Cycling: Team USA have iron grip on Tour of NZ

The United States team enter today's penultimate stage of the Tour of New Zealand women's cycling race with an iron grip on the tour leader's jersey.

It is only a question of whether it will be Amber Neben or Shelley Evans who will untimately ride away with the tour title after tomorrow's final stage in Wellington.

Neben, the 2008 world time trial champion, took leadership of the tour from Evans after returning the fastest individual time trial in yesterday's fourth stage.

Neben recorded 17 minutes, 11 seconds for the 11km test, enough to overhaul Evans, who had held the yellow jersey for three stages, on the general classification.

Evans had the second fastest time at 24 seconds, but only had a 20-second lead overall over Neben.

Australian Institute of Sports rider Tiffany Cromwell was third in 17min 48sec.

Neben now leads the tour with a total time of eight hours, 41 minutes and 27 seconds, separated from Evans and Cromwell by less than half a minute.

The best of the New Zealanders was the national team's Linda Villumsen who is fifth overall, 50 seconds behind the leader. She clocked 18min 01sec for the time trial.

Neben, 35, said the number one goal was to see any member of her team win the tour.

"If it stays on my shoulders, obviously it's fun to win, but for us we pride ourselves on being a team so if we win, it's the USA who wins."

Today's fifth stage is over 112 kilometres from Palmerston North to Masterton via the Pahiatua track with a tough climb early in the stage.

Neben, who also won the women's Tour de France in 2008, said the profile of the stage did not favour an early breakaway..

"It's so far from the top of the climb to the finish that even if someone goes, even two or three, it's really a long way to the finish."

However, her team were strong and motivated and "obviously we want to keep the jersey".

Evans, a track specialist who has shown she has the all round skills to win road race stages, hilly or flat, was equally cagey about her chances personally.

"We are happy with the jersey in the team.

"It doesn't matter who has it, so we are not fighting each other for the jersey."

Having won the opening two stages and almost snatching a podium finish in yesterday's third stage with powerful sprinting in bunch finishes, Evans could well retake the leader's jersey after temporarily loaning it to Neben.

Tomorrow's final stage is an hour-long criterium in the streets of central Wellington.

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