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  Women's Tour of New Zealand Preview  
  The women's peloton returns to New Zealand after a three year absence to race the Women's Tour of New Zealand. With the European season just about to start all the big UCI teams have stayed away with just Tibco SBV and Pepper Palace from the United States here. Despite the lack of UCI teams there is still some first class competition including defending champion Evelyn Stevens, Rachel Neylan, Megan Guarnier, Linda Villumsen as well as 2014 Junior World Champions Alex Manly and Macey Stewart.

Past Winners

2012 - Evelyn Stevens
2011 - Judith Arndt
2010 - Shelley Evans
2009 - Amber Halliday
2008 - Kristin Armstrong
2007 - Judith Arndt
2006 - Sarah Ulmer
2005 - Catherine Sell

The Route

Stage 1 (TTT)

The pan flat opening stage team time trial might be relatively short at 15km but with only two UCI teams and a mixture of smaller domestic New Zealand teams and national teams it will provide a big shake up of the general classification on day one. Parts of it including the start and finish are fairly technical with about 13 changes of direction. There are a number of long stretches especially on the back of the course for the stronger teams to open up gaps.

Riders will use road bikes with time trial bikes forbidden, as are aero helmets, disk wheels and extension handlebars.

Teams to watch: United States, Tibco, Australia and High5 Dream Team.

Stage 2

An undulating opening 49 kilometres from Masterton to Martinborough includes the first sprint point of the race at 18km. Upon reaching Martinborough the peloton will face three laps of a 6.7km circuit around Martinborough. From here the road gradually climbs for around 30km before the only QoM point on the stage at the 87km mark. After a quick descent the undulating roads continue as they head back to the starting point of Masterton. Expect to see a sprint from a reasonable sized group.

Stage 3

The QoM comes early on the third stage of the race after just 12.2km. From here riders tackle nine laps of a 12 kilometre finishing circuit. The road starts climbing almost immediately before topping out just before two kilometres in to the lap. From here most of the remaining 10km are downhill or flat although the road has a gradual ramp with about three kilometres to go before a flat finish. The circuit on its own is not all that challenging but after several laps riders are likely to be in trouble. Expect to see the climbers attacking on the climb hoping to drop the faster finishers and avoid a big group sprint. The final kilometre is flat and should again see another sprint.

There are sprints on laps one, three and six and queen of the mountains points on laps one, four and seven

Stage 4

Stage four is the queen stage and is likely do decide the general classification. Just the one sprint point on the stage after 18 kilometres. The first 35 kilometres of the stage are relatively easy but from here the peloton especially the sprinters will have a hard day in the saddle. The first mountains points are on offer at the 38 kilometre mark. Over the top riders will get some respite before the first real test of the race. The second QoM point starts after 49.5km and tops out at 56.2km. The 6.7km climb has an average gradient of just under six percent. With almost exactly 50km to go at the top it is unlikely the race winning moving will be made here, though only the strong will remain at the front.

The next 20km are mostly flat, before a descent and a small rise just after the 80km mark that while short might test the legs of a few. It will be a fast run in towards the 10km to go mark as teams position themselves for the final climb.

At 10 kilometres it is the longest climb of the race. The average gradient is around five percent but that is distorted as around the half way point of the climb the road descends and then flattens before kicking up again to the finish. Given the small size of the field expect to see the race completely blown apart of the final climb.

Stage 5

While the general classification is likely to be settled the final stage is certainly not easy. Like the first two road stages it is up and down for almost every kilometre of the race. The road starts climbing almost from the start and is likely to test the legs after the difficult previous stage. The only sprint point on the stage comes after 32 kilometres. From here the flatter roads will be a welcome respite for many before two short but steep climbs in quick succession between the 40 and 50 kilometre marks. The undulation continues for the next 40 kilometres or so but then the final 30km of the stage are largely downhill setting things up for another likely sprint finish.

The Contenders

Start list available here

General Classification

United States National Team

Evelyn Stevens

The last time the race was held in 2012 Stevens took the win by one second over Shara Gillow. The opening stage TTT will quite possibly give Stevens an advantage. With no big UCI teams racing the strong US team of Stevens, Hall, Wiles, Guarnier and Dvorak is likely to gain time on a number of rivals. The undulating stages 2, 3 and 5 are likely to suit her. Stage four though is likely to be the decisive one with a 10km climb to the finish. A former podium and top 10 finisher at the Giro Rosa. It is the early season though and with a number of Australia's already with good form and a month of racing in their legs it will be interesting to see how Stevens is going

Megan Guarnier

Seventh at the Giro Rosa last year, where she was consistent on the climbs. Continuing at her own pace to remain in contention instead of trying to go with the moves. A big benefit for her is the opening TTT where the American team should go well. Expect to see Guarnier at the front on stage four on the summit finish. Guarnier and Stevens both ride for the Boels Dolmans squad so expect to see them work well together.

Keep an eye out for Tayler Wiles as well.

Australian National Team

Katrin Garfoot

Was the favourite to take out the time trial at the Australian Championships but a knee injury forced her to miss the Australian summer of cycling. Made her return at the Oceania Championships claiming gold in the time trial and bronze in the road race. The Australian National Team should perform will in the opening TTT with Garfoot, Mackey, Manly and Kitchen all strong against the clock. Stage four will be the test for Garfoot as she is still unknown on the longer climbs at international level

Rachel Neylan

The 2012 World Championship silver medallist has put her 2013 and 2014 injury impacted seasons behind her and is back to her best. Silver at the Australian Championships and a very impressive solo win at the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race. If Neylan is on the form she was in Australia in January will be challenging for the win. Was strong again at the Oceania Championships, but again not having a quick finish hurt her, finishing fourth. The Australian team has a strong squad for the TTT, Neylan though is the weakest of the team against the clock. If they have to slow the pace for her to remain with the team it could lose her important seconds.

Alex Manly

Just out of the junior ranks and without pressure on her Manly could prove to be a surprise packet and finish well in the general classification. Will be a key part of the TTT on the opening day and her quick finish is likely to see her in contention in the finishes on stages 2, 3 and 5. Stage four will again be the real test. Manly is on fantastic form finishing fifth in the time trial and eighth in the road race at the Oceania Championships. Just her second race as a professional but an indicator to how she can go at this level.

Ellen Skerritt

After finishing second overall in the Australian National Road Series in 2014, big things are expected. Constantly up the front in the elite road race at the Australian National Championships. High5 are likely to perform well in the opening TTT and that could give Skerritt a slight advantage. Came down with illness after the Cadel Evans Great Ocean where she finished eighth. Illness impacted her time trial at the Oceania Championships before Skerritt bounced back in the road race before a gearing issue cost her in the finish.

Holden Racing Team

Miranda Griffiths

Griffiths won a third consecutive Tour of Bright in December, after winning both hilly road stages. The long climb to the finish on stage 4 suits Griffiths and don't be surprised to see her go on the attack. Will likely need to regain time lost in the TTT. If Griffiths gets a gap could be hard to bring back as she attempts to time trial to the finish.

Linda Villumsen

Has finished inside the top 20 three times at the Giro Rosa and just outside the top 20 on three other occasions. On home roads expect to see a determined Villumsen. Finished seventh in 2012 but the race included an individual time trial then. The final climb on stage four will likely prove too difficult for Villumsen but expect to see her attack on the other road stages. If she gets a gap will be hard to bring back on the undulating roads.

Ruth Corsett

Overall winner of the Australian National Road Series in 2014, for the second time in her career. Corsett is a genuine all rounder strong on the climbs, against the clock and also packs a reasonably quick finish. Has spent time in Europe including finishing just outside the top 20 at the Giro Rosa. Expect to see her in contention in sprint finishes. Finished eighth at the Australian Championships and seventh at the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race.

Other names to watch: Jo Hogan and Lauren Stephens could both ride to strong overall finishes. Both are riding for Tibco as one of only two professional teams in the race. Strong climbers and in this field could both finish inside the top 10.

Update: Anna-Leeza Hull was a late withdrawal due to injury.


There is no big name sprinters in the field but three or the four road stages are more suited the stronger riders with a quick finish.

Emily Collins: The pocket rocket from New Zealand will no doubt be looking to get her season off to a strong start. Had a quiet year in 2014 after winning Omloop van het Hageland in 2013. A very strong finish so don't be surprised her to see her take a stage win

Alex Manly: Largely known as a climber and time trialist but Manly has been working on her speed on the track. Strong showings at the Australian Track Championships at the end of January in the points and scratch races. Made the front group at the Junior World Championships in 2013 and 2014 and has got considerably faster since then.

Lauren Kitchen: Former Australian criterium champion has had a strong start to 2014. Won the Oceania Championships road race on the weekend giving her an important confidence boost. Three stage podiums at the Bay Crits before bronze at the Australian Criterium Championships. Kitchen climbs very well so the undulating stages shouldn't trouble her. With Stewart, Manly and Garfoot the team can put a strong train together.

Courtney Lowe: New Zealand Champion in 2013, where she won in a bunch sprint. A quick finish especially from a more select group we are likely to see here. With few big opportunities to race in New Zealand expect to see Lowe motivated for a win on home roads.

Shannon Malseed: The name might not be overly familiar to many who don't follow the Australian National Road Series but Malseed did the under 23 criterium and road race double at the Australian Championships in January. A strong sprint and her result in the road race at Buninyong shows she can handle the climbs.

Ruth Corsett: While Corsett is a threat for the general classification she also has a strong finish. The undulating road stages will thin out the peloton increasing Corsett's chances.

Other names to watch: Jo Kiesanowski, Lauren Hall, Georgia Baker, Jess Mundy and Katrin Garfoot.
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