Fresh off winning the New Zealand National Road Championship for the second time Kiwi powerhouse Joe Cooper has won the New Zealand Cycle Classic. Cooper looked all but out of it after stage two lying more than a minute in arrears of then leader James Oram for the NZ National Team.
— Timothy Roe (@TimmyRRoe) January 22, 2017
The tour couldn’t have got off to a better start with Tim Roe winning the first stage solo after attacking with less than 2km to go to take the stage by 5 seconds to a chase group of 11 that included Cooper.
Stage two was a tactical affair which saw constant breaks come and go. At the foot of the final climb of Admirals Hill a break of three that included our very own Sam Crome held a tiny lead but a lack of co operation behind allowed them to stay clear with Sam taking the stage win ahead of James Orams (One Pro) who managed to wrestle the yellow jersey from Tim. The stage win was great but losing the yellow was not part of the plan. The team were going to have to be super aggressive and try and shatter the race to get it back.
Stage three did not represent much of an opportunity. Riders were greeted with picture perfect day, blue skies, no wind and an all but flat stage which looked like a definite bunch sprint so it was decided to sit back and save the legs in the hope that the wind would provide an opportunity to turn the race on its head. The stage finished in the predicted bunch sprint with Alex Frame from JLT Condor taking the win.
The fourth day of the New Zealand Cycle Classic, lived up to the tours’ name – it was an absolute classic! The Wairarapa region’s famous winds blew the race to pieces and turned the GC on it’s head.
Storms were brewing as the 10am start neared, and as the riders rolled out, they were belted with crosswinds that persisted throughout the entire stage. No early break, no team controlling the front, and no period of ease- just a frantic swirl of chaos, as teams attempted to launch a rider in some sort of move to get on the front foot. All teams were under constant pressure, and the first rider to go clear for any decent length of time was a lone JLT Condor rider, Mould.
Mould built a reasonable gap but the racing behind brought him close enough for three other riders to bridge, and again the gap went out as the peloton eased somewhat, sheltered from crosswinds by the adjacent hills.
As the path of the riders deviated from the protection of the hills at around the 60km mark, the peloton was yet again exposed to the roaring crosswinds as they made their way towards Martinborough. Many groups were briefly splintering off the front but were then caught by the surging peloton. It was only a matter of time before one of these groups would snap the elastic band and go clear. At around the 80km point, Olympic Gold medallist rower Hamish Bond (mistake in yesterday’s report- he has a silver car, but gold medals) launched with Neil Van Der Ploeg and McCarthy (JLT) on his wheel. Cooper then launched across the gap with NZL national team’s Mudgway. As soon as the pair bridged, van der Ploeg and Cooper began swapping off full gas. The elastic band had snapped!
The pair received next to no help from the other three riders and worked hard to catch the leading group of four, which occurred as they passed through Martinborough. The pair had also pried open a 1minute gap to next group on the road, which contained 15 riders including yellow jersey holder Oram and team mate McCormick (NZL). The GC gap between Cooper and Oram was also around 1 minute, creating a brutal arm wrestle for the yellow jersey between Cooper/Van der Ploeg and Oram/McCormick! However, to complicate things, the break of four caught by Van der Ploeg and Cooper contained Griffin (Olivers) who was actually ahead of Cooper on GC, and also contesting for the young riders jersey!
For the final 40km the gap was hovering around the 1min mark, and it was unclear who would triumph! What an exciting finale! At 20km to go, the gap started to fall to around 50s and things started to look better for Oram. Just inside of 10km to go, both pairs of riders were attacked! In the front group, these attacks dropped the fatiguing Van der Ploeg, and in a ridiculous display of strength, Cooper went clear with Kerby (cobra 9) and Mould (JLT), dispatching of Griffin and the others. In Oram’s chase group, it was Roe and Crome applying the pressure. Oram, only holding a narrow lead over Crome in particular, was caught between a rock and a hard place- having to contain the attacks from Isowhey Sports SwissWellness duo in order to stay in front of them on GC, and somehow keep the chase momentum so that Cooper didn’t get beyond the minute mark! If this was game of chess, Oram was in check.
Mould won the sprint ahead of Kerby, with Cooper rolling in third place. When Oram’s group crossed the line, it became clear that he had failed to break the tactical head lock created by Isowhey- the gap had blown out to 1min 36s. Cooper and Isowhey Sports SwissWellness triumphed in the GC battle and now have Cooper in yellow.
With only a single stage remaining, the tour is nearing an end, but the NZCC has constantly delivered exciting, aggressive and unpredictable racing- make no mistake, the yellow jersey is still up for grabs. Another fantastic chapter of racing in an incredible tour!
The final stage was another sprinters affair with the team happy to let a small break go clear and the control it. With many teams still looking for a result they received enough help to make it all come back together for the finish with Alex Frame taking his second stage win for the tour followed by Luke Mudgway and Vandy in third.
The team ended up with two stage wins, teams classification and the tour win.