Tasman Wheelers rider Chris Nicholson was second in the men's race and Karen Fulton fourth in the women's as the 2012 Benchmark-sponsored Elite Cycling Series completed round four in Selwyn at the weekend.
The race is also known as the Hell of the South, evidenced by only 22 of the 64 riders finishing the men's race, as it lived up to its reputation as one of the hardest races of the series.
The men's race of eight 16km laps started fast with all teams concerned about the damage the first 1.9km gravel section would cause. Tasman riders Chris Nicholson and Daniel Ellison were both in the first five riders entering the section and riding well, but by the end of this first crossing, Nicholson had lost about 20 places, and suffered a flat tyre.
Dean Fulton had also punctured and was given a wheel by Matthew Black, leaving only Ellison still in contention. With a good wheel change and assistance from Chris Sharland and Grayson Napier, Nicholson was able to rejoin the leaders soon after the end of lap one. Fulton chased for the next 110km to salvage a creditable 16th place overall.
From this point, the field gradually disintegrated as the gravel road and strong cross winds reduced the field to around 20 riders. Tasman had a two-pronged approach, with Ellison kept in reserve for a bunch sprint while Nicholson covered the attacks.
At one stage, there was a break including Nicholson, Ellison and Robin Reid, also from Nelson, riding for the Scotty Browns Team. The break was eventually caught, but it set up the platform for the winning move as Gordon McCauley of Scotty Browns, Nicholson and Will Bowman of the Benchmark team rode away as fatigue eroded what was left of the field. McCauley eventually won with Nicholson second and the sprint for fourth some 4 minutes back.
In a race more suited to the more experienced riders, Ellison made a good effort to hold on to 12th place and earn valuable series points elevating him to the under-23 leader's jersey.
The women's race of five laps over the same course started cautiously, the teams all waiting for the gravel to see who had the form.
After the first time through the gravel, there were six riders, including Tasman Wheelers' Karen Fulton, off the front, with three Benchmark team members and two from Otago. They were quickly joined by Tracy Clark from Omega Tech but lack of motivation in the group meant that they were caught by the main bunch just before the second time over the gravel.
With two laps to go, the break that formed after the gravel was motivated to stay away; there were two Otago riders, two Benchmark riders and Fulton.
They worked together, eventually dropping one of the Benchmark women and stayed away to the finish.
With Otago concentrating on boxing in Fulton, Benchmark's Alice Hay was able to scoot through for the win.
Fulton was fourth which “was a bit of a lesson for me”, but retained the leader's jersey. Tasman Wheelers members Michelle Gammie-Catterick was seventh and Tania Radman 12th.
The under-23 jersey is the only title yet to be won by the Tasman Wheelers team in the past four years. Now with Nicholson second, Reid third and Ellison fourth on general classification, Nelson looks to be in with excellent overall aspirations.
With Fulton extending her lead in the women's race, the team is looking set to continue with strong performances in the next round at Timaru in four weeks' time.
The fifth race in the series will be hosted by the Tasman Wheelers in the Nelson area on October 6.
Details of the series can be found on roadcycling.co.nz under Events.
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