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New Avanti Racing rider and recently crowned New Zealand time trial champion, Taylor Gunman, is locked and loaded for the New Zealand Cycle Classic starting on Wednesday. Not only are the team looking to defend the title they won a year earlier with Nathan Earle (Team Sky), they are aiming to make it three years in-a-row that they have won the races' opening time trial.
In 2012 it was Campbell Flakemore who took the honours over the 7.1km course and in 2013 it was Joe Cooper who recorded the fastest time. Although Gunman's teammates, Sam Davis, Brenton Jones, Aaron Donnelly and Ben Dyball, are all strong against the clock, it is the man with the New Zealand title to his name that is looking to perform on the shortened 6.1km course.
Despite joining Avanti officially from the start of 2014, Gunman raced last year's Tour of Southland as a guest rider with the team. Obviously Gunman was keen to impress in his first race and the 22-year-old did not disappoint when he took a hill-top victory in the 187km fourth stage that finished with an 8.4km climb to Coronet Peak.
Avanti directeur Andrew Christie-Johnston told Cyclingnews that Gunman was unsure of his climbing abilities before the race, but all parties were pleasantly surprised with the end result.
"I told my coach before Southland my climbing legs were good, but I never thought they were that good. I honestly thought I could run top five," said Gunman.
Gunman was initially unsure of his standing within the team, but now that the 22-year-old has learned the ropes he is ready for a strong 2014.
"I came into this team not knowing where I stood as a rider in Avanti's set up: ‘would I be fetching bottles or getting the opportunity to race for results?' What I have learnt is that we all get the chance to succeed," he said. "It's how you take those opportunities that will make the difference."
It is likely that Gunman will have opportunities this week given he is part of only a five man team in a 100 man field. The New Zealand national team is loaded with talent with 2013 Tour of Southland victor James Oram and 2012 Garmin-Sharp stagiaire Tom Scully. Drapac Pro Cycling are the only professional continental team racing and they're bringing two strong GC threats in Jai Crawford and Adam Phelan with the intent of claiming the overall victory.
Chris Jory (GPM) will be out to prove a point after missing selection for the UniSA national team despite a strong ride at the Australian Open Road Championships. Additionally, Budget Forklifts will be a team to watch given they are almost a de-facto New Zealand national team with four strong Kiwis joining new recruit Brodie Talbot. Finally, Rahpa Condor JTL, OCBC and Satalyst Giant also pose strong threats for the overall.
Wary of the competition his team faces, Gunman also believes that most teams will have the added motivation of wanting to start their seasons on a positive note.
"There are a lot of teams who have travelled a long way to race the NZ Classic so there will be a motivated field," he said. "And because this is the first race of the season for teams I think everyone will be willing to race every inch of the course, including the climbs."
The New Zealand Cycle Classic begins tomorrow with a 6.1km time trial in Palmerston North. Racing continues over the following four days with the tour concluding on Sunday with the queen stage; a 165km affair finishing atop Saddle Rd, a 5km seven per cent climb with pitches of up to 16 per cent.