The BikeNZ Elite Road National Championships kicks off in Christchurch on Thursday with time trials while the 185km men’s race on Sunday, including 10 climbs up the testing Dyers Pass in the Cashmere Hills, will test a strong field with several WorldTour riders racing. On Saturday the elite women’s race comprises six ascents of the pass over 120.5km.
The winners of the previous four men’s titles in Christchurch believe the race will be won by the man last standing rather than through any intricacies of tactics.
"You have to have the legs to win on that course," said three-time and defending champion, Hayden Roulston. "It doesn't matter if you have a team of 10 or an army of 20, if you don’t have the legs, you aren't going to win."
The 2012 winner, James Williamson from Alexandra believes that the Dyers Pass climb will be crucial to who takes out the 2014 championship.
"It’s really a race of attrition. The key to doing well is the ability to manage repeat efforts up the climb," Williamson said. “Yes you have to be able to ride the distance but the climbs are where you see them dropping off."
Jack Bauer (Garmin-Sharp), who won in 2010, said groups of riders can make a difference but the strongest on the day generally prevails.
"For us Northern Hemisphere riders it is tough because we have been riding from January until October and so it’s hard to be as fit as you would like to be for this," Bauer said.
"That's no excuse though. The three RadioShack boys riding together last year did make a difference but it is also a case of being really strong over the climbs."
While many titles are wide open, the women’s time trial should be one-way traffic where five-time world championship medallist, Linda Villumsen is the white-hot favourite.
Currently based in Christchurch, the Wiggle-Honda professional has come off the back of last week’s strong performances in Bay Crits series in Melbourne and with favourite conditions may further reduce the course record to she set for the 25km distance last year.
The men’s time trial field, to race over 40km, features defending champion Jo Cooper (Wellington), the 2012 victor and 2013 Oceania winner Paul Odlin (Christchurch), 2010 champion and London Olympic medallist Westley Gough (Hawkes Bay), along with former Under-23 time trial winners Jason Christie (South Canterbury)and Michael Vink (Christchurch), who is a doubtful starter after picking up a virus this week.
Roulston, who will be wearing the new colours of the Trek Factory Team will get support from teammate Jesse Sergent, while there will be chances for Bauer, the 2010 winner, and Nelson’s George Bennett, second last year, who will have his first major ride for his new Cannondale team.