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Women’s Tour of New Zealand

After all the sad news this winter about the cancellation of races and collapse of teams we should start to look a bit more positively towards the new season. So you think that women’s racing is dead? Well next weekend there are two races on the UCI calendar, about as far on the globe from each other as it is possible to get, and both have pretty healthy looking fields. And if you think that cycle racing starts and ends on the cobbles, then maybe you just need to have a closer look at the Women’s Tour of New Zealand which gets going this Wednesday, 24th February and has five stages over four days around the towns of Palmerston North and Masterton before heading to Wellington for a criterium finish.

If you want to know something about Palmerston North then don’t ask John Cleese who said of the place back in 2005 "if you wish to kill yourself but lack the courage to, I think a visit to Palmerston North will do the trick." I don’t remember seeing him papped falling out of bars in the arms of assorted mini-skirted blondes, so maybe that’s code for "bring your own Horlicks" Palmerston North was actually named after the 19th century English politician Lord Palmerston who gave the world both liberal intervention and gunboat diplomacy, so he would probably be delighted that something bearing his name is still managing to piss off liberals and limey pinkoes.

This race is the final flourish of the southern hemisphere season. Australia has a fairly healthy winter circuit of its own but that wound up a couple of weeks ago. Some Australian riders on their way to Europe have flown across to NZ ride in those winter colours, some are riding in the colours that they will be wearing for the rest of the season, there are a couple of Japanese teams and one Chinese, some National squads, and on top of that the organisers say "Any rider who enter on her own, would be place on a composite team." Others can’t claim to be stopping off on the way to somewhere else but instead have to make the long deliberate journey, for example Nathalie Lamborelle, Luxembourg champion on the Norwegian Hitec Products UCK team, "Nach 40 Stunden Autofahren, auf dem Flughafen warten, etlichen Sicherheitskontrollen und im Flugzeug hocken mit Zwischenstationen Brüssel, London, Singapore, Melbourne, bin ich nun endlich am anderen Ende der Welt angekommen: in Neuseeland." That’s 40 hours, five flights and six airports. Amber Neben’s 13 hrs beside a chemical toilet sounds relatively easy.

The course isn’t flat but neither is it vicious, mostly gently rolling countryside apart from a couple of notorious climbs. Stiill, at race speed gently rolling soon turns into endlessly painful. Stage one from Martinborough to Masterton crosses Te Wharau which is probably the steepest climb of the week (the profile looks as if it may be up to 10% - does anyone know any better), but that is followed by 30km of flat which will work against any true climbers who get away. Stage two looks to be far more decisive as they head towards Palmerston North via the Pahiatua Track and over Admiral Hill Road. Admiral Hill Road is where last year’s race was decided when the completely unknown Amber Halliday sneaked off to victory despite only having got out of her eight and onto a bike five months previously. If the winds blow then this will be a really nasty stage, if they don’t then there are still lots of places where it will hurt. Stage three puzzles me. It is described as a circuit, but the profile doesn’t look particularly repeptitive. Does New Zealand really have blocks that are 50km long? Probably a day for the sprinters, although they may want to keep something in their legs for the afternoon’s time trial. Stage 5 tackles Admiral Hill Road again, but is followed by 100km of flat so should be another bunch sprint unless the winds have something to say. The whole show then moves to Wellington where a 1 hr crit on Sunday afternoon forms the highlight of a family day out on the bike. You can see maps and profiles on the official site, and a report with lots of photos from a team car at last year’s version here.

Eighteen teams are entered of which I reckon six are genuinely competitive. Having said that, last year’s race was won by an unknown rider on a minor team so there is plenty of room for egg on face if you start making predictions. So on with my best egg-proof mask and here goes. The NZ National squad looks very good. Their strongest rider is probably Linda Villumsen, on secondment from HCT-Columbia and technically still the Danish champion even though she changed nationality a few months back, but race numbers suggest that they are riding for Joanne Kiesanowski. Catherine Cheatley is a pretty reasonable sprinter if it comes to that, and Rushlee Buchanan is the new national champ. The Aussies have an equally strong national squad riding for Kirsty Broun, with Shara Gillow anf Tiff Cromwell ready to provide good support or alternative plans of attack as required, and Carly Light has had a great winter season. And if that weren’t enough they have what looks like a reserve team in Nashua Ladies Pro Cycling Team led by Ruth Corset, team leader at last year’s Worlds and supported by Amber Halliday. And while Lotto may not technically be a third Australian team they certainly look that way with sprinter Rochelle Gilmore, the tough Vicky Whitelaw and yet another young hopeful in Josie Tomic (and fans of the behind-the-scenes blog Greasemonkey who may have been growing concerned over the fate of Benny after he just popped out for a spanner last March should note his reappearance here as team manager). The US, out for the first time under new manager Manel Lacambra have a great front-line attack with GT woman Amber Neben and sprinter Shelley Evans (Olds as was). Elsewhere Lisa Rachetto, the Ron Jeremy of women’s bike racing sneaks in as an Australian on R.A.C.E. Team.

I don’t know what sort of press coverage there’ll be, but if anyone out there stumbles across this piece as an alternative to killing themselves one evening and knows of anything then many many thanks in advance for adding something in the comments, otherwise Peta Mullens MulloLive twitter feed is a good place to start. The full start list (taken from the organisers) is thus:

NZCT New Zealand National Team
Manager        Andy Reid
Soigneur        Justin Ralph
Mechanic       Olli Brooke-White
1          Joanne Kiesanowski       New Zealand
2          Kaytee Boyd                  New Zealand  
3          Rushlee Buchanan         New Zealand          
4          Courteney Lowe             New Zealand        
5          Linda Villumsen              New Zealand  
6          Catherine Cheatley         New Zealand
Giant Pro Cycling Team – China
Team Manager; Chan Shu Kiu
7          Lang Meng                    China    
8          Ming Gao                      China                
9          Liu Xin                           China                
10         Gu Hui Li                      China                
11         Ling Luo Xiao                China    
12         Wong Wan Yiu             China
Ready Go Japan
Team Manager: Sudoh Mutsumi
13         Hory Yukiyo                   Japan
14         Takeda Waka                Japan
15         Sato Sakico                  Japan
16         Yoneda Whitson            Japan
Japan National Team
Team Manager; Takahashi Matsuyoshi
19         Mayuko Hagiwara           Japan    
20         Ayako Toyooka              Japan    
21         Nishi Kanako                 Japan                
22         Morita Masami               Japan    
23         Katayama Rie                Japan
24         Uwano Minami               Japan                
Australia NTID Team
Team Manager: Benjamin Cook
25         Alexandre Carle              Australia
26         Sarah Roy                     Australia           
27         Bronwyn Ryan               Australia           
28         Laura Luxford                 Australia           
29         Rebecca Halliday           Australia
30         Elizabeth Jacobs           Australia           
AIS Australia Women’s Cycling
Team Manager: Dave McPartland
31         Kirsty Broun                  Australia
32         Shara Gillow                  Australia
33         Lauren Kitchen              Australia
34         Amanda Spratt              Australia
35         Carly Light                     Australia
36         Tiffany Cromwell Australia
Hitec Products UCK
Manager: Thijs Rondhuis
37         Sara Mustonen              Norway
38         Tone Hatteland              Norway
39         Nathalie Lamborelle       Norway
40         Kristine Saastad            Norway
USA National Team
Team Manager; Manel Lacambra
Mechanic Rob Love
Swanee Nadia Zuccherelli:
43         Andrea Dvorrak              USA
44         Amber Neben                USA
45         Janel Holcomb               USA
46         Jessica Phillips              USA     
47         Shelley Evens                USA
48         Alison Starnes               USA
Prime State Team - Australia
Team Manager: John Dean
49         Nicole Whitburn             Australia           
50         Rebecca Locke             Australia           
51         Carma Watson              Australia
52         Irene Digenis                 Australia           
Lotto Ladies Team
Team Manager; Benny Devcich
55         Rochelle Gilmore            Australia           
56         Nimesha Smith              New Zealand
57         Ashleigh Moolman         South Africa      
58         Josephine Tomic            Australia           
59         Vicki     Whitelaw           Australia
R.A.C.E. Team - Australia
Team Manager: Kim Howard
61         Kendelle Hodges            Australia
62         Liza Rachetto                Australia
63         Rebecca Domange        Australia
64         Emma Lawson              Australia
65         Chole McConville           Australia
66         Felicity Wilson              Australia
Cyclosport Team
Team Manager; Eddie Bright
67         Serena Sheridan            New Zealand
68         Emma Crum                  New Zealand
69         Tracy Best                    New Zealand
70         Jessica Jolly                  New Zealand
71         Emily Collins                 New Zealand
72         Jeanne Kuhajek             New Zealand
Litespeed Team
Team Manager; Dean Fulton
73         Karen Fulton                  New Zealand
74         Lana King                      New Zealand
75         Emma Peterson             New Zealand
76         Toni Bradshaw               New Zealand
77         Josie Giddens                New Zealand
78         Yvette Hill-Willis             New Zealand
Mercedes Benz Team
Team Manager: Stephen Elden
79         Laura Medley                Australia
80         Nikolina Orlic                Australia
81         Anna Kauffmann            Australia
82         Janine Copp                  New Zealand
Handy Rentals Team
Team Manager;
85         Naila Hassan                New Zealand      
86         Rachel Mercer              New Zealand
87         Gayle Brownlee             New Zealand
88         Sia Svendsen                New Zealand
Penny Cycling team
Team Manager;
91         Tracy Clarck                 New Zealand
92         Chubby Hale                 New Zealand
93         Melanie Burke               New Zealand
94         Anna Stevenson            New Zealand
BP Team
Team Manager;
97         Kate Chilcott                 New Zealand
98         Eyelien Bekkering          Netherlands
99         Kerry-Anne Torckler       New Zealand
100       Genevieve Whitson         New Zealand
Nashua Ladies Pro Cycling Team - Australia
Team Manager: Marcel Bengtson
Mello Boumeester
Martin Millwood
103       Amber Halliday              Australia
104       Ruth Corset                   Australia
105       Jessie Maclean             Australia
106       Cherise Taylor               South Africa
107       Charlotte Van de Merve  South Africa
108       Davina Summers            Australia