Overnight Chris Lawless won the opening 124km stage of the New Zealand Cycle Classic, the victory makes him the first British rider to win a UCI race this season.
20 year-old Lawless, a new signing for JLT Condor, sprinted into the finish town of Masterton, closely followed by team mate Alex Frame, making the stage victory all the sweeter with a podium 1-2 for the team.
The UCI 2.2 stage race taking place in Wairarapa over five days is the country’s premier cycle race. The opening stage featured an undulating course profile and heavy cross winds. A four man breakaway wrangled free of the peloton after 50km of racing and built up a six minute lead that looked enough to see them succeed to the finish as cross winds took their toll on the bunch. In the closing two kilometres, after much pace-making from JLT Condor, New Zealand National Squad and One Pro Cycling, the lone leaders were caught and the team began to set up Chris Lawless for the sprint into the finish.
Speaking in post race interviews, Lawless was naturally thrilled to take the win and explained the result was down to teamwork.
“Our team were all brilliant today and we were lucky that we didn’t panic when the wind switched. George [Atkins] did a hell of a ride in the cross wind and took us back up to the front group.” He added, “If we carry on like that we’ll have a good tour.”
The Race Ahead
The win puts Lawless in the yellow leader’s jersey and the Ricoh U23 rider’s jersey. He spoke about his expectations for stage 2. “I am hoping it will be windy again tomorrow because I seem to ride well in it. It makes a lot of riders stressed but I enjoy it. Sometimes it is mentally tiring but you’ve got to stay switched on, especially as we don’t know the roads. There could be a howling cross wind around the next bend and it splits the race.”
Team Manager, John Herety, was equally pleased with the riders’ performance. “Our lead out was executed to perfection and all the guys worked very hard in the wind to close the gap. George Atkins was very strong as were both Steve Lampier and 18 year old Stevie Williams. I’m delighted that we were able to reap the rewards of everyone’s hard work with a stage win and second place.“
Stage 2 of the New Zealand Cycle Classic continues tomorrow and features a 136.4km route from Masterton to the wine village of Martinborough, including 8 laps through the town square. Riders are expected to finish at an estimated time of 1.30pm (12.30am GMT).
Stage Result and General Classification
1 LAWLESS, Christopher (U23) JLT Condor p/b Mavic 2:54:05
2 FRAME, Alex JLT Condor p/b Mavic same time
3 KERRISON, Jesse (U23) same time
4 SMITH, Dion One Pro Cycling same time
5 EVANS, Brad Team New Zealand same time