American wins Tour of NZ opening stage

07:18, Feb 24 2010

American rider Shelley Evans drew first blood at the Tour of New Zealand women's cycling race, outsprinting a bunch finish featuring the top contenders to win today's opening stage.

Evans completed the 95km stage from Martinborough to Masterton in two hours, 29 minutes, 19 seconds.

Australian defending champion Amber Halliday was on Evans' rear wheel at the line with Nashua teammate Cherise Taylor, from South Africa, a blink behind in third.

New Zealand's Joanne Kiesanowski was fourth with her five other teammates, Catherine Cheatley, Linda Villumsen, Rushlee Buchanan Courtney Lowe and Kaytee Boyd inside the top-24, and within 28 seconds of Evans.

The pace, on a hot day in the Wairarapa, was not overly fast and was a battle of attrition as the teams decided to save the energies for a last spurt.

The New Zealand team would have been disappointed not to have done better as all six were in the leading train heading into the finish only to be overhauled in the final 100m.

"It was a good day for us, ultimately with all six riders at the front of the race," New Zealand team manager Andy Reid said.

Cheatley was third in the climb up the steep Kawerau Hill behind Australian Ruth Corset, followed by the USA's Amber Neben.

"It says we have got some good strength across the team.

"Our plan was to try and control it coming into the sprint at the finish and the girls tried to lead it out but didn't quite get it right but that's bike racing.

"Would have been awesome to get the stage win but not to be today."

He agreed that the leading teams had shown their hands today with the US, Nashua and New Zealand squads all pushing the pace.

Evans, a track specialist in points and scratch racing, said her team had done a great job today of getting her in position towards the front with a few kilometres to go.

"Then I just jumped on the New Zealand train," said Evans who won a silver medal in the points race and a bronze in the scratch at this season's World Cup rounds in Melbourne and Manchester respectively.

Evans felt her team were in good shape to help keep her in the tour leader's yellow jersey.

She was preparing for next month's track world championships, as were some of her other teammates.

"We definitely have some of the best riders in the world on our team and we aim to ride aggressively in this tour."