Defending New Zealand road race champion Jack Bauer is expecting to be a marked man in this year's battle for the title, to be held in Christchurch this Sunday.
The 25-year-old from Takaka upset more fancied rivals to edge out Hayden Roulston and Julian Dean in the sprint to win last year's race on the tough terrain on the Cashmere Hills.
A field that includes ProTour riders Julian Dean (Garman Transitions), Greg Henderson (Team Sky), Hayden Roulston (HTC-Highroad), Sam Bewley and Jesse Sergent (both Radioshack) along with national series champion Jeremy Yates and former Francais de Jeux pro Tim Gudsell (now with the new Pure Black Racing team) awaits Bauer for the 186km race.
He says that a year of racing professionally in the UK has him wiser and ready to take on Henderson, Roulston and co. "It definitely won't be the same [as last year]. I won't be able to sneak up on them this time. The riders that are there to win will be more wary about having me there at the end and will try to get rid me of early on," said Bauer.
"I have to approach it in a different way and race it a lot smarter. Compared with the person I was last year I have a lot more up my sleeve.
"I have a lot more to bring to this race, not just fitness-wise but a little bit more experience and a bit more know-how. Fitness-wise I am good and raring to go."
Bauer said wearing the national champion's jersey had been a highlight of his year, which included rides at the UCI Road World Championships in Geelong, Australia and the Commonwealth Games in Delhi, India.
"It's been a privilege and an honour to wear the jersey. It certainly got plenty of attention in the media when I raced. It's something that I had always aspired to," he said. "To achieve the national title and race professionally made 2010 very special and it came earlier in my career than I had expected."
He said the introduction of the trade teams Pure Black Racing alongside the Subway Avanti will add a different element to Sunday's race against the other individual riders.
"The climb up Dyers Pass eliminated a lot of the competition last year and shelled out a lot of riders. I'm hoping that will be the case again or the trade teams could be a major factor," explained Bauer. "I may live to regret my words but unless there's a break that goes up the road, I can't really see it being a lot different this time in that the stronger riders will be there at the end."