International stars ready for start of South Island's premier cycle tour tomorrow

Riders will travel from Christchurch to Hanmer Springs then over Lewis Pass through to Greymouth...
Riders will travel from Christchurch to Hanmer Springs then over Lewis Pass through to Greymouth before returning back to Christchurch via Arthur’s Pass and Porter’s Pass. Photo: 5 Passes Tour
The Five Passes Tour is reaping the unintended benefits of the international Covid restrictions, with several star riders lining up for the 600km race across the South Island.

The four-day tour from November 20-23 will include multi-sport superstar Braden Currie, former Olympic and Grand Tour rider Tim Gudsell, along with several other top riders from around New Zealand.

They will travel from Christchurch to Hanmer Springs then over Lewis Pass through to Greymouth before returning back to Christchurch via Arthur’s Pass and Porter’s Pass.

Race director Sheree Stevens says most event organisers have been hit hard by the Covid 19 restrictions.

“So it is a bit ironic that the pandemic have now brought some of New Zealand’s greatest athletes to Five Passes, to give us the strongest line-up in the race’s history,” said Stevens, who earlier this year had to cancel Le Race Cycling Classic twice.

Three-time Coast to Coast winner Braden Currie was preparing to be in Hawaii last month as one of the top contenders for the Ironman World Championship, before the Kona race was pushed back a year.

The Wanaka-based athlete says racing has always been his main driver for training, so without any events the past year has been extremely challenging.

“Instead of racing, though, I have had the opportunity to work on that final one per cent to give me the best chance to win in Kona next year. And much of my focus has been on improving my performance on the bike,” said Currie.

“Five Passes provides a great opportunity to race hard for four days and it will also be my first team race."

Currie will be teaming up with 2019 Coast to Coast champion Dougal Allen and fellow multi-sporter Sam Manson.

Allen has become Currie’s training partner to give his former rival the best chance to win the Kona Ironman.

Allen is among the two-thirds of the field who will be competing in Five Passes for the first time, with nearly half of the riders travelling from the North Island.

Twenty riders from Auckland would have been on an overseas tour with Tim Gudsell, but instead are heading to the South Island.

Gudsell is arguably the biggest cycling name to compete in Five Passes, with two OIympic Games, two Giro D’Italias and one Vuelta under his belt.

The 36-year-old has retired from the international stage, but he will be one of the main riders to keep an eye on along with Tim Henshaw.

The field also includes prominent female multisport athletes Julia Spark, Karen Russo and Nicole Sproule.

The Five Passes Tour will start in Christchurch on Friday, and over four days winds its way across the Lewis Pass to the West Coast before returning over Arthur’s Pass on Monday.

The 96-strong field is divided into A, B, C and D grades, with wide-ranging fitness levels and ages from 27 to 70 years, supported by a large support crew of mechanics, medical and logistical staff.

The grades compete amongst themselves, but each day will also include open stages when social riders can test themselves against the stars for King of the Mountain and Green Jerseys.

Race director Stevens believes that Five Passes is the only event in the country where weekend warriors can ride alongside the big names.

“The race is also popular for the amazing support and service, but having some genuine super stars in the field will make this year’s event pretty special.”

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