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Tour de France Champion For ChCh Cycling Festival

Tour de France Champion For ChCh Cycling Festival

A record field of almost 1500 cyclists will line up this weekend for Christchurch’s Armstrong Peugeot Festival of Cycling, among them a current Tour de France champion.

In just two years Christchurch’s Armstrong Peugeot Festival of Cycling has become one of New Zealand’s premier cycling events. The weekend long celebration of cycling features a mass participation ride around the spectacular Lyttleton Harbour bays and an exciting inner city criterium that includes the men’s and women’s national title races.

A star-studded field of Kiwi Olympians and national champions will line up for both races, but all eyes will be on the entry of Denmark’s Linda Villumsen, the current women’s Tour de France champion.

Villumsen is one of the brightest young stars on the international scene right now. This year the 21 year old broke through at the highest level when she won the Route de France Feminine, the women’s Tour de France. She is currently enjoying her off-season travelling and training in New Zealand and will start as favourite for both women’s races despite a line up of top Kiwis.

Villumsen should have no trouble with the 75k Harbour Ride, although she may have problems with top Kiwis such as Yvette Hill-Willis (Akld) and Marina Duvnjak (Akld). Hill-Willis is New Zealand’s fastest improving female cyclist in 2006. Despite only taking to the sport a year ago she claimed second in last months national road championships. Duvnjak is the reigning New Zealand criterium champion and was fourth at the recent national road championships, just ahead of Nelsonians Karen Fulton and Serina Sheridan, who are also racing in Christchurch this weekend.

Sunday’s Criterium field will give Villumsen even more of a challenge. A stand out field has assembled for the national title race, with Duvnjak keen to defend her title from last year. Others expected to shine on the tight multi-lap course include Commonwealth Games rep Tamara Boyd and former New Zealand road champion Annaliisa Farrell (ChCh), while Christchurch teenager Annelies Basten is tipped as a dark horse.

There are no dark horses amongst the men in Christchurch this weekend. In a field overloaded with Commonwealth Games medallists, world champions, national champions and New Zealand representatives, both races are wide open.

On form Timaru’s Hayden Roulston is the man to watch. Roulston, a silver medallist at the Melbourne Commonwealth Games, recently overcame a heart condition to win both the national road title and the Tour of Southland. But he faces fellow Commonwealth Games medallists Hayden Godfrey (ChCh) and Gordon McCauley (Akld), Athens Olympians Tim Gudsell (Te Awamutu), Robin Reid (Blen) and Heath Blackgrove (Waimate), European pro Fraser McMaster (ChCh) and rising stars such as national under-23 road champion Joseph Cooper (Wgtn) and national under-23 time trial champion Clinton Avery (Rotorua).

The presence of the New Zealand road squad and New Zealand track squad will also have an impact on proceedings, especially in the national criterium championship, which will suit in form pursuit specialists such as Darren Shea (ChCh) and Jason Allen (Blen).

With such a star-studded field racing on such a tough course, the Harbour Ride could come down to the final climb of the day over Evans Pass. Roulston starts as favourite for the Harbour Ride, but favourite for the national criterium title on Sunday is defending champion Hayden Godfrey. Godfrey is a criterium specialist and regular winner on the American pro scene. He could have a slight advantage too, in that he is supported by his domestic team Subway New Zealand.

Race director Simon Hollander is looking forward to the world-class racing up front this weekend, but points out that the Armstrong Peugeot Festival of Cycling is designed to bring together riders of all age and ability.

“Having so many class riders says a lot about the stature of the event after just two years,” says Hollander. “But for us it’s just as important that recreational and rookie cyclists are supporting the event the way they have.”

On Saturday almost 1500 riders from all ends of the country will take on the challenge of the Armstrong Peugeot Harbour Ride, which is almost double last year’s inaugural event.

Starting at 8:30am on Saturday the 75k race starts from McCormack’s Bay Reserve in Redcliffs and heads out around Cashmere, Halswell and Motukarara before climbing over Gebbies Pass to Lyttelton Harbour. The course then undulates along the northern bays and through Lyttelton itself, before climbing Evans Pass for a final stretch down through Sumner to finish back at McCormack’s Bay Reserve.

On Sunday the Armstrong Peugeot City Criterium brings a taste of European cycling to the inner city’s café strip. As well as the New Zealand Criterium Championship events there are open races, kids races, penny farthing races and a Celebrity Tandem charity race, with proceeds going to Cure Kids NZ. Racing starts from 11:00am.

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