The Benchmark Series has become the next best thing behind Southland in terms of exposure for our NZ riders…go through the list of winners and see how many have become pro or thereabouts. This series started the teams racing in NZ and the level road cycling has grown massively. I think it’s awesome and hope it continues for years to come.
A few days before the first round in August I got a call up to from Master James Canny to see if I wanted to join the L&M Group Cycling Team, I agreed and this race was my 2nd race back after my 6 month retirement. In Nelson I got my beans! I was 19th and going backwards, I headed home knowing by the time Round 2 rolled around I would need to be firing.
I felt better coming into the second round, the goods were in the legs to pull of a much better ride. The course in Timaru suited me and with 30km to go the hammer went down and a group formed with Paul Odlin, Tom Hubbard, James Early and myself, the last 5km was pretty brutal and we just managed to hold off a fast chasing bunch. Tom Hubbard slipped away to win by 10secs from Early and myself in 3rd, a hard day and happy with a podium. After that race I had my eyes on an overall podium spot and with 2 rounds to go and my race form definitely more coming than going the team knew it could be done.
Round 3 in Cust, cold, wet and a day I’d rather be eating a warm steak and cheese pie but there was a race to do……don’t worry, the pie came later! An early break went with quite a few hitters which wasn’t the perfect start but our team captain Joe Chapman kept calm and said on the way home through the Gorge that the muck would go down and a small group will slip away with about 40km to go and sure enough it did. Joe launched me across part of the way and I finished it off to join a strong group that slowly picked off the riders that were dropped from the lead group. I got 2nd in our bunch sprint and got 9th on the line and gained a few valuable points on a few of the top overall contenders who missed the move. This result moved into 4th on the table and only 10 points off Tom Hubbard.
Round 4 had the making for a hard race and quite tactical. A group including Joe and Tom Francis got away heading into Cust not long after the start, there were no real overall contenders in there but I really wanted to be in there so kept near the action just incase another slipped away. Greg Taylor who joined us for the last 2 rounds was quite active going through Rangiora so I started sifting near the front for action to start, a few k’s later it was on! Myself along with Greg and one other rode off the front in chase of the lead groups, it was a mammoth effort but we got there just before Ashley Gorge. Greg couldn’t quite make it on but he did an awesome effort in helping me get across (good early brownie points with the team Greg!). When we joined there was another group up the road containing Paul Odlin, Jason Christie, Robin Reid and Chris Nicholson. Joe and Tom made sure we caught them and set me up to ride across to them up Summer Hill then from there it was all action till the top of German road where the same 4 slipped away with myself. We were away and fighting it out for the win but Odlin was too strong and took out the win solo and I rolled in 5th, happy and quite exhausted!
This weekend it was the final days work for the series, I got 2nd thanks to my brilliant L&M Group team mates. The first round of this series was our first ride together, after 4 Benchmark rounds and Southland we are starting to get a good sense of how each other operates as a rider and who’s capable of what. Some can get results and some are willing to put themselves on the line to help get a result. It can only get stronger!
Congrats to Sam on his series win, he’s a deserving winner and a rider with a lot of potential to go a long way in the sport. Thanks to everyone who helped out during the series, races don’t happen without the support from people who are willing to put up their own time to help our sport grow.
The last few months have flown by, no idea why anyone would want to ‘hang up their wheels’ when there’s so much out there to nudge at…. then again, maybe the break has proven to be a good thing. I’ll be planning an early get away from work on Friday to join the bumper to bumper convoy up to Taupo….hoping for a day like last year to burn out the last of the ice left in me from Southland. Big thanks to Tom’s parents for having us at their ‘caravan park’.
This will round off the first part of my season with a good break until the next set of races. December will be all about consolidating, focusing on some of the aspects of my race and enjoying the lead up to Christmas.
For those of you heading up to Taupo next weekend go hard and drive safe!