The 10th anniversary K2 Cycle Classic at Coromandel on Saturday was meant to be the Jeremy Yates Show.
Hawke's Bay's former world junior champion was looking for his fifth straight win and with a reputation as the best climber in the country the K2 was generally accepted to be his race.
But as everybody in sport knows, shows can be spoilt.
New Plymouth's Michael Torckler was the spoiler on Saturday with his upset win in the 200km Classic that attracted 1200 riders from six countries. The 24-year-old waited for everyone to play their hand and then made his own move when Yates least expected it.
Starting in Thames, the race was animated right from the start with a dangerous bunch of Eliot Crowther of Tauranga, Jim McMurray of Tirau and Andi Bajc of Slovenia opening a big lead on the opening climb of the 14km long Kopu-Hikuai Hill. Favourites such as Yates, Torckler and last year's third and fourth place getters, Andy Hagan and Silas Cullen from Wellington, appeared happy to let the trio have their lead and by the time they reached the halfway mark at Whitianga their lead was out to five minutes.
The big danger in the breakaway was Bajc, who has represented Slovenia at the world championships and was a late entry into K2 just a few days out. But with almost 2000m of climbing, the 60km between Whitianga and just past Coromandel is the toughest section of the race, and as expected Yates and Torckler started cracking the whip. The trio were reeled in 30km later, on the long climb up Whangapoa Hill. On the last two climbs of the day over Manaia Hill and Kereta Hill, Yates and Torckler went to work, with only Crowther and Bajc able to tag on. Crowther was first to drop away, followed by misfortune for Yates when his chain slipped off on Kereta Hill. Torckler attacked instantly, opening a lead on both riders. Yates gave chase as they swept down on to the Firth of Thames coastline for the final 40k to the finish line, but Torckler was too motivated and too strong.
The 200km K2 might be the toughest road cycle event in the country, but for Torckler it paled in comparison to the past 10 months. In January the 24-year-old hurt his knee in a racing crash. It forced a few days off the bike but didn't seem too bad, until a few weeks later when a fall while mucking around in sand dunes split his weakened knee cap in half.
It was bad timing. Torckler had just signed a contract with Pure Black Racing, the new Kiwi pro team that went on to win several major titles on the American pro circuit this year. But at K2, Torckler announced his comeback to be complete.
He crossed the finish line in Thames in 5hrs12min08secs, almost three minutes clear of Yates. Behind them Bajc was impressive after a day of riding in the wind to outsprint Te Awamutu's Hayden McCormick and Wellingtonians Cullen and Hagan for third. The elite women's race over the 100km K1 event from Whitianga to Thames turned out to be a similar affair. The small but elite field of 16 riders was blown apart within the first 10km as Auckland's Teresa Adam stamped her authority on the race up Pumpkin Hill. Adam's aggressive riding split the race into four bunches, with a five-strong lead bunch of Courteney Lowe of Tauranga, Emma Crum of Auckland, Jeannie Kahujek of Nelson and recently crowned world duathlon champion Melanie Burke of Auckland leading Janine Copp of Wellington and national junior reps Ashleigh Neave of Napier and Georgia Williams of Auckland. This trio stayed close for the next 30km, until Whangapoa Hill, when Adam and Lowe went to war.
Adam proved strongest, opening up a 30-second lead as they crested the big climb. But she proved the most skilled downhill rider too, eventually reaching Coromandel Township with 90 seconds in hand. With 53km and two big hills yet to ride, however, the race was anything but over. Lowe showed tactical nous and waited to join forces with the chasers. But Adam was simply too strong, adding to her lead on the final 40km of flat riding along the coastline to Thames.
Adam stopped the clock in 2hrs52min56secs, winning 3min32secs ahead of Lowe, who also rode well to finish almost three minutes clear of Crum in third.