Before joining their teammates in Europe, Reuben Thompson and Laurence Pithie did everything they could to bring back the New Zealand championship title in their bags. Unfortunately, in Timaru, the winner of the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race had to settle for the bronze medal after a small group sprint. At the front of the race until the last three kilometres, Reuben Thompson made a great attempt from the breakaway, before having cramps and finishing the race in sixth place. As for Lewis Bower, he took third place among the U23s.

With the New Zealand Road race championship this Saturday, a month-long sequence was coming to an end, but it still was a real objective for Laurence Pithie and Reuben Thompson. In their quest for gold, they had 196 kilometers to cover on a hilly 24.5-kilometre circuit that had to be done eight times. The field, made up of around forty men, also mixed Elite and U23 riders, which meant Lewis Bower was also competing. An open scenario was obviously expected, and the attacks actually came from the start. Yet, it was only as the third lap began that a good group took the lead, with Laurence Pithie in it. It came back together a few minutes later, before a four-man move created a proper gap. It was then Reuben Thompson who hit the front with George Bennett, Ryan Christensen, and Josh Burnett. Their advantage quickly reached two minutes over a chasing group made up of just six riders, including Laurence Pithie. “We were in the mix from the start, following the moves and being in the right attacks,” said Laurence. “We played it very well. With Reuben up the road, I was able to have an easy run behind and profit from the others’ work”.

“I really thought I could win,” Reuben Thompson

After a fight of about forty kilometers, the first two groups still came together. The attacks started again right after, and at the top of the circuit’s main climb, Reuben Thompson once again managed to take the lead, along with Josh Burnett and Luke Mudgway this time. With two laps to go, meaning fifty kilometres from the finish, they had a gap of one minute, but it was reduced by half before the last lap. “I think I raced pretty perfectly today,” said Reuben. “I was never really behind and always in good situations where I didn’t need to ride too much or use my energy. Eventually I found myself in a final move of three, and I knew I was the strongest. I really wanted that breakaway to go to the line. I told the car to tell Laurence to sit on behind because I knew I could win from this group. Eventually, on the final climb with five kilometers, I went solo, and I really thought I could win. But after nearly 200 kilometers of racing, I felt empty, and I was starting to cramp. I got caught about a kilometre after the climb from Laurence’s group of five. The race was just three kilometers too long for me unfortunately.”

“I’m looking forward to the opening weekend,” Laurence Pithie

Reuben Thompson’s great aggressive race was not rewarded, and Laurence Pithie therefore had the last shot. “Unfortunately, Reuben was caught at the very end, I couldn’t make a breakaway and it came down to a sprint,” said Laurence. “I had to lead it out, and Aaron [Gate] and Corbin [Strong] both passed me. It’s a bit disappointing, especially to be so close and not be able to finish, but that’s racing and there will be more chances in the future.”I was really really close to winning, but we will be back next year,” also said Reuben, ultimately sixth on the day. “I really like this race. There is not the crazy stress you have in the WorldTour peloton and in Europe. It’s just open roads, you can race full gas, it’s good.” The Oceanian campaign therefore ended with another top result for Laurence Pithie, a double bronze medallist in his national championships. “It was a great Australian-New Zealand summer, I’m happy to be on the podium and to have had some nice racing,” he concluded. “Now I will focus on the races in Europe. I’m really looking forward to the opening weekend in Belgium. I have good legs and good shape, so it’s time to take it to Europe.”

Seventeenth overall this Saturday, Lewis Bower also inherited bronze as the third Hope rider in the race.

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