For the first time, all seven of New Zealand’s World Tour professional cyclists will compete in the Calder Stewart Elite Road Championships in Christchurch next month.
The "big seven" confirmed for the championships on 11-13 January comprise Julian Dean (Rotorua, Green Edge), George Bennett (Nelson, RadioShack Nissan Trek), Jesse Sergent (Feilding, RadioShack Nissan Trek), Sam Bewley (Rotorua, Green Edge), Greg Henderson (Melbourne, Lotto-Belisol), Hayden Roulston (Christchurch, Radioshack Nissan Trek), Jack Bauer (Golden Bay, Garmin Sharp).
Event organiser Simon Hollander said the glamour entries are a must-see opportunity for cycling fans and the sporting public of Christchurch.
"This is a record year for New Zealand cycling with seven riders on the UCI Pro Tour, the biggest number we have had," Hollander said.
"They all have many obligations and commitments at the start of the year, so to have all of them on the start line is very exciting. It’s not happened before and I would hazard a guess that it will never happen again."
Hollander said that while this group will be in the early stages of preparing for the European summer season, the lure of the black jersey as national champion will ensure it is a very competitive race.
"All of the domestic riders, including a fantastic bunch of under-23 talent, will all be peaking for this while the pro riders are just in build-up phase, so they won’t have things their own way.
"At the same time it means so much to be able to wear your national champion’s colours in the big races in Europe that they will be going all-out for the win."
The super seven are led by Dean, who has had 14 years on the Tour with US Postal, CSC-Tiscali, Credit Agricole, Garmin and now Green Edge in an illustrious career including two stage wins on the Tour de France and the Giro d’Italia and a plethora of top-10 stage placings on the Tour de France with six alone in 2008. The Rotorua rider is a two-time winner of the national title in 2007 and 2008 when he carried the national colours in Europe.
"It was a big thing for me when I first won and was able to wear the national colours in those big tours," Dean said. "I think it worked both ways. I got recognition internationally and at the same time the black New Zealand jersey with the silver fern got fantastic exposure both live and on television to millions and millions of people watching things like the Tour de France, Giro and Vuelta.
"It definitely meant a lot to me and also for both cycling and the country. New Zealanders don’t really appreciate just how big cycling is in Europe especially."
Roulston is also a double winner of the national title in 2006 and 2011 while Bauer won the title in 2010 in a memorable sprint finish with Roulston and Dean.
Bauer, fresh from an excellent debut season with Garmin-Sharp on the World Tour and strong performances at the London Olympics, is looking forward to the challenge.
"I'm definitely looking forward to nationals in Cashmere again, I'd love the jersey back," Bauer said.
"But then again, it's hard with so many of the domestic boys blazing it up at that time of the year and it’s an early season goal for me."
He is in favour of the course changes announced this week with one less ascent of the Dyers Pass Hill resulting in a final 20km flat run for the finish.
"I think the removal of the final climb and a bit more flat will definitely be to my favour. It always hurts hitting that climb for the 11th time."
The championship week begins with the time trials from Lincoln College on Friday 11 January. The women’s elite road race over 120.5kms on Saturday 12 January will comprise eight laps with six climbs of Dyers Pass. This is a 1.5km climb of a gradient of eight per cent initially, easing to five per cent, before the right hand turn and sharp descent of Hackthorne Rd.
The elite and under-23 men’s race on Sunday 13 January comprises 12 laps in total for 183.7kms starting with the usual full lap on the flat before 10 circuits up the Dyers Pass climb. Following the climb for the final time, riders complete the 8kms of that lap and then add a further 12km final lap on the flat.