AMR Renault Racing will make its 2015 National Road Series debut in the FKG Tour of Toowoomba starting tomorrow.
After skipping the first two races on the NRS calendar in Perth and Adelaide, a full squad of seven riders has been assembled for the four-day five-stage tour. With several riders showing excellent early season form, led by kiwi Josh Aldridge and the rapidly-maturing Dylan Sunderland from nearby Inverell, expectations are high for 2015 – especially after the team surprised plenty in its first full season in the NRS in 2014.
“We’re going into Toowoomba with high expectations this year,” said AMR Renault Racing Team Director Russell Menzies. “We’ve been there before, we know the roads, and with a core of really strong and in-form riders I’d go as far as saying we’re looking for a top team position. We did it in Tasmania last year, so that’s not out of reach. Who knows? Maybe even a podium or two, certainly high finishing places on the stages.”
Looking towards this race and the following week’s Battle on the Border, Menzies sees the versatility within the 2015 squad as a major strength. “We have several genuine cards to play this season, which is a great position to be in. All the guys are stronger for the experience of 2014. Obviously we’re expecting guys like Josh and Dylan to be thereabouts, but even guys like Matt Slee and Tim Cameron. They can really make their presence felt and it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest to see them right in the thick of things. It’s also great to see a young guy like Toby Orchard step up to make his NRS debut, he’s been with us for a couple of seasons now and it’s time for him to show what he’s made of.”
Stage One of the FKG Tour of Toowoomba is an undulating 153km road race from Nobby to Highfields. It will be followed by a double stage day on Friday, with a 9km Individual Time Trial in the morning and a 162km road race in the afternoon before the Tour reaches its finale with another two stages over the weekend, including the now-traditional Sunday criterium around Queens Park.
Squad for FKG Tour of Toowoomba:
Joshua Aldridge, Dylan Sunderland, Matt Slee, Aaron Watts, Tim Cameron, Cameron Fraser, Toby Orchard (NRS debut).
Team Managers: Kris Johnston & Peter Sunderland
Team Director: Russell Menzies
Last week AMR Renault Racing’s resident kiwi, Josh Aldridge, competed in the 5-stage UCI 2.2 New Zealand Cycle Classic as part of a composite team. This is how he saw the race…
This year 16 teams of five from Australia and NZ formed a field of 80 riders. The tour opened with a 3.5km prologue with a couple of speed bumps and challenging corners. Not exactly my kind of stage but I put myself through a bit over 4.5 minutes of pain and came out in 50th place, 32 seconds down on stage winner Joe Cooper who put 12 seconds into his teammate Fraser Gough in 2nd. Morgan Smith from Subaru Albion finished 3rd.
Stage 1 was a lumpy 133km from Palmerston North to Ashhurst. After the first sprint a large break of 14 was established. At the time I wasn’t too cornered because Avanti’s Cooper and Gough in yellow and white jerseys were still present in peloton. When nobody chased I realised there were two riders from each of the four strongest teams missing from the peloton and the gap quickly blew out to 3 minutes. Data#3 started working and limited the damage in first half of the stage, but it was obvious they didn’t have the firepower to bring it back. Mid-way through the stage I started attacking with a few others and we eventually formed a strong chase bunch that were prepared to work (most of the time). We got within a minute of the front with 25km to race before our organisation broke down. Nine from original break stayed away and I finished the stage in 24th (back of chase bunch) to move up to 23rd on GC. Christie won stage and Barry of Budget Forklifts took yellow.
Stage 2 was 139km from Palmerston North to Fielding. I punctured 10km into the stage which ended my hopes of getting into the break. When I re-joined the peloton the break had gone and I found myself doing another headcount, one blue helmet missing (Cooper) one yellow helmet missing (Berry), along with Oram and a few others. Couldn’t work out why Budget Forklifts were riding on the front of the peloton as even though Barry had yellow, Berry was the best placed GC rider in break. Meanwhile some strange politics was going on up the road because a 6 minute gap disappeared in the space of 20km. We caught the break with about 50km to go on the hardest part of the stage and immediately Avanti attacked and the field split again. The end result was 4 Avanti driving the front group of just 10 riders and 4 Budget riders driving the chase group of 18 riders. I was in the chase group and we lost over 3 minutes. Avanti regained 1st and 2nd on GC and Gunman took yellow.
Stage 3 was 127km, including 5 laps of an 18km circuit before finishing with a 2.5km climb. After two hard stages I decided to have an easy day in the bunch and save my legs for the final climb and tomorrow’s queen stage. I thought it was a pretty safe strategy since the long straights on the circuit were head/tail wind and the short straights were cross winds. I expected Avanti to control the race with their strong position in the GC. I was wrong. Soon after the flag dropped 20+ riders were up the road. I left the chase to other teams and got lucky, the majority of the break came back. With just 3 riders up the road to contest the stage, the majority of the field came into the final climb together. I finished 17th on the stage. Oram won from the break, Gunman retained yellow and I moved to 14th on GC.
The fourth and final stage (on my birthday) was 164km. After 4 days of sunshine and 30 degree temperatures it rained all day. The roads were greasy and staying on the bike proved the biggest challenge of the day. Apart riders falling off their bikes, including the yellow jersey, the stage more or less followed the normal script with a non-threatening break being allowed to escape and brought back by Avanti by the final climb. The head wind on the final climb discouraged attacks until about 1km from the summit when Oram and Prete escaped. I was caught a bit out of position and had to get around a few riders having difficulties with traction on the descent. Near the bottom the chase stalled so I had a dig and tried to ride across the 10-15 seconds gap. I only made it about half way then soon found myself back in the chase bunch with 3km to go. Prete beat Oram for the stage win and I came 12th, also finishing up 12th on the final GC.
Overall I was relatively happy with the week of racing. Looking forward to the 2015 Oceania Championships in two weeks in Toowoomba, my first official race with AMR Renault Racing.