George Bennett (Jumbo-Visma) missed out on victory in the elite men's time trial at the New Zealand Championships by just 0.7 of a second to Aaron Gate (Black Spoke Pro Cycling), while Georgia Williams (Team BikeExchange) claimed her third elite women’s title in four years.
Gate, who will be a mainstay of New Zealand’s team pursuit squad at the Tokyo Olympics, came into the event buoyed by recent successes at the Tour of the Southland and the criterium national championships.
He began the 44km test strongly and he had a 20-second advantage over Bennett at the first time check, but the Jumbo-Visma rider began to tighten the gap thereafter and, with 9km to go, he trailed Gate by just three seconds.
Gate held firm over the final stretch of the course, however, to claim his first national time trial title by just under a second, while Bennett was left with his second silver medal in as many years in the event.
In a tightly-contested race, Michael Vink (St George Continental-Canterbury) was just another second back in third.
"Something has always got in the way of the time trial. I wanted to give it a crack last year but my coaches decided it was too close to the Track World Champs. It was 2009 since I last rode it so this makes it all the more special," said Gate.
"I wanted to go out hard and knew time would be made up on those tough climbs and into the head wind. I broke it down into segments, and went as hard as I could in the first part. I paid the price a bit on the way back but the tailwind kicked in to keep my speed up over 50kph even when I was hurting."
While Bennett missed out on gold in the elite men’s race, Jumbo-Visma development squad rider Finn Fisher-Black powered to victory in the under-23 event, finishing over a minute clear of Black Spoke Pro Cycling duo Logan Currie and Dylan McCullough.
Before travelling to Europe next week, Fisher-Black will team up with Bennett in Sunday’s road race. Bennett took silver in last year’s road race.
"There is George and myself for Sunday’s race. It is a good course, maybe not as hilly as last year, but still with some good opportunities and some options to play with and George is on form," said Fisher-Black.
Bennett enjoyed a fine 2020 season, winning Gran Piemonte and placing second at Il Lombardia, but he has yet to win New Zealand’s elite national title.
Earlier this week, he suggested he would be "fit enough to be in the conversation" for Sunday’s road race, though he said he was a month or so behind his condition from this time last year due to mandatory quarantine on arrival.
"Some time I want to win it," said Bennett.
"Hopefully that will be while I am still riding well and for a great team like Jumbo-Visma. I would be so proud to be able to wear that national jersey at the front of the lead group on a Grand Tour."
Georgia Williams (Time BikeExchange) completed a hat-trick of national time trial titles with a resounding victory in the elite women’s race.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the 27-year-old had initially envisaged spending the off-season in Europe. Her commanding display on home roads here augurs well for the campaign ahead after several years blighted by illness.
"I am pretty happy with that. I was pretty committed to remain in Europe for the winter but I had a last-minute escape and such a good decision to come home for the summer. I am so lucky," said Williams, who had a lead of over 30 seconds at the mid-point.
Jaime Nielsen (Waikato BOP) closed the gap to 22 seconds by the finish to place second, while Bronwyn MacGregor (Waikato BOP) claimed bronze.
"It is always a rushed build-up for nationals given my team focus is later in the year. It gives me some confidence for the road race," said Williams. "I am going to be heavily marked which is going to be hard but I just have to be stronger and smarter."
Henrietta Christie (Velo Project) won the under-23 women’s title ahead of McKenzie Milne (Waikato BOP) and Stella Nightingale (Cabjaks-Castelli), while Amelia Sykes (Canterbury) and Lewis Bower (Fruzio ILABB) won the junior titles.
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