Newly Waipā-based race set to attract best field yet
Promoters are obliged to say things are bigger and better than ever before. Only, in the case of New Zealand Cycle Classic race director Jorge Sandoval, he has the track record to back the bold talk up. So when he says the 2019 edition of the five-day race, being staged in Waikato for the first time, is going to be a good one, you're obliged to take him at his word.
The five stages for the January 23-27 event have been confirmed, taking the race a long way from its roots in Wellington, Manawatu and Wairarapa.
"It will be the best field I've ever had. I've had a lot of good riders in the past here but, in terms of the number of international teams next year, it's going to be like nothing we've ever done before. I'm very confident I'm going to come up with a very good race, a very good field and it's going to be very exciting for everyone in Waikato," Sandoval said on Tuesday.
There's a few factors in his favour this time around. The date's definitely one, given it's a week before the Herald Sun Tour in Melbourne. That's helping Sandoval attract not just some decent European teams, but the best Australian outfits as well.
Among the other big improvements on past years is budget. That's the reason the race has headed north and it will all contribute to assembling a quality field. Young blokes, often from Australia, who go on to bigger things have tended to make up the bulk of the start list in previous teams. This time Sandoval said there should be a greater mixture of the promising and established.
"Every year we get some guy come here that no-one knows and he does really well and two years later he's riding the Tour de France. Hopefully that happens again, because we've had a lot of riders come here and then get famous. But I'm not so sure that will happen next year," said Sandoval.
"That's because we'll have more riders who've been riding for several years in a professional environment." His goal is to attract 14 or 15 teams from Europe, Asia, Oceania and America "and I think I'm about 90 per cent right now."
All up there will be 18 teams, who should start being announced within the next fortnight. They can expect some pretty up-and-down terrain when they arrive in Cambridge, where four of the five stages will start. The 143.8km fourth stage, which features two climbs up Maungakawa Hill, via French Pass and a flying visit to Hobbiton, might prove pivotal, with all five days able to be followed by live stream.
Sandoval's vision is to increase the race's status from UCI 2.2 to a 2.1, which is the same as the Herald Sun Tour, and would mean an even higher calibre of teams could be recruited. He's hopeful that a change of location, and funding, could make that more realistic.