The road season up there in Euroland might be done and dusted for the year. But down under in New Zealand the premier race on the calendar, the 56th edition of the Powenet Tour of Southland is about to get underway this Sunday.
The former UCI 1.2 race runs for a total of 813km from Oct 28 to Nov 3 which is raced over 8 stages and 7 days. Distance wise it doesn't sound too hard. And it's certainly not a hilly tour by any means (although Bluff hill with its 25%+ gradients on day 2 isn't for the faint hearted), but it is a brutal race. Late Oct/ealy Nov in the south of NZ means one thing is almost guarenteed - Wind. And lots of it. Last year the final day TT was cancelled because 3 inches of snow had fallen to sea level overnight! Brrr... So the weather can (and most often does) get very very unpleasant at some stage during the weeks racing.
Previous winners include Gary Ulmer (father of former world record holder in the IP Sarah Ulmer) and ex tour de France riders Tino Tabak(x3), Paul Jesson, Eric McKenzie and Hayden Roulston (x4). Brian 'chook' Fowler holds the record for wins at 8 and is back to race this year at age 50! And never say die Gordon McCauley (2xwinner) closes in on the record starts of 23 with his 20th start.
Last year on the normally decisive 180km stage 5 from Te Anau to Queenstown with it's hilltop finish on the Crown Range the yellow jersey of Hayden Roulston pulled out with appendecitis. This effectively put Josh Atkins (normally of Bontrager/Livestrong 'fame') into the lead. Given Atkins weighs in at 60kg dripping wet it would have been interesting to see if Rolly could have hung with him on the hill top finish. But Atkins convincingly won the stage and held on to yellow for the remaining days with incredible support from his U23 track cyclist team mates (Tom Scully, Aaron Gate, Shane Archibold, Myron Simpson and Cameron Karwowski) to become the youngest ever winner aged 19.
Teams have just been released and defending champ Atkins is not starting. My original pick for this year is the under rated Patrick Bevan from Bissell. He ran 2nd last year and has won a few local races against some good domestic pro's here in the last month. Time bonusses are on offer so that is good for the fast finishing all rounder.
Hayden Roulston riding for Calder Stewart has said he's going to enjoy it rather than going all out. I'm not sure if anyone believs that though. He probably has the strongest team from a glance. If rolly doesn't ride for the win then Michael Vink will be their man. Watch that name along with Hayden McCormick in years to come.
Newly signed Drapac/Porsche rider McCauley would be a wildcard pick, he is flying at the moment, I've raced him in a few club races recently and he's going as well as I've seen him go in a long time. He's a crafty rider so the youngsters would be unwise to let him go far up the road. At worst he'll surprise a few people. Don't be surprised to see him on the podium.
There are also a few international riders, Floyd Landis being the most well known (now withdrawn since hurricane Lance blew in). Node 4-Subaru from England is down for their first participation so hopefully some of them have held some form from the Tour of Britain. The aussies have Southern Insurance and Team Polygon with no names I recognise but I'm sure they'll be out to put some hurt on the kiwi boys.
One of the good things about this race is that they allow composite teams, so individuals can enter and you get placed in a team with other individuals. This year Versatile homes has entered a full masters team, mostly over 40 but with one youngster at 31 to keep the average age down a little.
The website is terrible at best, but they do have a live ticker running during stages. That's when mobile reception doesn't cut out for an hour or two at at time... http://www.tourofsouthland.com/index.php?pageLoad=1 Roadcycling.co.nz will also have daily updates and NZ Road Cyclist is doing a daily podcast on FB - http://www.facebook.com/nzroadcyclist?ref=stream