Defending champion Michael Vink has put himself within grasp of a second SBS Bank Tour of Southland title after a stunning ride by his Placemakers team on the penultimate day of the race’s 63rd edition.
Starting the 151km stage from Invercargill to Gore in third place, trailing Mexican rider Eder Frayre by 47sec, Vink needed something special – and he found it just north of Drummond.
The team’s plan, hatched the night before, involved getting a rider into the early break and then putting the hammer down before Winton to try and isolate Frayre and his Kia Motors-Ascot Park Hotel team.
In fact, it was even better than that, with James Harvey and Hamish Keast making the first selection.
When Vink and the rest of the Placemakers team were able to escape, they sat up and helped charge to the front of the race.
As strong as Frayre has been for the past two days, winning both the Coronet Peak and Bluff Hill climbs, he and the second-placed Corbin Strong (Team Skoda Fruzio) were helpless to respond.
“We had a plan and it came off perfectly, and that’s thanks to all the boys in the team. They did their job to perfection, and we were rewarded for it in the end, so that’s a very satisfying way to win,” Vink said.
“It’s definitely one of the (stages) I’ll always remember. I think what we did today was one of the epic rides of the tour, certainly one I’ll remember for a long time. It’s nice to know that we can do it like that.”
Kia Motors-Ascot Park Hotel received some solace with Nick White claiming the stage win. White took a small group sprint victory ahead of J-P van Der Merwe of SiS-Santi-WA and PowerNet’s Alex Heaney who is looking forward to tackling a home Elite Road Nationals in Cambridge in February. PowerNet’s Hamish Schreurs taking Most Combative honours.
Vink leads by just over two minutes, with Frayre dropping to seventh place at 6min 34sec.
No rider has been able to defend their Tour of Southland title since Hayden Roulston won three times in succession between 2006 and 2008.
Vink is a noted time trialer and won’t be scared of tomorrow’s 13km individual time trial at Winton, but he well knows that he has let the race slip with a greater margin on the final day.
The afternoon’s final stage is a nervous 77km beat from Winton to the finish in Invercargill’s Gala St.
“I’ll be riding as hard as I can. It gives me confidence knowing how things went today. I definitely know I’ve got good legs and having won the time trial in the past is a huge moral boost,” Vink said.
“You never know what can happen on that last stage, so you have to take all the seconds you can get and we will definitely be riding as hard as we can and keeping the other guys fresh because it will be a hard afternoon.”
With Strong missing the break, his teammate Reuben Thompson holds a narrow advantage in the under 23 classification.
Southland’s Tom Sexton (Business South) effectively locked down the Sprint Ace classification, following up from a big day on Thursday to ensure he can’t be headed on the final day.
WIth only the Rakahouka climb remaining, Ollie Jones (PowerNet) has also banked the King of the Mountain jersey, but his teammate Paul Odlin will be jealously guarding the 47sec lead he has over Glenn Haden (Coupland’s Bakeries) in the over 35 Silver jersey.
PowerNet also has a comfortable lead in the team classification.