Bike Manawatu riders dominated the junior grade entries for the Ramblers Hub Tour held on 11th, 12th and 13th of January in sunny (extremely sunny) Hastings. There were 28 Bike Manawatu riders competing, of the 21 U17 boys twelve were from Bike Manawatu and in the U17 girls, of the twelve entries, four were from Bike Manawatu.
The 6km prologue was held in perfect conditions. Bike Manawatu saw an outstanding performance from Matiu Kaihau in A Grade, who finished in 6th place, just 15 seconds down on the fastest time despite two punctures necessitating a change of car (and that was just on the way to the race!). The flat, fast conditions also suited Jake Van Lienen, who was restricted to the smallest cog on his rear cluster after a last minute cable malfunction, but still managed to post a time of 8:01:27. George Roberts and Hamish Mikkelson both had the dubious honour of incurring time penalties for missing their starting slots – they won’t do that again!
Saturday dawned fine and sunny and we headed out to the road course. In A Grade Steve Stannard spent the early laps attacking and eventually it paid off with a four man break gaining a time gap of almost two minutes on the rest of the field, and collecting all of the KOM points along the way. Neil Martin also had a dig and stayed away with Steve early on before the decisive break formed. First time A grader George Roberts had a baptism of fire, however managed to hang in there until the final lap and finished not too far down. The U17 boys race saw a crash on the first hill split the field. Campbell Stewart, Chris Denholm and Alex West were on the right side of the schemozzle (unlike the yellow jersey of Sam Dobbs) and made good use of the fact, with Chris taking line honours, Campbell second and Alex third. They set themselves up with a time gap of three minutes over the yellow jersey group, which was to prove invaluable as the tour progressed. Elizabeth Stannard attacked the U17 women on the first climb and split the field. She and Michaela Drummond got away with the yellow jersey of Lydia Rippon and stayed clear, with Michaela taking the stage. Unfortunately not all of the girls had checked the race map before starting and several went astray, including Emily Shearman who lost valuable time on a wrong turn.
Jessica Hamilton’s first big stage race went according to plan for the first lap, where she strongly contested for QOM points in the Women’s peloton.
The action shifted to the Whakatu Cool Stores for a Criterium on Saturday afternoon. The U17 girls race saw plenty of excitement when the yellow jersey punctured a front tyre going around the corner into the finishing straight. Check out Kirsty Kaihau’s photo of Michaela Drummond performing a swan dive over Lydia onto the tarmac! To their credit both girls got up and got back into the race, going on (what’s more!) to finish first and second. Emily Shearman made up for her disappointment in the morning stage by finishing strongly in fourth, just behind Elizabeth. In the U17 boys the pace was fast and furious, with those riders held up by the mornings crash anxious to make their mark. Carne Groube showed that he’ll do anything for a few dollars by putting it all on the line to take the intermediate sprint. Campbell Stewart was all class (as usual) in the final sprint, to take the stage. In C Grade John Stewart showed just where Campbell gets his class from – settling into position near the front of the bunch for most of the race. In B Grade James Denholm hung on the back, after a tough morning in the saddle, and christened his new skinsuit with a sliding crash in the latter stages of the race. As expected A Grade was full noise right from the start, George Roberts, Matiu Kaihua and Mark Findlay all put in early appearances off the front of the bunch. Luuk Van Wagtendonk had an unfortunate encounter with the bitumen scissors mid race – but it takes more than that to stop a Bike Manawatu rider from contesting the finish. Luke Mudgway won the stage, with Mark Findlay the best of the rest in 8th place.
Sunday morning (even finer and sunnier than Saturday, some would even say “HOT”) and some sore legs were hauled back out to the Ngatawara Winery for the start of the final stage. Jessica Hamilton was still in contention in the Women’s Race, but an injury to her back during Saturdays racing saw her slightly off the pace on Sunday. Nevertheless she finished a creditable 8th in a mostly younger and more experienced field. Elizabeth had everything to gain and nothing to lose on this stage, lying just 21 seconds behind the yellow jersey. She climbed well again but was unable to shake Lydia, who went on to win the stage and the race. Elizabeth and Michaela finished second and third respectively both in the stage and on GC. Emily Shearman finished seventh on GC, not a bad effort for an U15 rider – watch out for her next year! The U17 boys saw Campbell Stewart in yellow at the start of the stage and Chris Denholm in 2nd on GC – they just had to defend their lead for 66km. Determined to make an impression after losing time on stage 1 the boys from Bike Manawatu went on the offensive. Nate Levin spent the day attacking. Robert Stannard and Hayden Washington Smith managed to build a break of around one minute and stay away for nearly 10km – unfortunately (for them) the wrong 10km. Josh Kendall followed with a 5km solo break. He was caught not long before the final climb, which saw Campbell, Chris and Sam Dobbs ride away from the rest of the field and Campbell and Chris cement their GC placings. In A Grade Steve Stannard set out to defend his polka dot jersey and hold onto his 4th placing on GC. He managed the first by a judicious mixture of actually contesting the sprints and making sure that they were contested by “non-contenders”. Unfortunately his double shot latte had worn off by the bottom of the final climb and he was unable to hold onto the 4th place on GC. Luuk Van Wagtendonk and Neil Martin both put in attacks and went through the feed station about 20 seconds ahead of the main bunch. But a wicked head wind on the main road put paid to their efforts. It was good to see these young riders taking the initiative – that’s how races are won.
Other notable rides came from Matt Elliott who stepped up into A Grade, Jordan Castle who started his first race in B Grade, Graeme Bull (as strong as an ox) in C grade, Jacob Seivwright, and Cameron Huston who were part of the aggressive racing in the U17 boys race, and Brittany Baker who always had a smile on her face in the U17 girls bunch.