Jenna Merrick (Dolctini Van Eyck/Vantage NZ National Team) might be the rider to watch coming into the queen stage of the Jayco Herald Sun Tour after hanging onto the front split in Stage 1.
Merrick, 19, stands as one of the major threats to race favourite Lucy Kennedy (Mitchelton-Scott) after a number of contenders fell by the wayside after losing time on the flat roads to the west of Shepparton.
“It kinda took everyone a little bit by surprise,” said Merrick of the split in the peloton. “I was pretty happy to be in there. It was pretty hard for a chunk of time but once we got rolling it settled and I felt really comfortable.”
With the queen stage of the Herald Sun Tour starting and finishing atop the well-known climb of Falls Creek, a long descent will be followed by a longer and slower ascent, with Merrick looking forward to the challenge.
“I’m fairly comfortable with the descent,” said Merrick. “The plan will be to stay at the front and avoid any drama.”
“I haven’t seen it in real life yet but we’re going to drive it tomorrow. I’ve kinda reconned it by Google Earth. At the end of the day you go as hard as you can.”
Merrick looks to be the brightest talent to come out of New Zealand since Linda Villumsen, but the light climber will be in a very different mold to the world champion time-trialist and nominated Mitchelton Scott’s Georgia Williams as a personal hero.
“Definitely coming from New Zealand, Georgia Williams is someone that everyone looks up to and it’s pretty cool that I’m racing her at home at elite nationals then seeing her out here amongst all her teammates and seeing her as part of such a well-established WorldTour team is pretty cool,” said Merrick. “It shows that you can come from Auckland and actually get to that top level, which is cool.”
The young rider has been on a long path through the ranks from her home city of Auckland, a journey which was hampered severely by a crash which put her out of what would have been the biggest championships event of her young career.
“I’ve been riding since I was eleven years old just through schools cycling in New Zealand,” said Merrick. “I’ve done a bit of track riding, I was supposed to go to junior worlds for both track and road in 2018 but on the day I was due to fly out for Switzerland I was hit by a car and couldn’t do either of those.
“I didn’t really get that time at the top of junior racing, so I’ve kind of come into this elite racing without a name really, so I’m just trying to make a name now.”
The diminutive figure of Merrick doesn’t stand out from the peloton, but the New Zealander is already distinguishing herself through her results. She won the youth classification at the Herald Sun Tour last season, finishing fourth overall and was a valiant runner-up behind WorldTour rider Brodie Chapman at Gravel and Tar.
Fast-forward to 2020 and Merrick has been picked by Belgian team Dolctini-Van Eyck to race a European calendar after spending summer at the Australian races.
Merrick also chatted with Australian Cycling Insider at the Tour Down Under, where she was consistent without being brilliant, finishing 18th on GC. Nonetheless, it was a good experience for the 19-year-old amongst the WorldTour peloton.
“I really enjoy the Australian racing,” said Merrick. “There are some really good European teams but it feels like home, it’s really cool to race here.”
The switch to a Belgian team came from Merrick’s proactive approach, getting in touch with the team manager to get herself a spot on the UCI-registered team.
“I’m on a new team for this year,” said Merrick. “I’m pretty lucky to be here and I’m really happy with it. I was a bit nervous because I only speak English but all the girls and the staff have been really welcoming.”
With her slight frame, Merrick profiles as a climber, but has look to add more power to give herself a chance in the time trials and sprint finishes.
“I enjoy the climbs and think I’m quite good at them,” said Merrick. “Over the summer I’ve developed some power and a bit of a sprint as well, which I didn’t have last year so looking to mix it up.”
The womens Herald Sun Tour continues with a 75.2 kilometre stage from Falls Creek to Falls Creek that will start at 2.30pm AEDT, streamed on Kayo and GCN Racing on Youtube.
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Written by Jamie Finch-Penninger