Nothing else cycling star would rather be doing

Water hazard . . . Timaru cyclist James Wilson pushes the limit on his way to fourth at at the Edition Zero Gravel Race in November 2023. PHOTOS: SUPPLIED

A young Timaru cycling star is mixing it up with the best of the best after signing for a top New Zealand team.

James Wilson, 20, finally realised his cycling dream late last year, signing officially for New Zealand’s longest running cycling team, the NZ Cycling Project.

He began cycling about a decade ago, starting with mountainbiking as a way to spend time with his father.

Eventually turning to road cycling, he won his first race and never looked back.

After winning the time trial and road race at the 2019 South Island Secondary Schools competition, he caught the eye of NZ Cycling Project founder and owner James Canny who offered him a spot as a developmental rider.

Despite eventually making the main squad he said the journey to get there had not been easy.

‘‘I had a rough couple of years — my last year of high school and the first year out were hard.

‘‘I had a bit of sickness and a few injuries and I didn’t quite make the A team straight away but I kept working hard.’’

He said showdown talks with James Canny really helped him refocus and get back on track.

‘‘I thought I was was doing everything right but there were a few things I had overlooked with eating and discipline with training.

Setting the pace . . . James Wilson leads the pack on his way to second at the criterium nationals.

‘‘At the end of 2022 I sat down with James Canny and he gave me a few things I needed to work on and I used last year to really sit down, make a plan and work through it.

‘‘I got a nutritionist, just completely changed my riding and managed to turn it around.

‘‘At the end of 2023, I raced the tour of Southland, had a really good week there and then James and myself had a phone call and he offered me a contract for the UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale) team this year.’’

Finally getting that call was an emotional time, he said.

‘‘It was massive for me and my whole family as they’ve always had my back and supported me through it all.

‘‘It was a huge sense of relief hearing that I had done what I needed to do and I’m not stopping here either. I’m going to keep pushing to be better.’’

Wilson is training 22 hours a week, training two or more hours on weekdays and from four to six hours on weekends, all while still working 32 hours a week at South Canterbury Toyota.

Even with the heavy workload he said there was nothing else he would rather be doing.

‘‘I love it. The past three weeks I’ve been everywhere around New Zealand just racing with my team-mates, it’s just so cool.

‘‘We’re not just team-mates either. We’re best friends and it’s super cool to be able to go round and experience so many different things with them.’’

Setting the pace . . . James Wilson leads the pack on his way to second at the criterium nationals.

He was instantly called into action at the start of the year when a team-mate came down with Covid just before the New Zealand Cycle Classic in Masterton.

Wilson stepped in for him to compete in his first UCI race.

With only two UCI events held in New Zealand and the UCI being the pinnacle of world cycle racing, he said it was a great experience even though the results did not go the team’s way.

‘‘We had a really strong team. First stage I had to work pretty hard and keep my teammates safe but we had a wee bit of bad luck during the week. It just didn’t quite go our way but one of my team-mates managed to finish seventh overall which was pretty cool.’’

Already this year Wilson has also taken part in the Lake Dunstan Cycle Challenge, travelled to Palmerston North to support the Gravel and Tar team and put on a strong showing in the Criterium Nationals finishing second behind team-mate James Gardner.

His next race will be the national road championships over three days in Timaru starting on February 8.

He said he hoped to put on a good performance with it being a high-profile home event.

‘‘I’m definitely targeting it. It’s a home race and I get to race in front of my friends and family which you never really get to do that often.’’

This year he also planned to go to Brisbane for the Oceania Road Champs in mid-April, the United States in May/ June, take part once again in New Zealand’s biggest stage race, the Tour of Southland, in November and to close the year by heading to Japan and China for a series of races.