The 22nd edition of Le Race will be a special event this Saturday after attracting a star-studded field in spite of multiple postponements in 2020 threatening the future of the cycling classic.
Around 800 riders will line up at Cathedral Square on Saturday morning for the challenging 100km ride over the steep Port Hills climbs to Akaroa.
“Like many businesses, it has been an extremely difficult year, but the incredible support from riders and sponsors kept us going,” says Miles Continental Le Race Director Sheree Stevens.
Two-time winner Michael Vink will be wearing the No.1 bib in the absence of defending champion Daniel Whitehouse who broke Vink’s course record in the last edition in 2019.
Vink has been in excellent form in recent months and has a proven track record over the 100km to Akaroa.
“Michael will be eyeing up his third title, but first he has to keep all these young guns behind him,” says Stevens.
Stevens is pointing at the large contingent of young riders who will be hot on the heels of the 29-year-old Cantabrian, eager to make a name for themselves in one of New Zealand’s most prestigious one-day races.
The race organisers are expecting the biggest threat to come from a trio of riders from the UCI Continental cycling team Global 6 Cycling.
Ollie Jones has been ranked No.2 for the race after displaying strong lead-in form and Le Race will be the perfect preparation for the 25-year-old who is planning to head to Europe in the coming weeks to break into the professional cycling ranks.
His younger team-mates Bailey O’Donnell (20) and Campbell Pithie (21) will also be heading over to Europe to try their luck in the junior pro ranks.
“And all of them would love to have the Le Race title on their resume when they arrive there,” says Stevens.
All riders will be keeping a close eye on the most high-profile name in the field, mountain bike superstar Anton Cooper.
The former Commonwealth Games champion and U23 World Champion has been trying his luck in road races and recently competed at the Elite national road championships in Cambridge.
“It’s wonderful to have such a great Canterbury athlete in the race, and we all know how good mountain-bikers are uphill and how fearless downhill, so Anton could cause an upset.”
In the women’s race, the Covid travel restrictions have prevented three-time winner Sharlotte Lucas from competing in the United States, so she will be taking out her frustrations on the Port Hills and her fellow competitors.
The scene is set for a fascinating battle between Lucas and defending champion Kate McIlroy who broke the race record in 2019.
“After that race, Kate vowed that would be her last time in Le Race, but obviously she wants to defend her crown,” says Stevens.
“Sharlotte has been in the top two on five occasions, so Le Race clearly suits her,” says Stevens.
The women’s race tends to create the few shock results, like Ella Harris upsetting McIlroy in 2018, and young guns Henrietta Christie and Annamarie Lipp are two young riders capable of upsetting the former champions.
Along with the elite riders, Le Race is also a favourite fixture on the cycling calendar for hundreds of weekend warriors who will be following the big guns at their own pace, in teams or individually, some in few fancy outfits and some riding Le Petit version to Little River.
For more information, please contact Le Race Media Manager Coen Lammers on 021 730 239.