The Five Passes Tour is reaping the unintended benefits of international traffic restrictions, with several star riders lining up for 600km race across the South Island.
The four-day tour will include multi-sport superstar Braden Currie, former Olympic and Grand Tour rider Tim Gudsell along with several other top riders from around the country.
Race director Sheree Stevens says 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,” says 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 former Canterbury junior says that 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,” says Currie.
“Five Passes provides a great opportunity to race hard for four days and it will also be my first team race,” says Currie, who will be teaming up with 2019 Coast to Coast champion Dougal Allen and fellow multi-sporter, Cantabrian 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 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 Olympic 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.”