Tour of Southland Wrap
The 2012 Tour of Southland was a very successful week of bike racing and a great way to finish the season! There’s really no need to to go into too much detail about the race… every stage was important. We had to race full gas every day but it was all worth it!
After my 2nd place in stage 1 things got even better for our Node 4 – Subaru Team. Mike and Matt made the key break of stage 2, a huge 15 rider group who stayed clear of the rest of the field. Mike out-climbed all of his breakaway companions to take a huge victory on Bluff Hill. He took the yellow jersey and we moved into the lead in the teams classification.
Stages 3 and 4 were hectic for us. Defending the yellow jersey took a bit of adjustment and we took a while to get into a rhythm. The wind wreaked havoc on the field in the short stage from Riverton to Tuatapere but we had numbers in the front group with Mike and kept him out of trouble. Stage 4 was much more controlled and once the break had gone we settled into a solid tempo with a bit of help from the Barry Stewart – GMC Coaching Team. We navigated Blackmount and all the crosswind sections with the whole team in the front group, keeping Mike protected all the way. Coming into the final few kilometres the focus turned to the finish and I had a crack at the sprint. It was an extremely messy finish but I got through unscathed for 3rd place. Awesome sprint by Clinton Avery to take the win!
The queen stage from Te Anau to Crown Range was always going to be a tough day for the team in yellow. It took an agonisingly long time for the break to form and every time a suitable group formed a few more people always tried to sneak across. It was important for us not to let a group up the road that was too strong as we’d just have to chase them all day! Once a not-too-dangerous group had finally formed we let the gap grow and settled in for a long day.
Matt and the two Jameses (Moss and Sampson) rode the front for 140km, most of that into a block headwind up towards the lake. They were riding so strong that they regularly had to ease up to keep the gap to the break from getting too small! As we approached Queenstown the Calder Stewart Team put a few of their boys on the front in an effort to finish off the break and set Hayden Roulston up for the finish up the Crown Range but a poorly timed puncture cost Roly a shot at the win. American Carter Jones of the Bissell Team took the win and enough time to move into the yellow jersey, bumping Mike into second.
It was a setback but we were happy to still be so close with all of the hills out of the way. We were confident that a bit of wind in the last couple of days would help our cause!!
To our delight we awoke to a gale on the morning of stage 6 from Invercargill to Gore. Within 5km the peloton was splitting in the gusty wind and the front group was less than 20 guys very early in the race. A well-timed attack from Roulston, Clinton Avery and Fraser Gough caused a split and Carter Jones was left to close the gap himself. I looked around for Mike who gave me the nod and I hit out across the gap to join the leaders. I burnt a few matches getting across but once there our advantage steadily increased.
From there we settled in to a long day out the front of the bike race. It was a good situation for us, as our group could put Jones’ Bissell team under plenty of pressure while Mike and my other teammates could conserve energy for later in the stage. I made sure to eat and drink plenty so that the day’s work wouldn’t go to waste in the final kilometres. Fraser dropped back in a hard crosswind section with around 25km to go and Clinton lost contact about 10km to go after breaking a spoke leaving just Roly and me to fight for the stage. It came down to a sprint and Roly got the jump on me early but I gave it everything and came back around. We crossed the line right beside each other, neither of us knowing who had taken it. After a nervous wait they announced that I’d won the stage by 2/100ths of a second. I was pretty bloody stoked!
Mike and the other boys also had a great day, attacking constantly in the last 30km until Mike managed to get a good gap over the yellow jersey and a lot of the other GC contenders. Mike snatched back around 30 seconds to finish the day only 4 seconds behind Jones. The tour was definitely not over!
The final day of the tour started with a 13km ITT in abysmal conditions. It was hailing consistently and the temperature was hovering at a balmy 4 degrees C. For me personally this was the worst stage of the tour. I wanted to do a good time but I was fairly tired from the previous day and it just didn’t go too well! I lost a whole minute to the winner Michael Vink to finish 23rd… ouch. Mike on the other hand put in another solid performance to take 5th on the stage and stay in contention for the tour win, conceding around 15 seconds to Jones.
We piled into a motel room for the hour and a half between the TT and the final stage and laid down a plan. It was our last chance to attack and get Mike the 19 seconds he needed to win the tour. The stage was aggressive from the gun and like the day before a front group of around 20 established itself in the first few kilometres. The wind and hail were still hanging around making every twist and turn a possible opportunity to attack. Calder Stewart used the conditions to their advantage, riding hard in the gutter to whittle down the numbers and wear down the other riders.
Near the midpoint of the stage in a sheltered section of road Matt slipped away in a group of 3 which quickly opened up a decent advantage. Before long we were back into the crosswind and Calder Stewart once again rode the front to put pressure on the rest of the group. Roulston and Vink picked their moment and attacked, quickly opening a gap over Jones and his last remaining teammate who were left to chase. We waited to see if they would bring the pair back but the gap grew and it was now or never for us to attack. I hit out hard with Mike on my wheel and took him as far across the gap as I could. I blew to bits but he was more than strong enough to finish off the job himself and he made it across.
The three then caught the breakaway and Matt worked hard to help them stamp out an advantage quickly. I slotted back into the yellow jersey group and watched Mike ride away up the road, a very satisfying sight! Provided nothing disastrous happened to Mike it was looking likely he would ride into yellow. Their advantage conitinued to grow while a few teams got together to chase and they finished with nearly 4 minutes over our group… Mike had won the Tour of Southland!
It was an extremely satisfying result and I’m proud of my mate Mike for taking the win. He is a brilliant rider and he deserves it! Our Node 4 – Subaru team also took out the Teams Classification to top off an amazing week. It was a pleasure to ride with these guys and I’m lucky to have been given a spot on the Southland team at such late notice!
Big thanks to Node 4 and Subaru for the support! And thank you to Marina, Steve, Ian and Bill for all the work during the week, we couldn’t done it without you guys! Last but not least, thanks to my personal sponsors Felt Bikes, Lazer Helmets, BBB and Maxxis. Your support is incredible and I really appreciate it!