A record field of 189 will take to the roads of Southland over the weekend for Cycling Southland's annual Yunca-sponsored Junior Tour of Southland.
Another strong contingent of Australians have travelled across the Tasman to take on the best junior riders New Zealand has to offer in what has, in recent years, become one of Australasia's premier junior road cycling events.
Tour Director Bruce Ross believes the Yunca Tour is a breeding ground for future champions.
"The event is in its 29th year and its past is littered with the names of riders who have gone on to big things in cycling," he said
"Tom Scully, Eddie Dawkins, Cameron Karwowski, Cathy Jordon, Sequoia Cooper, Pieter Bulling, Matt Randall, Glen Thomson and Glenn McLeay all got their first taste of multi-staged competitive road racing in the Yunca Tour."
The 2012 event will feature some familiar names from the recent UCI Junior Track World Championships with New Zealand representatives Cassie Cameron, Racquel Sheath, Dylan Kennett, Liam Aitcheson and Tayla Harrison all competing in the under-19 grade.
Kennett is preparing to ride for New Zealand at the Glasgow round of the UCI World Track Cycling Cup in what will be his first taste of elite international competition, while he and Harrison are set to make their PowerNet Tour of Southland debuts later this month.
Last year's under-17 boys' winner Connor Stead, from the Pegasus club in Christchurch, returns to defend his title and will face stiff competition, with impressive Australian Jack Edwards likely to be right in the mix all weekend.
The girls' competition should also provide some spectacular racing with Manawatu's Kate Stewart looking to follow up her podium finish last year while Emma Bilston, from the 14-strong Racing Kangaroos squad, steps up to a new age category as the defending Yunca Tour under-15 champion.
Perhaps, the best chance of a Southland victory comes in the under-15 boys' where half the field will ride under the Cycling Southland banner.
Hayden Strong earned a top-10 result as a first-year under-15 and with Joshua Carpenter, Hamish Beadle, Brayden Stephens and Tom Sexton also in the field, hopes are high for a strong Southland showing.
Racing Kangaroo Tori Saunders will start as favourite in the under-15 girls' grade after her fourth-place finish last year, with Christchurch's Phoebe McCaughen and diminutive Western Australian Tahlay Christie also likely to feature.
Meanwhile, the sport's youngest rising stars will line up in the under-13 grade with 21 riders set to rip in to the three days of racing tomorrow.
This year's tour begins with the traditional first day at Teretonga raceway tomorrow.
A one-lap individual time trial over the 2.62-kilometre circuit starts with the full field departing at 30 second intervals from 11am. The afternoon stage is also based at Teretonga with kermesse racing, hugely popular in Europe, over varying distances.
Saturday sees the action shift to Te Tipua for two challenging undulating stages over the Beast of the East and Newvale Coal circuits, while Sunday features the traditional inner-city criterium starting in Tay St, followed by the final and longest stage of the event from the Grove Bush hall.
After a rest day on Monday, the riders return to the boards of the Stadium Southland Velodrome for Cycling Southland's traditional ILT-sponsored junior track carnival where Southland's junior world track representatives Tom Beadle, Kate Dunlevey and Jeremy Presbury will be in action.
Racing starts at 6.30pm next Tuesday and Wednesday with tickets priced at $10 available from the door on the night.
- The Southland Times