New Zealand's brightest young cycling hopes join together for one of Europe's most prestigious age group road races starting on Monday.
The group, part of BikeNZ's endurance track squad, compete in the seven stage Thuringen Rundfahrt in Germany, a UCI 2.2 category tour for the best under-23 riders in Europe. Started in 1976, the tour has produced many winners who have gone on to successful pro tour careers including Tony Martin, Uwe Ampler and Stephen Schreck. Last year's winner John Dengenkolb, now a HTC Highroad pro tour rider, has won two stages in this week's Criterium du Dauphine.
The BikeNZ squad has been based in Belgium for three months using the training and racing as preparation for the track season and campaign for inclusion for the London Olympics.
The Thuringen Rundfahrt will be their toughest test up against national teams from 10 countries comprising Germany, Australia, Netherlands, France, Austria, Sweden, Denmark, Great Britain, Kazakhstan and Ukraine.
The team is led by world track silver medallist Shane Archbold, fellow Commonwealth Games riders Myron Simpson and Aaron Gate, Jason Christie, Cameron Karwowski and Tom Scully.
Archbold won the sprint jersey at the recent Ras Tour of Ireland, Gate was the leading Under-23 rider, Simpson enjoyed a solo stage win while Karwowski set up their success with some powerful performances.
Christie, who did not compete in Ireland, has enjoyed some outstanding form on the criterium circuits in Belgium. He won three races in a row, producing some impressive numbers in the process, while the team is buoyed by the addition of Southland's Scully, on loan from his Garmin-Cervelo Development Team.
Coach Stu McDonald said the challenge will be significantly greater than Ireland both with the quality of the competition and the testing terrain.
"It's extremely hilly with some much bigger climbs than the Ras which will suit the pure road racing mountain boys in some of the other teams," said he explained.
"I expect it will be a totally different tour compared to Ireland. We are confident of achieving results in some stages although the tougher terrain will be a challenge for us."
An opportunity comes on stage two which is a lumpy 22km team time trial.
"While the team time trial is totally different to pursuiting on the track, the track experience is of some benefit. The stage has a couple of climbs but our lads will look to this stage."
They did some specific testing on the Zolder motor race circuit in Belgium, where the team comfortably clocked up speeds between 53 and 58km/h.
Stage one is 170kms with a category one climb and three sharp digs in the final 20kms, ahead of the team time trial on day two. Stage three is 144km with two category three climbs while stage four is similar with three category one climbs. Stage five is an uphill 12kms individual time trial ahead of the queen stage, a 193km test with five categorised climbs, finishing with a 163km four lap race in Weida near the border with the Czech Republic.
The event is the final road race for the group. After a two week break they face a month-long training camp in Switzerland with the focus switching to preparations for the start of the all-important track season.