2015 National Road Relay Men's Preview
The 2015 National Road Relay is only days away and with initial entries in, and rumours of lap selections and unexpected injuries filtering out, it is shaping up to be another exciting event for the runners and spectators alike.
The traditional and much feared 76km course from the Sign of the Takahe on Christchurch’s Port Hills to Akaroa’s Recreation Ground will test the quality and depth of New Zealand’s best running clubs.
In 2014 the podium order of several grades was decided by less than three minutes and with changes of allegiance, changes of grade and changes in form we are looking at some close battles for titles and medals again this year.
Wesley will start the 2015 relay as clear favourites with the return of National XC and Road Champion Malcolm Hicks and the off-season recruiting of 2015 Rotorua Marathon winner Sam Dobson from North Harbour Bays. The formidable line-up for the Auckland club includes sub-30 minute 10km guy Luke Hurring and former National XC Champ Alex Parlane who has had a return to form throughout the Winter season. Throw in Peter Meffan from Otago who competed for New Zealand at the World Mountain Running Champs in 2014 along with Tony Payne who ran a 2:24 Marathon in Rotterdam earlier this year and they look well suited to the challenging course. With former triathlon international Liam Scopes and A-Team regular Will Harris there is almost no weak link to this team. We should see Malcolm Hicks on the long 11km leg with Meffan running the specialist uphill lap, however, depth and versatility leave the remaining lap selections hard to pick.
Wellington Scottish are coming off a third placing in 2014 although appear to have built on a strong local team that almost caught a tough New Brighton Olympic team on the final leg to Akaroa last year. The return to the Scottish team of Melbourne-based Ben Ashkettle, who was unavailable in 2014, will add considerable depth to a club which has placed two teams in the Top-7 at the National Road Relay for each of the past seven years. This weekend we also see the return of Dougal Thorburn after a Mountain Biking accident saw him ruled out last year and recent World Mountains representative Tim Hodge is also back after missing the 2014 relay. The arrival of Japanese athlete Hiro Tanimoto to Wellington, Evan Cooper’s return from recurring injuries last year and the surprising find of the Winter in John Earles, Scottish may lack some firepower but no doubt with the right lap selections could be pushing Wesley to the line. Stephen Day will look to prove his up-hill abilities on Lap 6 while recent training form should see multiple New Zealand Champion Hamish Carson take on Lap 5 with the big boys.
Auckland City Athletics made the surprising jump from 12th in 2013 to the top of the podium last year but may struggle a little on the road to Akaroa in 2015 with the loss of their Lap 5 gun, Matthew Mildenhall and up-hill dynamo Andrew Davidson. They may be relying on Josh Maisey and Ben Moynihan, who both appear to be a little short of their 2014 form, to step it up on the day. Matt Baxter has been a star on the Auckland scene this Winter and a move from the short Lap 3 in 2014 to a tougher, longer lap could see him make up some of the short-fall. Again, depth is the key here for ACA to stay in the medals with veteran Simon Yarrow and World Mountains Representative Mike Banks playing a key role. Jono Jackson will be the anchor of the ACA team this weekend although we may not see him on the long lap as one would expect due to recent team injuries and tactics that may see ACA stack the early laps in an attempt to stay in contact as long as possible.
New Brighton Olympic are tough to rule out, but will definitely struggle to keep one of the Senior Men’s medals in Christchurch with the absence of Callan Moody, Daniel Balchin and Matt Lambert who all had very strong runs in 2014. The return of 2013 gold-medal winning anchor Oska Baynes along with a resurgent Hayden Mclaren gives the 2013 champions some much needed front runners. NBO regulars Dave Ridley, Kerry Faass and Mark Bailey will provide some much needed depth and experience on the tough winding course to Akaroa. Hayden McLaren should line up with a bunch of other leading runners on Lap 5 in the long, straight, haul alongside Lake Forsyth with Nick Rennie likely to take on the up-hill Lap 6 again. Will we see some last lap heroics from Baynes in 2015 or will he be used early to keep in contact with the big-three teams?
Pakuranga are coming off a battle for fourth in 2014 with Wesley but have lost rather than gained talent over the past 12 months. Jonny Mckee has been in superb form this winter but without the help of former club members Dale Warrender and Alex Parlane they are probably two or three top guys away from a medal. Ryan Sissons is on holiday following the conclusion of the ITU season and the fortunes of Pakuranga will fall to newcomers Steven Langdon, Peter Wheeler, and Paul Crowhurst alongside triathletes Cooper Rand and Jay Wallwork. McKee will match-up on Lap 5, but likely to have a lot of work to do to get them back in the mix.
Takapuna, Wellington Harriers and the Wellington Scottish B Team round out the Men’s A Grade for 2015. The lack of fire-power will see these three relying on tactical lap selections to push the leading five teams, however the talented Brendon Blacklaws has some support from 2014 A Teamers Chris McIlroy and Sam McCutcheon in the Scottish B Team that could see them challenging any team who doesn’t fire on the day.
1. Wesley 4:08
2. Scottish 4:09
3. ACA 4:12
4. NBO 4:19
5. Pak 4:24
6. Scottish ‘B’ 4:25
7. WHAC 4:35
8. Taka 4:35
Nice work Rees. Can we look forward to a women’s race preview too?
I’m not convinced lap 5 is the ‘long lap’ anymore. It’s only 300 metres longer than lap 2 and without the 200m of ascent in it.
Senior Women’s preview will be posted this evening followed by previews for Junior Men and Women.
Will be interesting to see if any teams agree with your assessment of lap 5 and we see Lap 2 become the ‘big boys’ lap.
Interestingly, last year ACA ran Jackson on 2, New Brighton ran Moody on 2 and Scottish ran Goldsmid on 8. Those are the three who were probably the big names in the top three teams.
Earlier this year Jono Jackson described lap 5 to me as the ‘marathoner’s lap’. I think that’s a good description. It suits someone who can metronomically knock off a large number of kilometres at a consistent pace with the likelihood of no pack around to pull them through. Within Scottish I always think of lap five being ideally suited to someone like Dave Parsons or Nick Horspool.
By comparison lap 2 is much more of a surging race. All teams are still close together, it has got two hills to deal with, and many weaker teams tend to stack their first two laps with their fastest runners.
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