Date(s) - 06/10/2017 - 08/10/2017
If there is one race that can lay claim to being the breeding ground of future champions, the Yunca Junior Tour of Southland would be it.
Now in its 34th year, the tour kicked off in 1984 and has since seen many former participants go on to represent New Zealand on the world stage.
The racing takes place over six stages, spread across three days in and around Invercargill. Riders compete in age groups from under 13 to under 19, with all riders competing the same events on the same course, albeit over different distances.
The race traditionally starts with a short 2.6 kilometre prologue time trial on the Teretonga racing circuit, followed by a kermesse race of between five and 15 kilometres around the same circuit later in the afternoon.
The second day features two challenging road stages, with the morning’s stage traditionally ranging from 12,5 kilometres for the under 13 riders to 50 kilometres for the under 17 and under 19 riders as they cover the aptly-named Beast of the East circuit. The afternoon’s stage sees riders traverse similar distances, from 17 to 51 kilometres depending on age group, with a sting in the tail as the riders have to face a tough climb to the finish line, which is often very effective in breaking up the field and revealing who the true contenders are.
The third and final day starts with an inner city criterium in the morning, featuring fast and furious racing on a tight circuit. Riders needs to stay focussed not just on the high-speed corners, but also on their fellow competitors, as the difference between a yellow jersey and finishing off the podium can be a matter of a handful of seconds. The sixth and final stage, a longer road stage, is often decisive, as was shown once again in 2016, when the race lead changed hands in a number of categories, including the highly competitive under 17 boys and girls categories, where Felix Donnelly claimed the boys’ title with a daring two-man attack, while the placings in the bunch sprint finish determined the outcome of the under 17 girls’ title, with Britney Kerr taking out the title.
Like its grown-up sibling, the SBS Bank Tour of Southland, the Yunca Junior Tour of Southland is also known for changeable weather conditions, which adds yet another level of difficulty to an already challenging event. From foggy mornings to beautiful sunny days, and of course the occasional notorious Southland crosswind, the race has it all. However, the Yunca sometimes escapes without the rain that seems to be a constant companion for the Tour of Southland later in the year. However, there are few other events that can boast having helped shape the careers of top New Zealand cyclists, back when they were still racing on restricted gears, and many former competitors come back in later years to compete in the Tour of Southland as they continue their growth in the sport.
As with many races hosted in Southland and surrounds, the race is characterised by the warmth of the people and the community support, with the riders building up a dedicated following as they progress through the age groups.
Race director Danielle Ralph says the challenging nature of the race means that every finisher can cross the line knowing that they have achieved something significant.
“It is always great to those slightly off the pace who still battle on. The Yunca is not an easy tour but those that have the determination to complete it can look back on the experience with pride. Many of our top riders have come through this race and gone on to greater glory – it really is an invaluable stepping stone.”
It is certainly an even that competitors can look back on with pride, and one that builds camaraderie in a way that few other cycling events can. For a junior racer looking to test their mettle, doing the Yunca at least once is almost compulsory, and doing it again the next year seems to be somewhat unavoidable.
For more information on the Yunca Junior Tour of Southland or to enter click here.