Come Tuesday afternoon, about 130 riders from all around New Zealand will be lining up at the start of the Nelson region's premier cycling event, the Tour de Vineyards.
Taking in 380 kilometres over five days of racing, the Tour de Vineyards regularly attracts several big-name riders, partly because it serves as excellent preparation for the Elite Nationals road race later in January, and partly because of the generous prize pool on offer - totalling more than$11,500.
The tour is actually three separate races - an elite men's race, an elite women's race and a masters' race, for riders over 40 years old. Each race takes in the same course, with the elite men's race involving longer distances on days two and five. Up for grabs in each race are the general classification jersey - or overall winner, the king or queen of the mountain jersey and the sprinters jersey. There is also a one-off prize for being the first to the top of Takaka Hill.
Tasman Wheelers race director Christine van Hoppe is pleased with the quality field next week's tour has drawn.
It includes four professional UCI World Pro Tour riders: Hayden Roulston, of Trek Factory Racing - winner of last January's Elite Nationals road race; George Bennett, formerly of RadioShack Leopard and now racing for Cannondale; Jack Bauer of Garmin Sharp racing, a 2013 Tour de France rider; and Sam Bewley, of Orica-GreenEdge, a bronze medal track rider at the London Olympics.
Bennett (Richmond) and Bauer (Golden Bay) both hail from the Nelson region and are expected to generate popular support from local riders and spectators.
Other elite men racers of note include Robin Reid, a former Olympic road racer and stage winner in previous Vineyard tours; Grayson Napier, king of the mountains jersey holder in this year's Tour of Southland; Daniel Barry, former Pure Black and current Node 4 - Giordana Cycling pro rider; and Sean Hambrook, a pro continental rider for the French team, Sojasun.
In the women's field, one of the clear favourites is former Olympian Joanne Kiesanowski, of Team TIBCO, a United States-based women's pro cycling team.
Karen Fulton, of Team Fresh Choice, is an experienced rider and will be a strong local contender, as will Auckland rider Emily Collins, sponsored by the Wiggle Honda Cycling Team.
In the masters field, local rider Warwick Spence has a real chance of winning the general classification, having placed third last year and having won the tour in 2011-12.
The five-day tour kicks off on Tuesday at 3pm, with a 10km individual time trial near Brightwater, taking in Lord Rutherford, Mt Heslington and River Terrace roads.
Stage 2 on New Year's Day sees the riders racing on a undulating and testing circuit around Woollaston Estates, beginning on Old Coach Rd, heading over to Gardiner Valley Rd and on to the Moutere Highway. The elite men do eight laps (128km) and the elite women and masters do five laps (80km).
Thursday's race, Stage 3, takes place on another circuit course, this time around Upper Moutere, encompassing 2 laps of the Inland Highway, Edwards Rd, Ngatimoti, Dovedale, Neudorf Hill and Central Rd. This circuit has three significant hills, which should provide plenty of places for riders to attack the bunch.
Following that, Stage 4 takes in a long 115km stage beginning in Wakefield, heading south over Reay Saddle, Golden Downs, Tapawera, West Bank Rd and finishing on top of Takaka Hill - a 19km grovel up one of New Zealand's longest tarseal ascents. This stage is definitely one in which the hill climbing specialists will take a lot of time off their competitors.
For those wanting to get a glimpse of racing closer to Nelson, the tour's final day provides an excellent opportunity to see tight aggressive riding over a fast flowing criterium-type course on the streets of Richmond.
The south end of Hill St and Chelsea Ave will be partially closed to traffic, allowing for exciting racing on the final day. The elite women begin at 9am followed on the hour by the masters and at 11am by the elite men.
Each day the Nelson Mail will run an article keeping readers informed on the tour's progress. More information regarding times and locations for each stage are available on the Tasman Wheelers website - tasmanwheelers.co.nz.
- © Fairfax NZ News