Christchurch cyclist Michael Vink is keen to use Sunday's opening round of the Calder Stewart Cycling Series as a tester of his form before he heads to Europe to race.
Vink, riding for the Bread of Europe team, is the series defending elite champion, winning the last round in Canterbury's Selwyn District in October to claim the title.
Under new ownership with a new naming rights sponsor – it was previously known as Benchmark Homes Elite Cycling Series – the opening round in Oxford north of Christchurch, features a number of strong domestic based elite riders, many of the country's top master's cyclists and the strongest women's field in recent years that includes the Cycling New Zealand Academy Under 19 team, the defending series champion team Benchmark Homes and two teams from the new Black Magic women's development squad.
Vink will have strong support from team mates that includes Max Beckett, Fraser Hewitt, Tom Hubbard and Ben Robertson and says he is keen to get a feel for where his form is before leaving to join his new Continental team Champion System in Belgium in mid March.
"It will be good to assess the form is on the right track," he said. "I've got lots of base miles in the legs which should provide a good platform to race well but I'm not at a hundred percent as I plan to peak twice while racing in Europe so it's a bit of an unknown how Sunday will go."
Vink says he's keen to help the Breads of Europe team, who are the elite series defending teams champion, start the series well in the opening 159 kilometre Calder Stewart Oxford Grand Prix, hoping to leave them on a high with a winning start, but was conscious there were a number of riders and teams more than capable of pushing for a winning start as well.
Others that could feature includes promising 18 year old Keagan Girdlestone who is riding for the NZ Road Youth Academy team after strong performances in the Australian National Road Series, Grayson Napier (Freshchoice Richmond Pomeroys Elite), the experienced Jason Allen, Sam Horgan – who will be backing up from racing the previous day in the North Island's REV Classic - and Daniel Barry (Mike Greer Homes Racing) and former winter and summer double Olympian, veteran Chris Nicholson (Freshchoice Richmond Pomeroys), who is eligible to ride in the masters field but still remains very competitive at the elite level.
There will be interest in how the two Black Magic women's teams perform. Lead by Maddi Campbell and Cassandra Harvey their roster includes a number of riders with national titles from the road and track.
The strong Benchmark Homes team is without defending series champion Sharlotte Lucas as she is recovering after crashing heavily in last week's Trust House women's tour of New Zealand, but still has a formidable look with Elyse Fraser, Jeanette Gerrie, Julia Grant and Hayley Mercer all capable of delivering a win.
After dominating New Zealand junior track cycling Christchurch 17 year old Olivia Podmore makes her series debut riding for the Benchmark team and if still in the mix after 120 kilometres of racing would be hard to beat in a sprint.
Other women expected to feature includes Karen Fulton (Freshchoice Richmond Pomeroys), who was third in last month's national elite road race, the experienced Jeannie Blakemore and Tracy Clark (Vidasana Thule) and the mother daughter Cycle World Fairweathers combination of Georgia and Michelle Gammie-Catterick.
The Masters line up provides not only the largest field across three age group classifications, but is also potentially the most competitive lead by a strong looking Placemakers team that performed well in last year's SBS Tour of Southland chasing the tour's sliver over 40s classification jersey.
Last year's 45 to 49 age group classification winner Lee Johnstone (Placemakers) has a well proven sprint and won this round in 2013 but will face stiff competition for overall line honours from within his own team, Brent Allnut and Scott McDonnell (Thule White), Justin Sims (Armitage Williams), Glenn Gould and Dave Rowlands (Christchurch Mitsubishi), last year's opening round winner Scott Wilder and his High 5 CFO teammate Darron Burns and Wayne Smythe and Brent Marryatt (Corsa Zona Rossa).
The masters and women's fields race over a distance of 120 kilometres.
photo credit; Rickoshay Photos. Michael Vink won the iconic 'hell of the South' last round in October to claim the overall series title.