Aaron Gate (Burgos-BH) has jumped from a winning performance in the Madison at the Track Nations Cup in Adelaide to victory on the road less than a week later, claiming the elite men’s title at Saturday’s 196km road race at New Zealand’s National Championships in Timaru.
The 33-year-old, who has twice claimed the elite time trial title but never before the road race title, beat Corbin Strong (Israel-Premier Tech) to the line with Laurence Pithie (Groupama-FDJ) coming third in the five way sprint of the lead group. Strong’s teammate George Bennett was next and Logan Currie (Lotto-Dstny) took fifth in a race where powerful moves came early and the bulk of the field were ruled out of contention in the opening laps.
“I did everything I could. I was aggressive from the start. I knew where was going to be guys biding their time, nervous with the distance,” said Gate who was also runner up at the time trial on Thursday. “You can’t let races like this get away from you and be over before it started.”
Marshall Erwood (MitoQ-NZ Cycling Project) claimed the under 23 title ahead of Lucas Murphy (Quality Foods Southland). The 19-year-old Lewis Bower (Equipe Continentale Groupama-FDJ ) grasped the final spot on the podium in the U23 category of the combined race, which played out over eight laps of a 24.4km course that started and finished in the port city of Timaru on the South Island of New Zealand.
The racing started in the sunshine for the peloton of around 60 which included a growing number of WorldTour riders. Still the field was missing last year’s winner James Oram, who has now retired, as well as the New Zealand-based ProTeam of Bolton Equities BlackSpoke that dominated the race and monopolised the podium in 2023.
That meant the expectation was always that it would be a much more open race this year on the largely rolling course with a short and sharp climb around 5km from the end to split the field. There was some trepidation at the start with rain expected during the race, which has in recent years had a history of wild winds and disruptive weather conditions, but conditions overall ended up being a little kinder through the 2024 event. The clouds did mass but it was the downpour of attacks that were left to shape the majority of the race, with the rain and blustery conditions only arriving in the final lap.
There were a barrage of moves and splits in the opening two laps, and then by five laps to go a solid lead four emerged – George Bennett (Israel-Premier Tech), Josh Burnett (MitoQ-NZ Cycling Project), Ryan Christensen (Rule 28) and Reuben Thompson (Groupama-FDJ). There was also a chase of six behind – Aaron Gate (Burgos-BH), Laurence Pithie (Groupama-FDJ), Corbin Strong (Israel-Premier Tech), Logan Currie (Lotto Dstny), Bailey O’Donnell (Oxford Edge) and Luke Mudgway (Li Ning Star) – and with the power now amassed at the front of the race it was pretty much game over for the rest of the elite field.
The under 23 battle, however, was still playing out behind as while Guy Yarrell (Oxford Edge) tried to chase down the leaders, in the end none of the riders in the younger age category made the front groups.
The gap between the two lead groups had narrowed considerably by the time the riders tackled the key climb for the third last time and it wasn’t long before they came together to form a group of ten. Then, however, the attacks kept flying and another split was on the way.
Thompson, Mudgway and Burnett clipped off the front and began stretching the gap, but by the bell lap Burnett had fallen back leaving it down to the two. The catch, however, was then made by a reduced chase group. After the final climb at around 5km to go, it was six riders at the front, with Thompson tailing off just a little before the line. That left it as a five way battle to the line, with Gate managing to hold off Strong and Pithie on the wet, rain-soaked run to the line.
The under 23 title was then decided when Erwood came over the line in 11th in what was a busted up field. Murphy was 30 seconds behind in 12th while Bower was 17th overall, claiming the bronze when he hit the line ahead of a cluster of U23 riders that came through in a group.
In the women’s U19 road race earlier in the day Kirsty Watts took off during the middle lap of the 73.5km, 3 lap, event and held out front till the line to add the road race title to her time trial one. It was then a three-way sprint to decide the remaining podium places with Elena Worall (MitoQ-NZ) claiming second and Finella Guttmann (Cycling Southland) third while Ava Maddison (Black Magic p/b Tineli) was fourth.