Magnificent seven ride into town
All seven of New Zealand's riders on cycling's international world (UCI) tour have signed up for next month's elite road championships in Christchurch making for a mouth-watering contest.
It's the first time all seven Kiwi riders in world cycling's main game have competed against each other in the national road championships which takes place at Cashmere on January 11-13.
The group confirmed for the championships comprises Julian Dean (Rotorua, Green Edge), George Bennett (Nelson, RadioShack Nissan Trek), Jesse Sergent (Feilding, RadioShack Nissan Trek), Sam Bewley (Rotorua, Green Edge), Greg Henderson (Melbourne, Lotto-Belisol), Hayden Roulston (Christchurch, Radioshack Nissan Trek) and Jack Bauer (Golden Bay, Garmin Sharp).
Event organiser Simon Hollander said it was likely to be the only time that the record-breaking group of elite professionals would take part in the same race.
"This is a record year for New Zealand cycling with seven riders on the UCI Pro Tour, the biggest number we have had by far," Hollander said.
Hollander said although the riders would be in the early stages of preparing for the European summer season, the lure of the black jersey as national champion would ensure it was a competitive contest.
"All of the domestic riders, including a fantastic bunch of under-23 talent, will be peaking for this while the pro riders are just in buildup phase, so they won't have things their own way.
"At the same time it means so much to be able to wear your national champion's colours in the big races in Europe that they will be going all-out for the win."
The super seven are led by Dean, who has had 14 years on the Tour with US Postal, CSC-Tiscali, Credit Agricole, Garmin and now Green Edge in an illustrious career including stage wins in the Tour de France and the Giro d'Italia and a plethora of top-10 stage placings in the Tour de France, with six in 2008. The Rotorua rider is a two-time winner of the national title - in 2007 and 2008.
"It was a big thing for me when I first won and was able to wear the national colours in those big tours," Dean said.
"I think it worked both ways. I got recognition internationally and at the same time the black New Zealand jersey with the silver fern got fantastic exposure both live and on television to millions and millions of people watching things like the Tour de France, Giro and Vuelta."
Roulston is also a double winner of the national title - in 2006 and last year - while Bauer won the title in 2010 in a memorable sprint finish with Roulston and Dean.
Bauer, fresh from an excellent debut season with Garmin-Sharp and strong performances at the London Olympics, is looking forward to the challenge.
He is in favour of the course changes announced this week with one less ascent of the Dyers Pass Hill resulting in a final 20km flat run for the finish.
"I think the removal of the final climb and a bit more flat will definitely be to my favour. It always hurts hitting that climb for the 11th time."
The championship week begins with the time trials from Lincoln College on Friday, 11 January.
The women's elite road race over 120.5km on 12 January will comprise eight laps with six climbs of Dyers Pass.
This is a 1.5km climb of a gradient of 8 per cent initially, easing to 5 per cent, before the right-hand turn and sharp descent of Hackthorne Rd.
The elite and under-23 men's race on 13 January comprises 12 laps totalling 183.7km, including 10 circuits up the Dyers Pass climb.
After the final climb, riders complete the 8km of that lap and add a further 12km lap on the flat.