Like cream settling at the top of a bottle of milk, a quality break emerged from yesterday's Elite Men's Moutere circuit race, during the second day of competition in the Woollaston Estates Tineli Tour de Vineyards.
Eight laps around an undulating and, at times, steep 128km course was always going to take its toll on the riders and, as expected, those willing to take some risks were rewarded for their efforts, none moreso than eventual stage winner, under-19 rider Regan Gough (CHB Cycling), who timed his run to perfection.
Early on the attacks came. During the first lap a group of five riders were able to keep away from the peloton, followed by three more on lap two and five more on lap four. Some of the riders in the escape group included Josh Alridge, Brad Tilby, Scott Thomas, Ryan Willis, Tom Hubbard and Andy Hagan.
While the early breaks formed, Gough bided his time, waiting for the peloton to whittle the break's lead down to less than 1min 20sec, at which point he and Jack Bauer (always a handy man to have on board when trying to bridge a gap) made a dash for a small chase group (George Bennett, Sean Hambrook, Robin Reid, Hayden McCormack) that had formed 25 seconds up the road.
"There were quite a few early breaks going, but I just stayed patient and held back. And then Bauer and myself in the rollers and on the back straight managed to sneak away and ride across, picking up the groups as we went along," Gough said. "Jack was cracking along pretty quick - I guess that's why he is a professional!"
The enlarged break now represented some of the best of New Zealand's road cyclists and, with their pace kept high, the peloton's chances of catching the group looked less and less likely.
The break basically stayed together as one unit until the last King of the Mountains point, less than two kilometres out from the finish line, where Reid and then Hubbard put in some vicious attacks to kick clear of the lead group.
"I wasn't too confident going up that last climb with Bennett and riders like that," Gough said.
They were not, however, allowed to stay away for long, as the high average pace of the group engulfed the pair on the downhill run to the finish.
"I had a pretty good run into it," Gough said. "I had the right wheels [to follow] and the last kilometre couldn't have panned out any better really."
At that point it was a mad dog fight for the line, Hubbard trying again to make a late burst but being overtaken by Gough in the last few metres of the course, quickly followed by the 10 riders still left in the break at that point. The final placings were Gough first, Hubbard (Pegasus) second and Reid (Scotty Browns) third.
Interestingly, the pace of the final kilometres from Upper Moutere to Woollaston Estates was hot enough to hold off several chasing riders, including Tuesday's TT winner and yellow jersey holder Jason Christie, who ca me over the line three minutes in arrears, effectively handing the yellow jersey to Gough.
The Central Hawkes Bay rider was to wear it going into today's stage on the Neudorf Hill circuit.
"I'm only down here by myself - I haven't got a team riding for me. Tomorrow will be a bit of a [day to] limit my losses, and the next day limit my losses up Takaka. Today was perfect for myself; that course out there was good," Gough said. "But I wouldn't class myself as a climber."
Clearly, plenty of opportunities still exist in the battle for the Elite Men's field for the yellow jersey.
In the Elite Women's race, the early breaks, which stretched out to almost three minutes, were caught by lap three of five.
Reta Trotman rode hard up the high point of the course on the fourth lap to claim the King of the Mountain points, after which she was joined by Jo Kiesanowski (Team TIBCO) in a breakaway which extended into the final lap.
The pair were reined in just before the final hill, upon which they attacked again and just stayed away to the end, with Kiesanowski outsprinting Trotman to the finish line. "I'm pretty happy to come away with a win on the first day of the year," said Kiesanowski, who has just returned to New Zealand from a winter in Seattle where she has still been in her buildup phase of her off-season.
The pace during the first few laps of the Masters Men's race was high as the field chased down a lone breakaway rider, Andrew Black (Pegasus).
Desire for KOM and Sprint points kept things rolling along at speed as the larger teams (Tasman Wheelers, High5CFO and Southern Belles) organised their lead out riders in the run-ins.
Eventual stage winner Garry Smith (Cycling Southland) outsprinted what was left of the bunch in the final lap to take the win; John Mudgeway (Counties Manukau) was second and Bruce Herron (Tasman Wheelers) third.