Australian ace adds international flavour to Le Race
The late addition of Australian elite cyclist Matilda Raynolds has added a wonderful bit of international spice to the 24th edition of Golden Homes Le Race on Saturday March 18.
The 35-year-old has been racing with Australian National Squad this summer but has been in New Zealand in recent weeks and did not want to miss the opportunity to add one of New Zealand’s most iconic races to her impressive honours list.
The arrival of Raynolds sets up a mouth-watering dual with three-time winner Sharlotte Lucas over the 100km ride between Christchurch and Akaroa.
Lucas had been considered the red-hot favourite and motivated to go one better after she was beaten by Kate McIlroy in 2021. The race was not competed in 2022 due to Covid restrictions, one of three postponements the race organisers and cyclists have had to deal with over the past three years.
McIlroy will not be back to defend her title after becoming a mother recently, but still holds the women’s course record after destroying the previous best time in 2019.
Raynolds is adamant she is not coming to Christchurch just to enjoy the amazing vistas on the Port Hills.
“I hope to be able to contest for the win, though I think my mate Kate McIlroy will keep the record for now,” said the Australian who has has been stalwart of the international women’s peloton in Australia and Europe for many years.
Last year, Raynolds nearly claimed the Australian national title after a long breakaway ride, only to be pipped close the line by the remainder of the peloton.
Le Race has a knack of throwing up big surprises with many young talents using the cycling classic to mark their arrival on the big stage, like young Ella Harris shocking favourite McIlroy in 2018.
Among the young talents, others to watch in the women’s race are Annamarie Lipp and Jojo Bauer, who finished third in 2021.
In the men’s race, the defending champion Michael Vink is currently riding overseas for UAE Team Emirates and will not be able to defend the title he won in 2021 in record time.
Vink’s absence will open the door for mountain-bike star Anton Cooper to claim his first Le Race title after he had to settle for second behind Vink last time out.
Cooper has shown his pedigree on the road and uphill, and will take some beating to keep him for claiming the 2023 title.
His main threat is expected to come from Kees Duyvesteyn, Coast-To-Coast winner Sam Mason and 2014 winner Keagan Girdlestone.
While the cyclists will be writing their own history on Saturday, the final rider crossing the line will also mark the end of an era for race director Derrick Nelson. The 70-year-old cycling stalwart has been part of Le Race for over 20 years, initially in traffic management and later as the race director. Nelson has been involved in cycling since the 1960s when he started racing in his native England, and has seen several generations of new Kiwi talents hit the Port Hills for the 100km cycling classic between Christchurch and Akaroa.
“We have seen some wonderful young talents in Le Race who have gone onto competing as professionals all over the world, while others come back to have another crack in the heyday of their career,” says Nelson.
At an age that most others would have put up their feet, Nelson says he is still really enjoys following riders in the race director’s vehicle. “It’s a lot of hard work, and it doesn’t matter if it’s for 10 riders or for a 1000. But I love the sport, so I have always enjoyed being part of it.”