Hayden Roulston is the man to beat
Hayden Roulston is taking on a siege mentality ahead of the defence of his national road cycling title and claims he's ''hated'' by many of the competitors.
It doesn't bother him - far from it; Roulston is using it as motivation as he strives for his fourth road race title, this Sunday on the hilly Cashmere course.
The 32-year-old likes the idea of being hunted, of having a target on his back. He likes the fact other riders want to knock him off his perch. It spurs him on.
''It's not easy being the target, being hated to some extent,'' he says.
''But, at the end of the day, I'd be the same if I was in their position, you always want to beat everyone, especially the guy who's won it before.''
For most riders, it's not hatred as much as an earned respect for what Roulston's done on the bike, tinged perhaps with some jealousy. As confident as he seems on the bike, like last year, Roulston laughs off talk of the title being his to lose.
While he accepts he's one of the favourites for Sunday's 183.7km race which includes 10 trips up Dyers Pass Rd, a fourth title is far from a "fait accompli".
Roulston is wary of a handful of riders to challenge for his title, but prefers not to narrow his focus too tightly.
He's had a strong season in Europe with his Trek Factory Racing, where his primary job is to help team-mate Fabian Cancellara.
''I think I've had a pretty good year. Obviously people look at results and judge you on that, but in Europe results aren't my job, helping Fabian is my job. And he won Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.''
Back from Europe, he enjoys being back home, the freedom of racing in New Zealand and the buzz of racing in front of a Christchurch crowd.
A home-town lad, he'd love nothing more than to win again on Sunday.
''It's my opportunity to have a crack for myself, but that brings with it pressure too.''
''All eyes are on me. To win the New Zealand national title is hard, but I reckon it gets harder every time. The quality of the field is stronger. Even the guys that aren't pros, they're stronger too now. All the good young amateurs want to be pros one day so they're working really hard too.''
Plus there's the target on his back. As far as form goes, Roulston is not sure how he's placed.
He is six weeks into his build-up for the European season, but a bout of campylobacter late last year and a recent flare-up have slowed him down.
''I rode to Nelson recently over three days in torrential rain and that puts a bit of extra stress on the body and I'm in the middle of quite a heavy workload, but I'm as good as I've been any other year for this event.''
Last year he had an upset stomach early in the race, but still chased down climber George Bennett on the final lap to win on ''the worst legs of my life''.
No wonder the other riders don't like him.
NATIONAL ROAD CYCLING CHAMPIONSHIP
10.00am - Elite Women 25km Time Trial - Lincoln
10.30am - Under 23 Men 40km Time Trial - Lincoln
11.00am - Elite Men 40km Time Trial - Lincoln
1.00pm - Medal presentations at the Start / Finish
12.00pm - Elite Women Road Race, Pioneer Stadium
4.00pm - Medal presentations, Pioneer Stadium
10.00 am - Elite Men Road Race, Pioneer Stadium
3.00 pm - Medal presentations, Pioneer Stadium
The best areas for spectators are at the start-finish line in Centennial Park, or MacMillan Reserve on Dyers Pass Rd (see map below)
RIDERS TO WATCH
HAYDEN ROULSTON - Home course, plenty of self-belief and three titles to his name make it pretty hard to go past Roulston as the man to beat.
GEORGE BENNETT - Bennett finished second last year. Has another year of pro cycling under his belt and is understood to be better rounded in 2014.
MICHAEL VINK - Vink was the first across the line two years ago and won the under-23 title. He's a local with lots of support and has finished inside the top 10 in the last four years.
COURTENEY LOWE - Lowe won last year in an eight-way sprint, beating experienced riders such as Jo Kiesanowski and Linda Villumsen. In another sprint finish, she'll probably win it again.
LINDA VILLUMSEN - Depends a little on how much she has left in the tank after the time-trial the day before. Too strong to count out, though, like Lowe, she is a marked woman.
JO KIESANOWSKI - It has been 11 years since the US-based Cantabrian won this race, but experience and sprinting ability are big plusses.