STAN Siejka Launceston Cycling Classic defending champion Neil van der Ploeg has had the perfect warm-up for the 2015 event after outsprinting Shannon Johnson (Charter-Mason Giant) to clinch the Longford Kermesse on Saturday.
The Avanti Racing rider looked in ominous form ahead of Sunday’s criterium, winning a bunch sprint after a perfect lead-out from teammate Pat Shaw.
Team Sky’s Nathan Earle had led the race solo for much of the day, yet was caught with several laps to go and had to watch from the peloton as van der Ploeg stormed to victory.
‘‘It was absolutely flat out right from the starter’s gun,’’ van der Ploeg exclaimed afterwards.
‘‘A really nice technical course and just an awesome day of racing.’’
Van der Ploeg’s love affair with the Launceston Cycling Classic began in 2012, when he won the criterium on his first attempt.
A second-place finish followed in 2013, before he bettered the likes of Tour de France winner Chris Froome and Launceston hero Richie Porte to regain the crown last year.
In the women’s kermesse , Chloe McConville and Sarah Roy bettered High5 Dream Team’s Kendelle Hodges to earn a one-two finish for Orica-AIS.
A four-rider break enjoyed a large gap from the peloton throughout the race, before McConville launched solo to secure a commanding win.
‘‘I accelerated off the front early and the group split,’’ she said.
‘‘I was outnumbered with two High5 girls there, but I heard my coach Gene [Bates] yell that Sarah was coming across.
‘‘That gave us two great options: Sarah is a really good sprinter, so if it came down to a sprint it would be her and if I could get away then it was my chance. With about two laps ago I attacked and managed to stay away.’’
Earlier in the day, Allan Glover took out the A-grade masters race from Julian Paynter and Jason Rigg.
Marty Neu beat Jeremy Peters and Steven Earl for B-grade honours, while Tom Watt was the best placed C-grade finisher.
The Launceston Cycling Festival continues on Sunday with the Stan Siejka Launceston Cycling Classic around the streets bordering the City Park with riders tackling the course in a clockwise direction including a hill climb up Lawrence St.
Activities will be taking place from 11am, with the elite women’s criterium beginning at 3.25pm and the elite men rolling out at 4.45pm.
Winner Neil Van Der Ploeg and Patrick Shaw approach the finish line in the Longford Kermesse on Saturday. Picture: NEIL RICHARDSON
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