Kicking things off is the Manawatū Cycling Spree (22-25 January) on Wellington Anniversary weekend, featuring the world-class Gravel & Tar Classic and La Femme races, plus a series of other exciting events to follow throughout the year.
“We’re proud of our history and our work alongside the people of Palmerston North including Rangitāne as we’ve grown over the years. We are excited about the way the city has changed and we invite New Zealanders to come and take a fresh look at what modern Palmy is all about. We’re looking forward to surprising a few people, defying some expectations and winning plenty of new admirers this year,” Palmerston North Mayor Grant Smith says.
Alongside the UCI-accredited Gravel & Tar Classic, which is a 164km elite men’s cycling race that would typically attract a strong international field of competitors, the Manawatū Cycling Spree will also include wider participation opportunities for cycling enthusiasts, including a Retro Ride for vintage bikes and an e-bike edition of the 46km Slicks & Stones as an amateur event. Gravel and Tar has been able to retain its UCI status for 2021, despite the effects of Covid-19 and the participants being local riders only.
The women’s La Femme race is UCI’s first women’s road race for 2021. This means winners of this race will be world champions until the next accredited UCI race. It will be one of the hardest women’s races on the UCI road cycling calendar.
World Tour cycling star George Bennett has confirmed he will race for the New Zealand team at Gravel & Tar Classic. Bennett, New Zealand’s highest ranked rider at 26 in the world, will lead a young Vantage New Zealand team for the one-day race on 23 January that includes five gravel sections in the 164km road race.
“I will do the Gravel & Tar with the national team which will be cool “ said Bennett in an interview with TVNZ. “I always love to race in New Zealand. Normally that is just the nationals. It reminds me of how it was before it all got too serious on the World Tour. That is the real passion for me doing it.”
Meanwhile 2020 women’s World Tour rider Sharlotte Lucas (West Coast) and Vantage National Criterium Champion Olivia Ray (Auckland) will lead the Vantage New Zealand women’s team for the Gravel & Tar La Femme in the Manawatū.
They will be joined by Auckland-based Alicia Evans, Taranaki’s Lee Boon and Northland’s Jorja Swain for the women’s race over 120km with four gravel sections. Mayor Smith says the event’s homage to both old and new makes it an ideal start to Palmy’s anniversary year.
“For many Kiwis Palmerston North might not immediately come to mind as a pre-eminent cycling destination, but here we are hosting a major international cycling race and associated events. We also have a 50km network of mountain bike trails on our doorstep at Arapuke Forest Park that many Kiwis are yet to discover.”
From its food bowl and farming origins, Palmerston North has grown into a modern regional city with a diverse economy that helped it withstand the toughest months of 2020 and saw the region leapfrog to the top of the ASB regional economic scoreboard. Palmy’s cluster of food science and agritech research institutions makes it an innovation and commercial powerhouse, and as home to knowledge-intensive professional industries, the city boasts the highest concentration of PhDs in the country.
At a natural crossroads for the North Island, it is already a strategic distribution centre for a range of New Zealand companies, and is set to become even more important as the planned new logistics hub develops around the relocated KiwiRail freight hub and adjacent commercial development.
With a youthful population and thriving arts and culture scene, Palmerston North is also revitalising its civic and public spaces. The multi-award-winning He Ara Kotahi shared pathway is the showpiece of the city’s recent reinvigoration of the Manawatū River network.
Mayor Smith says there’s a real buzz in Palmy, and the celebrations of its 150th is a timely opportunity for not only its residents and former residents but all New Zealanders to take another look at the city.
“In Palmy, humility is our middle name and we’ve never been much for blowing our own trumpet. But we’ve really come to appreciate over the last few years just how lucky we are, and to make the most of what we have. The 150th gives us an excuse to be a little bit proud, and to share the beauty, the excitement and the opportunity that modern Palmy represents with the rest of New Zealand. We can’t wait”.
Palmy’s events schedule during the 150th anniversary year
- Manawatū Cycling Spree, 22-25 January
- ENZED Superstock Teams Champs, 6-7 February
- Papaioea Festival of the Arts, 17-20 February
- Festival of Cultures, 26-27 February
- National Secondary Schools Volleyball Championship, 21-26 March
- Manawatū Power Boat Club 50th Gold Cup Regatta, 10-11 April
- Manawatū International Jazz Festival, 2 June
- Pai Tamariki Kapa Haka Festival, primary and intermediate, June
- Palmy 150th Stakeholder Celebration, 25 June
- Puanga - Matariki celebration in the Manawatū, July
- National Secondary Schools Basketball Championship, 4-9 October
- New Zealand Food Awards, 14 October
- National Young Performer Awards, 20-25 October
- National Spring Rose Show, 25-26 November
- New Zealand Historical Association Learning from History Conference, 23-26 November
More events to be announced.