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Under-23 rider heads home elite cycling field

The under-23 Auckland rider James Fouche has headed home the field in the men's race at the national Road Cycling Championships in Napier.

Fouche, who has been re-signed with UCI continental Team Wiggins in UK, animated the race from the get-go, finally attacking on the infamous Napier Hill climb with two and a half laps of the city circuit remaining and from there he soloed to the overall honours in 4:01:02 for the 166km race.

He defended his men's under-23 crown that he won last year, and with it the New Zealand Cyclist Corps Memorial Trophy, after also claiming the under-23 time trial on Friday.

World Tour rider Tom Scully, who had been a key driver of the early break that proved so decisive, claimed the elite title, after the chasers fell three minutes behind the winner.

Fouche and Scully were key players in the break that went early on the first of two rural loops, with the 12-strong group working well to force the pivotal move of the race.

"It was a long day out there but I was impressed that the group were motivated and all committed to the break and took it to the rest," said Scully. "I told them to work hard for 10 minutes to establish the break and from there it worked well.

"James was very impressive and it shows good signs for the future. It was incredible when James went on the climb and put the sword in. It was too much for me. He is an impressive, strong young rider."

Once back into the nine laps of the inner-city course that included the climb of Napier Hill, the group gradually whittled down until two-time champion Joe Cooper attacked on the third-to-last time up the climb. Fouche countered Cooper's attack and opened a 28-second buffer by the time he reached the start-finish with two laps remaining. While Scully pushed hard initially to close the gap, the young Aucklander went into cruise mode to win comfortably.

"I am thankful that Team Wiggins has re-signed me and it is cool to be able to thank them by taking the national jersey back to race for them this year," said Fouche.

"I thought the key for me was to get an early break because I am not one of the best on the climbs. It worked out really well although I was sceptical to go with three laps left but I just went with it.

"I thought it would be a tester and I was surprised to open up the lead. I was not sure I could hold it. I've been doing quite a bit of training on the hills so I guess it paid off today and the race played into my hands."

Scully took out the elite honours a minute ahead of fellow World Tour rider and time trial winner Patrick Bevin (Team CCC) with his fellow Waikato teammate Hayden McCormick third in the sprint ahead of world-ranked top-50 professional George Bennett.

Fouche led the under-23 podium ahead of Otago's Kees Duyvesteyn, who finished second overall, and Manawatu's Joel Yates, riding for Team Skoda Fruzio.

Paul Wright won the King of the Mountain and Alex West the sprint jersey.

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