McAuley looks indomitable

Professional rider and coach Gordon McAuley still has so much horsepower he is everyone's favourite to win the Wellington-to-Auckland Cycle Race.

He won the first stage into Masterton on Sunday and day two into Palmerston North yesterday, slogging uphill alone over the finish line at Pacific Drive near the International Pacific College.

Last year's winner was Manawatu's Steve Stannard who was second yesterday, a bike length ahead of Hamilton's 23-year-old nurseryman Sheldon Gorter whose brother Matthew won the tour two years ago.

But when it comes to straight out leg power, Stannard, 46, suspects 40-year-old youngster McAuley has hidden reserves.

"I don't think I can put any time into him, he's that strong.

"There's a bunch of older blokes racing and too much cat-and-mouse going on."

Despite that, Stannard, with two weeks rest after the New Zealand Cycle Classic around Manawatu, finished in 58min 10sec on the leg from Pahiatua yesterday, just 1min 35sec behind McAuley.

Stannard can see the day when this tour blossoms into a full North Island tour again with pro teams involved. Now it is mainly for older cyclists with only five aged under 30. McAuley is a fulltime coach in Auckland and employs two other coaches. He still has a pro rider's licence, doing races around Australia with the Drapac team.

He won the national road title five times and rode at four Commonwealth Games.

On this tour he is also riding as an ambassador for Think, The Head Injury Network for Kiwis.

"I also entered because I would have just been training at home."

After day two yesterday, he led by about a minute overall. He had won by 20 seconds on the first stage from Lower Hutt to Masterton after catching a group while his mate Brendon Matthews (Nelson) was first into Pahiatua yesterday after a group of six had broken away.

McAuley is one of New Zealand's hardened pros. He rode in Europe between 1999 and 2002, but never for Tour de France category outfits, and said he had no experience of being asked to take drugs.

"I was trying to win bike races under my own steam, with hard training and protein powder," he said.

He caught everyone napping yesterday when, straight out of Pahiatua, he rocketed away from the start with another rider in tow.

"It was windy which was why I went right out of the blocks," he said.

"In short stages you can really catch people off guard."

McAuley rode the old New Zealand Post North Island tours in 1991-92, but he was a teenager then and finished last in both.

"The roads haven't got any flatter," he said.

The peloton appeared to fear the hills of the Pahiatua track and there were crosswinds before it. Stannard attacked there with a small group but couldn't reel in the man with the iron legs.

Today the 150 riders, including 22 women, headed for Hunterville and then on to Whanganui before tackling the huge slog up the Parapara highway tomorrow.

Manawatu Standard