Stag party may pose handicap for Ryan

If Marc Ryan had his way, everyone in Sunday's Festival of Cycling criterium would be partying with him tomorrow night.

The 30-year-old Olympian is having his stag do after the festival's 90km Waipara Challenge men's elite race and before Sunday's criterium at the University of Canterbury.

"It'd be good if the entire field came on the stag do, just to level out the playing field," he said.

"It should be good, we've got a big party bus coming along and we'll go on from there. Hopefully the boys look after me on Saturday night."

Festival organisers will hope the same because Ryan is one of eight Olympians in an impressive field this weekend.

Event director Simon Hollander said the field was one of, if not, the strongest he had seen assembled in New Zealand.

Ryan will be joined by fellow Olympians Jesse Sergent, Sam Bewley, Westley Gough, Aaron Gate, Shane Archbold, Pete Latham and Ryan's best man, Hayden Roulston, in tomorrow's field.

All bar Roulston are already entered in the criterium.

"And we've still got a bit of time to work on him," Hollander said.

Tomorrow's 90km race around North Canterbury will no doubt be exciting but the criterium should be action packed, according to Ryan and Hollander.

Ryan, a two-time national criterium champion, is one of a handful of riders with title claims.

Defending champion Tom Scully can't be overlooked as a real chance of going back to back and 2010 winner Mike Northey is in the form of his life.

He has won both the Tour of Southland and the 168km Taupo Challenge, but he also has criterium form - he was runner-up in this month's national championships in Auckland.

"He's in great nick," Ryan said.

"He's a really good all-round rider and if anything has been a bit underrated in recent years.

"There are a few guys that can do well this weekend, but you have to remember it's early in the season; the professional guys and the Olympic guys are all just getting back into it off a break. There are quite a few strong, younger guys that will be tough to beat too."

Tomorrow's race is wide open too.

Christchurch's New Zealand under-23 champion Michael Vink could well feature, and Daniel Barry - also a local - can't be ruled out with his sprinting ability.

This weekend's racing will be big for Subway Pro Cycling because it is their last event as a team so Gough and Latham are expected to fire, especially Latham who retires after Sunday's race.