The Tour de Vineyards has just finished and I it has been a very interesting 5 days. It’s always a pleasure to race in my home town of Nelson and this year has been great. The tour was very well organised and the racing was tough from start to finish.
The tour began with a 9.3km time trial around the Mt. Heslington Circuit on New Year’s Eve. This stage was won convincingly by Jason Christie from the newly revamped Breads of Europe – All About Plumbing Cycling Team. I struggled through this stage, feeling flat from a hard week’s training beforehand. While it would have been nice to start the tour with a better performance I was just keen for some hard racing to help me tune up for the Elite Nationals next weekend and the New Zealand Cycle Classic at the end of January.
January 1st 2014 started with a monster of a storm rolling through Nelson and I was woken up by the thunder very early in the morning! Thankfully the worst of the rain blew through before the start of stage 2 and we had fairly good conditions for most of the race. Stage 2 was at times confusing and frustrating as small groups slipped off the front during the first few laps and I always managed to miss them! During the 4th of 8 laps an organised chase was looking more and more unlikely. I attacked up the final climb at the end of the 4th lap and before long we had a group of four (including yellow jersey Jason Christie) committed to trying to cross the 1:30 gap to the front of the race. Unfortunately we didn’t quite have the legs to close the gap and that’s how we finished four laps later; about 1:30 down on the stage winner Regan Gough.
Now a long way down on GC and with no points in the KOM or Sprint classifications I needed to race aggressively on stage 3 (the Neudorf Circuit) to try and salvage something. I felt great and I worked hard in the opening kilometres of the stage to establish a break and by the top of the first climb 10km into the stage we had a group of 8 with a slim advantage over the peloton. Our group worked well together and we started to gain some time but before long a stomping Jack Bauer managed to cross the gap alone. We kept our heads down and kept riding hard and held a 1-2 minute lead over the first of 2 60km laps.
The 2nd lap didn’t go quite as smoothly: the peloton closed our lead down to just 30sec and L&M rider Scott Thomas jumped across to us. Shortly after the 2nd ascent of Neudorf Hill Hayden McCormick also bridged the gap. He was very close to the lead on GC and if our group were to stay away to the finish he would most likely be taking home the yellow jersey. I was happy to work hard with him as all I wanted was to win the stage. Fortunately we managed to hold off the chasing group and fight for the stage win. It was a hard uphill sprint and I finished 2nd behind a flying Tom Hubbard (Breads of Europe) with Scott Thomas in 3rd.
The morning of the 3rd of Jan was drizzly again but thankfully the weather cleared just as Stage 4 began in Wakefield. I made the breakaway again and we were lucky to have another strong and fairly cohesive group like the day before. The stage finished at the summit of the Takaka Hill Climb and our goal was to reach the bottom of the hill with as much time as possible over the peloton. We managed to reach the climb with around 5 minutes lead which left us with a good shot of staying away for the finish!
As soon as we hit the climb, Ryan Wills who had been riding strongly all week, attacked and opened up a gap. I found myself in a group of 5 which slowly but surely dwindled down to 2 by a third of the way up the climb. We found a good rhythm and rode hard all the way but it wasn’t enough to bring back a flying Wills. Wills beat us in by about 45 seconds and I finished the day 3rd. I was really pleased with my climb, I’d say it’s the best I’ve ever ridden up there! As an added bonus the time we gained was enough to boost me up to 2nd on GC, just over a minute behind new leader Ryan Wills.
Going into stage 5 my focus was solely on taking that minute back and winning the tour. I felt like I was in with a real chance and the only way to make it happen was to race aggressively from the gun. Stage 5 was the undulating Hill St Circuit in Richmond. For each of the 17km laps I did everything I could to shake Wills and take the tour win. I wasn’t the only one within striking distance who was having a go; Hayden McCormick and a few other also rode very aggressively. But Wills was on a mission and had an answer to every attack… he kept the lead and I had to settle for 2nd. Jack Bauer took the victory on the stage with a very impressive solo effort in the last lap!
The Tour de Vineyards was a successful week and I’m really happy with 2nd place. The win is always the goal but that is my best finish in my home tour and I’m very pleased. Congratulations to Ryan for the win, very impressive! And a big thank you to Tasman Wheelers for putting on a well-organised and enjoyable race!
Now after a very solid week it’s time to back off, recover and get ready for nationals…