Tour reign over: Atkins hits the road for Europe

Josh Atkins won't defend his Tour of Southland cycling title this year.

Atkins, who at 18 became the youngest winner when he took the yellow jersey in the PowerNet-sponsored race last year, is focussing on his overseas commitments.

He recently quit the United States-based Bontranger Livestrong under-23 development team in favour of a development team in Europe.

"It's bad timing for me, it just didn't fall in line with my training," Atkins said from Australia.

The Tour of Southland comes at a difficult time on the calendar for Northern Hemisphere-based riders.

If they take a break after their season, they will come to Southland with no training, but if they choose to continue riding and rest after the tour it will affect their buildup for the next season.

That's the problem that has prompted Atkins to skip the event he won in extraordinary circumstances last year. A young team of PowerNet riders managed to hold off all challengers that year after sickness resulted in Hayden Roulston dropping out when it appeared as though he had the race sewn up.

After two years riding for Lance Armstrong's development team, Atkins is on the move to a yet-to-be-announced European outfit, which is a feeder team for one of the big Belgian professional squads.

"Talking with my manager, he thought it might be good to spend a year away from the team. Bontrager is a great development team but you don't race a lot. You do some of the biggest races and it's a good opportunity but it's also limiting at the same time," Atkins said.

"I rode within breakaways almost every tour and leading out my team-mates for top finishes, but the rest of the time you are in the bunch. If you win under-23 races, that's when you get the exposure."

In the past year, Atkins has had top-10 finishes in the first two stages of the Tour of California and an eighth-place finish in the prologue in the Tour of Normandie.

"It's been good. It's been a lot of good experiences, doing the Tour of California, Utah and Colorado, racing against some of the biggest names of the sport. I've helped out my team-mates a lot during the year, so next year I want to ride for myself and get the results that I know I'm capable of."

The seven-day Tour of Southland gets under way with the teams time trial prologue on October 28.

The Southland Times