'Brutal' hill sorts out top Tour riders
Fortunes were built and broken in the Tour of Southland yesterday as the lead changed hands for the third time in as many days and a tour legend came close to being booted off the race.
And while the team time trial and the opening stage on Monday did little to separate the top riders in the 2012 race, yesterday's wind-blown stage has done plenty to advance the cause of some and dash the hopes of others.
Mike Northey, an Aucklander riding for British trade team Node4-Subaru, proved the best climber from a 15-strong breakaway which managed to avoid capture and crashes on the 137km stage from Invercargill to the finish atop Bluff Hill.
Node4 Pro Cycling was set up by respected British cycling manager Phil Griffiths, who rode the Tour of Southland in 1981.
Former Tour de France rider and Milk Race winner Bill Nickson is looking after the team in New Zealand.
"It was brutal," Northey said of yesterday's Bluff Hill ascent after climbing his way to the win and into the yellow jersey.
A training ride with his team-mates before the tour proved important for Northey.
"I rode up the other day with the boys because they hadn't seen it before. They were just mucking around racing and I let them go before the wall, knowing that if you save it for the steep part it will help you out. When the Bissell guy rode away from me I knew that if I'd saved something in the tank I'd be able to go up there a bit quicker and I caught him with about 200m to go."
Northey now holds an 8sec lead over Bissell Pro Cycling rider Carter Jones, with the United States rider finishing 2sec behind him up Motu Pohue.
Taylor Gunman was third to the top, 27sec in arrears, to claim the lead in the under-23 standings.
Sam Witmitz (Share the Road) managed to get into the break to considerably advance his sprint ace ambitions, while Joe Chapman missed it but still leads the King of the Mountain classification.
Eight-time winner Brian Fowler and Southland rookie Brehan Cairns were initially disqualified from the race last night after missing the turn at the Makarewa junction and continuing along the main road to Winton.
Fowler later told the Southland Times there were no marshals in place to send them the right way.
They successfully appealed the decision to chief commissaire Zac Prendergast after explaining that once they realised they had gone the wrong way, they were advised by someone in a tour vehicle that they should carry on to the next junction.
"The key point was that there was no advantage gained by it so therefore we were able to remove the sanction," Prendergast said.
Meanwhile, overnight leader Paddy Bevin's luck proved to be ordinary at best.
Starting the day with a 3sec lead, he was well-placed amongst a group of tour contenders including Hayden Roulston, Heath Blackgrove and Roman van Uden who were chasing down the breakaway but he broke a couple of spokes when someone touched his wheel and then punctured in the shadow of Bluff Hill.
He ended the stage half a minute behind those heavy-hitters and 3min 07sec down on Northey - not completely out of contention but with a lot of work to do.
Southland's Matt Zenovich was rewarded for his attacking instincts with the stage's most aggressive rider award.
Earlier, Subway Pro Cycling looked to be the big loser as most of the major teams managed to get riders into the break.
Half the peloton was brought to its knees soon after turning off the main highway to go behind the Makarewa freezing works in a crash which spanned the verges.
Five riders, from various spills, were not able to finish the stage, including PowerNet's Ryan Wills, who was involved in two separate crashes.
Gisborne rider Peter Murphy had to be taken to Southland Hospital with a broken collarbone, but there are a number of others who will wake up this morning with less skin than they had yesterday.
Tour leader Northey admitted life had now changed for he and his team mates in the PowerNet-sponsored race as they eyed today's double stage day along the south coast and into Fiordland.
"A bit of work now on the front, I guess," he said.
"We'll just take every day as it comes and hopefully we can see how long we can stay in the top three even. That was my goal, top three on GC, so we'll see what happens."
- © Fairfax NZ News