The unpredictable nature of the SBS Bank Tour of Southland will again be to the fore in 2017. With only one previous winner in the field for the 61st edition of New Zealand’s most prestigious stage race – Otago’s Brad Evans – a host of this country’s best up-and-coming talent and a handful of ambitious overseas riders will be looking to add their name to an illustrious list of past champions.
New Zealand cycling legends Tino Tabak, Jack Swart, Brian Fowler and Hayden Roulston were all multiple winners of the Tour of Southland, while the likes of Greg Henderson, Jack Bauer, Patrick Bevin, Dion Smith, George Bennett and many others have used the race as a springboard for launching significant professional careers overseas.
So, while we know that the Tour of Southland helps foster our best young riders, the remainder of the script is yet to be written in sweat and grease over six days and seven stages starting October 29. “The unpredictable nature of the weather, the depth of talent and the fact this race comes at the end of a long season for many of the riders makes it really hard to pick a favourite,” race director Bruce Ross said.
“PowerNet’s Brad Evans, who was so dominant on the way to winning in 2015, would have to be the bookie’s favourite but there are so many well-known riders in the field who have won stages or made an impression in the past. Then there’s the guys we don’t know as much about, who could storm their way onto the scene like Jack Bauer did at the start of his career.”
Evans, who missed last year’s race due to a scheduling clash, brings great form to Southland, having been a force in the National Road Series in Australia this year, as well as producing seven top 10 finishes in UCI events in New Zealand, Australia and Thailand. He won the Tour of the Great South Coast and took second in the GP Beeckman-De Caluwe. His bike handling ability means he’s well suited to the wide range of conditions which Tour of Southland riders can be confronted with.
Michael Vink won the Bluff Hill stage and held the race lead in last year’s Tour of Southland before eventually finishing runner-up to winner Aaron Gate. The Mike Greer Homes rider is a national champion in the road and time trial disciplines and a former New Zealand Cycling Classic winner. Michael Torckler (Blindz Direct) also briefly wore the yellow jersey in last year’s tour after an epic assault, and ultimately a stage victory, up the Coronet Peak climb along with Hamish Bond.
Local hopes could rest on the shoulders of Nick Kergozou (Placemakers), a New Zealand track endurance representative, or Matt Zenovich (Mike Greer Homes), who has had success overseas this year.
The race gets underway with a 4.2km prologue team time trial around Queens Park in Invercargill on October 29, followed the next day by the opening stage which takes riders 170km from Invercargill to Lumsden. Stage 2 takes riders 150km from Riverton, the Riviera of the South, along the wild southern coast and over the Blackmount climb to the finish next to the shoreline of picturesque Lake Te Anau.
The next day is a pivotal one for the race, with a 138km stage starting in Mossburn and heading around Lake Wakatipu before a demanding climb up Coronet Peak. This is a stage which not only rewards riders with stunning views across the Wakatipu basin, but usually has a massive bearing on the fate of the race.
The iconic Bluff Hill climb is the focal point of the 148km fourth stage on November 2nd, before riders are challenged to a 151km journey through the rolling countryside of Eastern Southland during Stage 5 from Invercargill to Gore on November 3rd. The final day of the race on November 4th provides a double test for those with general classification ambitions, starting with a 13km time trial in Winton and ending with a nervous 77km final stage which provides the tour conclusion in Invercargill’s Gala St.
“This race has been running since 1956 and has developed it’s own special character in the intervening years. We love putting this race together and we know the riders look forward all year to it,” Ross said. “We are blessed to have great support from the local cycling community, the Southland community in general, and a host of sponsors, right from the smaller contributors through to SBS Bank.”