Back to future as Rushlee Buchanan bags title

FRED WOODCOCK
Last updated 05:00 13/01/2014
Rushlee Buchanan
Getty Images
WINNER: Rushlee Buchanan.

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Four years ago Rushlee Buchanan won the national women's road race on the streets and hills of Cashmere, setting herself up for a big year and selection on the New Zealand team for the 2010 Commonwealth Games.

The versatile Te Awamutu cyclist is hoping for a similar scenario this year, having snared her second national road title with a brilliant victory on the same course in Christchurch on Saturday.

Buchanan showcased her versatility, aggressive philosophy and fighting qualities on the gruelling circuit.

It was an emotional win - Buchanan admitting she hadn't really "been at my best" since that win four years ago.

"I'm on a new team this year (United Healthcare in the United States) and with the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow this year as well, it means a lot.

"I actually won the nationals in 2010 when Delhi was on, maybe I just go good every four years, which is fine," she laughed.

The 25-year-old London Olympian and 2010 track world championship medallist was part of a three-person break early in the eight-lap, 120km race. But while initial leader Lauren Ellis and then Friday's time-trial champion Jaime Nielsen eventually fell off the pace, Buchanan stayed firm at the front.

That was until the final few kilometres, when five-times world time-trial championship medallist Linda Villumsen switched her legs into overdrive, catching Buchanan with the finish line almost in sight. It appeared to be a beautifully timed burst from Villumsen but Buchanan wasn't done just yet.

Despite six tough climbs up Dyers Pass Rd and setting the pace all day, she somehow found enough gas in the tank to surge past Villumsen.

As they did in the time trial on Friday, Villumsen finished second and Otago's Reta Trotman third. Defending champion Courteney Lowe pulled out mid-race with injury while local favourite and New Zealand road veteran Jo Kiesanowski was in the chasing group all day and finished seventh.

Versatility is a handy asset when it comes to selection for teams to the Olympics and Commonwealth Games so Buchanan's win will have been noted by the selectors, with an eye to the latter in Glasgow in July-August.

"I'd like to do both track and road there, and riding for my professional team is the other big thing for me this year.

"The track riders have performed this weekend; it's a good way of putting our hands up and saying ‘yep, we're ready'," added Buchanan, noting track team-mate Jaime Nielsen's time-trial win on Friday and the front-running efforts of Nielsen and Ellis in the road race.

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Villumsen had to settle for silver for the second day in succession. "For the time-trial I didn't have the best legs and I didn't really have the climbing legs today either, but I kept it steady," she said.

"The goal was to try and get the (national champion's) jersey but we'll try to take it again next year."

Trotman was also happy with two podium finishes, particular in the time trial, which bodes well for her year. She links up with her German team in April and is eyeing the Commonwealth Games and world championships.

"I like riding with the Silver Fern on my back so they're big goals for me this year," the Otago cyclist said.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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