Stars turn out for 'relaxed' tour
Numbers in the Tour de Vineyards bunch may be down, but that only means the quality will be concentrated, with visiting and homegrown talent blended in a rich field across some complex stages.
The country's top two road cyclists and current Olympians are in the field for the four-stage, five-day road cycling event, starting with the prologue tomorrow and finishing on New Year's Eve.
Takaka's Jack Bauer and Christchurch-based Linda Villumsen won the male and female rider of the year awards respectively at the BikeNZ awards earlier this month, following impressive performances at the 2012 London Olympics.
Villumsen finished 18th in the Olympic road race and fourth in the time trial, missing out on a medal by less than two seconds.
Bauer made his Olympic debut in London, competing in the men's road race and time trial. He was in the leading group of the road race, finishing 10th overall, and was 19th in the men's time trial.
In a late entry, received on Christmas Eve, Olympic medallist Hayden Roulston has joined the tour.
At the Beijing Games in 2008, Roulston won the silver medal in the men's 4000m individual pursuit and the bronze medal in the men's 4000m team pursuit.
One of the local stars is Nelson's George Bennett, who now rides for the professional team Radioshack Trek Nissan.
Masters champion Warrick Spence is back to defend his title.
The Tasman Wheelers club is hosting the Woollaston Estates Tour de Vineyards, which will see 30 local riders competing.
Spokeswoman Jill Ellison said it was great to see the calibre of entries this year, and an under-19 level category for the first time.
"It will be just such a fantastic experience, especially for our young local riders to able to ride with these guys."
Ellison said the tour was known for its relaxed feeling, mixed with strong competition.
"It is known as a friendly tour. It is a pretty relaxed environment.
"People also love coming to Nelson, and it's the attraction of coming to this area," she said.
The elite men's division includes under-23 and under-19 categories, while the women's division has under-19 and masters categories, with the masters division including M1 to M3 and M4+.
The action begins tomorrow with a 4.5-kilometre prologue on a circuit in Hope.
The Tour de Vineyards proper starts on Friday with the first stage, a 22-lap, 55km stage (16 laps and 40km for the women).
The Hill St course is 2km long, briefly touching on Queen St in Richmond. King and Queen of the Mountain (KOM) points will be available, along with Sprint Ace points.
The second stage is a gut-busting 128km slog from Richmond to the top of Takaka Hill.
Saturday's leg of the tour will see two sets of points awarded in the KOM - at Reay Saddle near Golden Downs, and the Takaka Hill summit.
The Moutere circuit makes for a more settled third stage for Sunday. The 128km (105km for women) ride from the Upper Moutere Community Centre will see riders follow the Moutere Highway and the Motueka Valley Highway through Ngatimoti and finishing in Neudorf Rd to complete one lap. A second lap will see the women split from the men and masters to finish the stage.
The final stage will take place on New Year's Eve from a neutralised start at Woollaston Estates. The 74km Woollaston circuit stage (46.5km for women) will round out the tour.
With the race ending in wine country, and the final prizegiving at Woollaston Estates, Ellison said there would be a few celebrations and the Tour De Vineyards would live up to its name.
The Nelson Mail