European-based professionals Julian Dean and Hayden Roulston are unlikely to receive any latitude in this weekend's RaboPlus National Elite Road Cycling Championships in Christchurch.
The duo is among the most favoured riders in the 186km men's race around the Cashmere Hills but a talented and hungry field of kiwi hopefuls, including two trade teams, won't do the talented pair any favours.
The women's road race is expected to feature a battle with the super-talented Jo Kiesanowski and Danish-born kiwi convert Linda Villumsen, a notable performer on the European professional women's circuit.
"I've always regarded that as something special," said Dean, the 2007 and 2008 national champion. "I think it's been a win-win situation in that I received more attention but accordingly the New Zealand black jersey was seen by millions of fans at the events and on television."
Dean doesn't rate his chances however; the experienced sprinter is returning to fitness following a remarkably gruelling 2009 season where he was the only professional to complete all three grand tours.
"I am definitely struggling right now. I guess to be fair I have a long season ahead and I would be in trouble if I was in good form now," Dean explained. "Pros like me and Roly (Hayden Roulston) don't need to be in our best shape to win here, but I am definitely not producing the numbers that I was at this time last year.
"It's going to be an interesting race. There are two trade teams in the race and some really good riders who won't give us any leeway."
Dean said that the 900m climb up the Cashmere Hills on each of 13 laps will be a challenge but will also produce some tactical battles. "It might produce a break because while it is not too tough, doing it 13 times is going to hurt.
"If we are all together at the base of that climb on the last lap, then it presents a dilemma. If you go then, it is still a long way from the top to the finish line, more than five kilometres. A break with a few riders is likely to get caught before the finish. Who knows... It will be pretty interesting."
Dean, who will ride the Tour Down Under next week, says that Roulston is the favoured rider. Roulston will also be riding the opening round of the ProTour in Australia for Columbia HTC team next week and is itching to claim the national road title.
"Roly has not really raced since the Tour de France aside from the worlds. He is fresh, has had a break and has trained really hard for this. He's in his home town and he knows the circuit better than most," Dean added.
There are some other talented prospects including Olympic team pursuit bronze medallist and Team RadioShack rider Sam Bewley, plus Wellington's Jack Bauer, who impressed with his second placing at the Tour of Southland. Bauer will undoubtedly be prominent while five-time winner Gordon McCauley will be hoping he can again benefit from his Subway Avanti team.
Team Bissell rider Jeremy Vennell is a noted climber as is Rock Racing professional and Olympian Glen Chadwick, while other favoured riders include Tour of Southland winner Heath Blackgrove, two-time winner Jeremy Yates and a track pursuit ace Peter Latham, another Team Bissell pro.
The major defection is former world track champion Greg Henderson, obligated to a training camp with Team Sky ahead of the Tour Down Under, while Francaise des Jeux professional Tim Gudsell is out with a back injury.
The under 23 honours will be fought out from a strong group including Beijing track medallists Jesse Sergent and Wes Gough, with a number of very talented young riders who may upset.
Local lady Jo Kiesanowski has been New Zealand's best road rider for several years, competing of late for Team TIBCO in the US after a successful stint in Europe. While she is chasing a spot on the track team for the Commonwealth Games, Kiesanowski makes a reasonably rare showing at the national road championships and is keen to succeed in her home town.
The other interest lies with Villumsen, fifth in the road race at Beijing and a former winner of the women's Tour de France. Like Dean she is far from peak form as she prepares for the European season for her Columbia HTC team.
"I am just doing longer aerobic stuff right now and lots of gym work. I am not in the best shape for this type of race right now but I will do my best."
Other hopefuls include defending champion Melissa Holt, Team TIBCO professional Rushlee Buchanan, Team HiTec pro Rachel Mercer, world championship track medallists Lauren Ellis and Kaytee Boyd and 2008-2009 national series champion Serena Sheridan.
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