Jeremy Yates and Serena Sheridan are favourites to retain their titles in New Zealand’s toughest road cycle race this weekend. In New Zealand the RoadCraft K2 it is the country’s toughest cycling event, a grueling 200km around the Coromandel Peninsula.
Past winners have included Kiwi internationals Glenn Mitchell and Fraser McMaster, American record holder John Leiswyn and Denmark’s women’s Tour de France champion Linda Villumsen. Not to mention New Zealand representatives Yates and Sheridan, who are both back to defend their record breaking wins from 2008.
The attraction is the European-style course and a hefty prize purse. With 2300 metres of climbing over 40 kilometres, the RoadCraft K2 combines the rigors of European cycling with New Zealand’s supreme surroundings to produce a challenge for elite and recreational cyclists alike.
Every year this unique event starts from a different Coromandel town and does one full 200 kilometre lap of the peninsula. This year racing gets underway in Whitianga on Saturday.
It starts with a brutal 50 kilometres over the hills of Kuaotunu and Whangaparoa to Coromandel township. A mostly flat 50 kilometres alongside the Firth of Thames allows legs to recharge before the RoadCraft K2’s signature hill climb, the 14 kilometre long, 425 metre high Kopu-Hikuai Hill. The reward is stunning views and 40 kilometres of mostly downhill to Tairua, before a tough final 40 kilometres over the 240 metre high Pumpkin Hill to the finish back at Whitianga.
“The RoadCraft K2 might sound daunting,” said race director Andy Reid. “But it starts and finishes at sea level, so for every tough uphill there’s a big-smiles downhill.”
It was smiles all round last year for record breaking winners Yates and Sheridan. The Hawke’s Bay professionals are favourites again for 2009, with Yates, a former junior world champion, looking for his third straight win. But neither of them will have things all their own way.
The 2008 runner-up, Auckland’s Karl Murray, is back again. It was Murray who sparked the race up last year, which led to Yate’s record win of 5:02:34 hours. But these two experienced riders will need to be aware of a handful of talented youngsters such as Auckland’s Sam Lindsay and Louis Crosby. But it could be professional Justin Kerr who will provide the biggest challenge. The Tokoroa rider is an experienced professional on both the European and American circuit and is fresh off his best year ever, including several North American wins.
Organisers are expecting more than 2000 riders for the annual event. As well as the feature 200 kilometre RoadCraft K2, options include an introductory Orca K1 held over 100 kilometres, and the Nicholas Browne Quarter K, a 50 kilometre option named after a former entrant.
The Orca K1 also doubles as the Elite Women’s race, which promises to be a closely fought affair. Sheridan dominated this race last year, but in 2009 she faces New Zealand reps such as Meshy Holt (Cambridge), Brei Gudsell, Tracy Best and Emma Crum. Holt is a two-time winner of this event and will be looking to be the first three-time winner, but all of them will have to watch out for a couple of relative rookies who have been turning heads on the cycle scene of late.
Sonia Waddell and Melanie Burke both come from the top of their game in other sports, with Waddell an Olympic rowing finalist and Burke a former Auckland Marathon winner and the current New Zealand Duathlon champion. Waddell narrowly missed a berth at the world championships this year, while Burke was discovered in a cycling sense during the Power to the Podium talent spotting scheme last year. Both have good form coming to K2, so Sheridan will need to tap into all her experience as the country’s top ranked domestic rider of the last couple of years.