PROFESSIONAL cyclist Jeremy Vennell lived up to his hot-favourite billing but it was a 17-year-old rising Gisborne star who snatched the spotlight at the fifth running of a “brutal” Gwaloop Cycle Challenge on Saturday.
Callum Gordon beat race recordholder Stephen Sheldrake in a four-man sprint for second — a scintillating finish to the 204-kilometre road race from Gisborne to Wairoa by way of Morere and back through Tiniroto.
“I had to beat the coach,” the Gisborne Boys’ High School student said, referring to 38-year-old Sheldrake, whom Gordon and his group caught not far from home after Vennell left them eating his dust on the first hill of the return leg from Wairoa.
Sheldrake had been caught in the dreaded “no-man’s land” giving chase after Vennell decided enough was enough.
The 31-year-old Vennell, who won the 2009 race, powered away and the only question left was whether he would beat the record of five hourss 45 minutes.
A head wind home and no one pushing him saw the Hastings man cruise across the line in 5:47:55.
An observer said he looked “as fresh as a daisy” but Vennell begged to differ.
“No, I was feeling it. I was hurting just as much as everyone else.”
One might beg to differ with that after seeing the fall-out from the sprint for second.
In what would have to be the most memorable racing moment in the event’s history, Gordon overcame breaking two spokes during the course of the race to take bragging rights over Sheldrake, with Craig Hoskin fourth overall.
You have to take several hats off to these guys and the fourth member of their group, rising multisport star Sam Clark (Whakatane), who was fifth.
To dig to the depths of your competitive soul after 204km and find that little bit left for a sprint is astonishing. Both Gordon and Sheldrake fell off their bikes and collapsed, spent, on the ground next to Campion College, and it was some time before they rose. Gordon was later seen biking home.
His race time was 5:53:39.12, Sheldrake clocked 5:53:39.41, Hoskin 5:53:39.63 and Clark 5:53:46.51.
Tauranga’s Judith May rewrote the record books to be first individual woman home. The medical director for Triathlon New Zealand, who filled the same role for Triathlon Australia for 10 years before returning to New Zealand, originally entered as a team with husband Stephen Blair.
Triathlon NZ assistant national coach Sheldrake convinced her only the night before to do the whole thing herself and she responded with the fastest women’s time in the race’s short history . . . 6:24:56, surpassing Candice Hammond’s 2010 time of 6:30:46.
A “pretty knackered” May, who won all three women’s primes as well, was rapt and gave plenty of credit to “a really nice” group of about 12 that she rode with.
Gisborne triathlete Carolyn Pentecost was second in 6:44:50 and ironwoman-in-training Nan Baker gutsed out a tough day in the saddle to place third in 6:55:39.
The battle for team honours was enthralling, with only 10 seconds separating the first four teams across the finish.
Line honours went to 55-year-old Barry Hyland and son-in-law Peter Rennie — husband of Olympic Games road race cyclist Michelle Hyland — in 6:18:32, from Steve Osborne and Sean McBreen 6:18:35, Steve Wolter and Deon Stolz 6:18:40 and the first mixed team of Trish McBreen and Terry Scott 6:18:42.
Vennell had high praise for the event.
“It’s brutal,” he said.
“You think you’ve finished climbing and then there’s another hill.”
Not to mention the relentless homeward head wind.
Vennell, whose wife Anita gave birth to their first child — Charlotte — two months ago, is heading back to the United States next month to rejoin his Bissell Pro Cycling team in California for the fourth year. Before that he had five years racing in Europe, based in Belgium, before he “got soft” and returned home.
He has been a professional for 10 years and said he would continue “until they stop paying me”.
Race director Terry Sheldrake paid Vennell $1200 and May $1300 at the prizegiving on Saturday night and both indicated they were keen to return.
Hopefully, Vennell will bring more Hawke’s Bay riders with him. Gisborne riders have supported Hawke’s Bay events but that has not been reciprocated at Gwaloop.
Vennell suggested that perhaps the race was a bit too tough for them.
A field of over 170 competed in Gwaloop and the subsidiary 26.4km mini-loop race won by Alicia Hoskin (first female) and Michael Webb (first male).
MORE ON THE RACE AND FULL RESULTS IN TOMORROW’S GISBORNE HERALD