Hamish Bond and George Bennett Set for an Eye-Catching Contest

By Icon Sport

An intriguing race at the front of the pack could be one of the highlights of the first ever Abel Tasman Cycle Challenge, which gets underway in Nelson this coming Saturday.
Two-time Olympic rowing champion Hamish Bond, who raised the eyebrows of the elite cycling community in New Zealand with a stellar performance on the recent Tour of Southland, in what was effectively his elite cycling debut, will go head to head against LottoNL-Jumbo pro Kiwi rider George Bennett.
A leaner Bond than the version that rowed unbeaten with Eric Murray in the men's pair for eight years excelled in the recent Southland race, finishing eighth overall in a field of top level riders. Most impressive of all was a gutsy ride in the event's third stage from Mossburn to Coronet Peak where he powered away from the peloton and eventually finished third on the stage. Now around ten kilos lighter than his fighting weight for the pair, Bond has been riding anywhere between 500km and 750km per week to hone his body for a tilt at elite cycling.
Hamish Bond in full flight heading to the top of Coronet Peak in his amazing stage ride at the recent Tour of Southland.

“I definitely would like to be at the pointy end of the field on the Abel Tasman, but more than that it fits neatly into where my training programme is,” explained Bond. “The course looks challenging and interesting and ticks all the boxes for me.”
Bond will be hoping to benchmark his performance against that of Bennett, who not only has the experience of years of international racing and a 53rd place finish in this year’s Tour de France events under his belt, but as a Nelson local, plenty of knowledge and experience of the scenic roads being used on the 158km course at the Abel Tasman course. Bennett, too, is looking forward to something new on home roads.
“The Abel Tasman Cycle Challenge is a special event for me,” he said. “Firstly it's on my home roads, it's the hills I built myself on when I was coming through the ranks and where I prepare for each season now as a pro. I've always wanted to show them off to the rest of New Zealand and get those living in the region out riding on them. Cycling is growing hugely in New Zealand and an event like this will only speed that up. It also comes at a great time of year for me. I'm not in great shape yet but it's a really good way to get me ready for the season as nationals are only a month away and a hard day racing like this is not only super fun for me but a great tune up. That can't be replicated in training.” 
The inaugural race has attracted over 600 competitors, with late entries expected to push the total towards 650. But it is the appearance of both Bond and Bennett that is set to ignite national interest. The 158km course has been carefully chosen to provide the ultimate on-road cycling challenge, for everyone. With options from just 50km to the full 158km, there are routes to suit cyclists of all abilities and fitness levels.
Organiser John McIntyre is confident the event will make its mark and is delighted to have two of the sports current ‘hot properties’ lined up for the first edition.
“This event is a challenge and although it is electronically timed our core participant are recreational riders and people wanting to achieve their personal goals,” he said. “So to have the two highest profile cyclists in NZ here to have a crack at each other is a dream come true for our inaugural event. George jumped at the chance to become our event ambassador and as a local I’d love nothing more than to hand him the yellow jersey on Saturday. But Hamish is doing some incredible things already in his foray into cycling and with his climbing ability he will be very competitive. We are hoping for an enjoyable and safe event for everyone entered and look forward to seeing the fast riders, slow riders and everyone in between enjoying the stunning course and its world renowned scenery.”
Pro rider George Bennett will be on the roads and hills he ‘built himself on’ . (Credit CORVOS)
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