of the peloton. On the other hand, the teammates of the break away riders could attempt to “block” rivals from mounting a chase. For example, a domestique with a rider "up the road" might pull at the front of the peloton at a slow speed.
Teams can also mount group attacks. One domestique will surge ahead and force a rival team to lead a chase. As soon as the peloton catches up, another domestique will surge ahead. The goal is to tire out the opposing teams and soften them up for a run to the finish by the team leader.
There are usually several races within a race. There could be "Sprints" where the first rider across a designated line within the course wins points towards being the sprint champion. Another is the "King of the Mountain" (KOM) where being first up a particularly steep section of the course earns points towards being the KOM. There might be several of each of these mini-races within a race.
At the end of each stage, jerseys are awarded to the Tour Leader (Yellow), Sprint Ace (Green) and King of the Mountain (White with Red polka dots). There might be other jerseys such as Most Aggressive (Orange) or Leading Under 23 (White), for instance. These riders then wear that jersey in the next day's race.
Towards the finish of the race there might be a single rider who has gone away from the bunch to win the stage on their own. However, there might also be a "Bunch Sprint" to the finish which can be spectacular, high speed and dramatic with many riders having the desire to win.
A domestique in a bunch sprint might act as a "Lead Out" where they ride as fast as possible with the team leader right behind them. Then just before the finish line the Lead Out rider will pull out of the way to allow the team leader with conserved energy to surge for the line.