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Alexander is a videoJournalist in the Palmerston North/Whanganui region for NZH Local Focus

Local Focus: World turns to Gravel & Tar in Manawatu

The Manawatū 'Gravel and Tar Classic' is New Zealand's newest international bike race.

But as the course runs through the stunning backcountry scenery of the Manawatū plains, don't be fooled as this is a race designed for the hardest professional cyclists.

The event has been awarded 1.2 level status by the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI). This makes it only one of six events across Oceania so come the 27th of January it will be pedal-to-the-metal as professional riders from around the world battle for points.

Gravel and Tar Race Director, Steve Stannard said one day races don't get much harder than this.

"I would say it's the Paris–Roubaix of the southern hemisphere, and people who know cycling know Paris-Roubaix is the biggest one day classic in cycling. It's in the Flanders Fields in the north of France, on WWII on battlefields.

"We don't have WWII battlefields here but what we have is some gravel roads up in the Pohangina Valley and it's pretty tough for bike riders," Stannard said.

The event is only in its third year but already it's shaping up to be one of the most brutal cycling events in Australasia.

"It's hard because it's 131 km, that's not the longest race but it's the hardest 131km you'll do because there's 41 km of gravel in that and the gravel isn't just straight gravel with little chip, there's gravel of various sizes and grades, steepness and windy.

"You might chuck in a bit of that wind, you might chuck in a bit of the good old New Zealand rain and a southerly front and what you've got is something for hard men. It's a hard man's race," Stannard said.

Meeting the costs of the UCI requirement was supported by a successful application to the Central Economic Development Agency's Major Events Fund.

CEDA's chief executive Linda Stewart says the event will put Manawatū on an international stage.

"Gravel and Tar will attract international and national professional cyclists to Manawatū along with recreational riders and all their supporters and spectators. This is a huge opportunity to showcase our region to these people who will get to experience the fantastic terrain and scenery Manawatū has to offer."

And Stannard has plans to make Gravel and Tar bigger still.

"In 5 years time I want this to be the biggest race in the Australasian cycling calendar. I want it to be the hardest race in the Austalasian cycling calendar, and I want it to be a race that every elite rider wants to come to and that every elite rider wants to win."

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- NZ Herald

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