High hopes for young southern riders

James Williamson
James Williamson
Alexandra rider James Williamson will lead a strong team at the national road championships in Timaru next week.

The 34-year-old’s cycling career has been on the backburner for several years.

He won the national road championship 12 years ago in Christchurch and is a former under-23 champion as well.

But this time around he will be working for some of the younger riders in the 10-strong MitoQ-New Zealand Cycling Project team.

"I haven’t stopped riding at any point but I’m definitely not doing it as much as I used to," Williamson said.

"But I’m still trying to keep my hand in."

He has gathered a group of talented cyclists together.

"It is pretty exciting. It will probably be our strongest lineup at the nationals," he said.

"And essentially it is like a home nationals for us, because we are mostly a South Island-based team.

"We’ve got a number of guys in the under-23 category like James Gardner and Marshall Erwood who are right up there."

Dunedin’s Gardner is in hot form. He won the New Zealand criterium in Manawatu last week and the 18-year-old is one to watch in the under-23 category.

The event has attracted more than 130 riders, led by a growing number from major UCI Pro teams.

Leading the way will be Groupama-FDJ professional Laurence Pithie, fresh from his historic victory in the Great Ocean Race in Australia, the first New Zealander to win a one-day WorldTour race.

The elite men’s field includes Pithie’s WorldTour team-mate, Reuben Thompson, along with a bunch of UCI Pro team riders who compete in most WorldTour races. They include the Israel Premier-Tech pair of 2021 champion George Bennett and the in-form Corbin Strong.

There will be considerable local support for Logan Currie, from the nearby Methven district, who won both the under-23 time trial and road race titles last year, and has signed for a powerhouse pro team, Belgian-based Lotto-Dstny.

Commonwealth Games road champion Aaron Gate (Burgos-BH) and former Black Spoke team-mate and three-time national champion James Fouche (Euskatel-Euskadi) will also ride in the event.

There are five female riders on major professional teams competing in Timaru, including Dunedin’s Ella Harris and Wānaka’s Mikayla Harvey.

Ella Wyllie, who has been signed by WorldTour team Liv AlUla Jayco, finished third in the young rider category and seventh on general classification in the recent Santos Tour Down Under.

The time trials will be held next Thursday in the Claremont rural district, 10km west of Timaru. The action moves to the road race on Friday.