Continuing our Legends of Sport series, Don Wright profiles cyclist Doug Bath.
Cycling identity Doug Bath doesn't want to be known as the last from his province to win the coveted Tour of Southland.
The 42-year-old Southland Real Estate salesman and father of 8-year-old triplets can't wait until another Southlander overtakes him as the most recent on the honours board, providing the event with another provincial shot in the arm.
Bath was successful in 1994, following on from Mike Hughes (1973), Merv Davis (1968), Warwick Dalton (1959 and 1969) and Tom Tindale (1957) in the 56 chapters of a fixture now cemented in Southland's proudest sporting traditions.
He is the first to laud the vast voluntary contributions of fellow Southlanders who have made the tour their own.
No other Southland sporting fixture has survived the passage of time and progressed with the same popularity and public following.
The annual influx of international riders and resultant publicity has been a wonderful promotional vehicle for the province.
Bath pointed to several burgeoning local stars capable of winning a Tour of Southland in the foreseeable future, including Cam Karwowski, Matt Zenovich, Robert Huisman and Tom Scully, a 23-year-old professional who rides in Europe.
Zenovich was a stage winner into Te Anau this year. Huisman, aged 21 and coached by Sid Cumming, was ninth overall in the 2013 tour.
Bath did not belong to an established Southland cycling family but was a co-owner of Gladstone Cycles for 23 years, buying the business outright from his father, John, in 2004 and maintaining proprietorship for eight years before selling to Peter McKenzie.
"I wanted to be a speedway motorbike rider after my grandfather Ossie but my father suffered a major accident on a motorbike when young and stopped me from pursuing my dream," Bath recalled.
"So I joined up with the Glengarry Cycling Club when 13 years old. When I was 17, I came under the influence of Gore police officer Jacob Schriek, who spotted me in my group during a Gore to Invercargill road race."
Schriek told Bath he had "obvious potential" but needed more training, which he agreed to after phone calls from the Gore mentor.
"He was the first to give me correct advice and motivation and, by the time I had turned 18, I had progressed to international team riding in 1989-90 as a member of the New Zealand road cycling rep team, riding in most European countries."
Bath said that experience opened up a whole new world for him, with upwards of 150 riders in some races.
His early association with the Glengarry club took a significant turn when Martin Verbeek, a Dutchman and founding club member who lived in Invercargill earlier in the 1960s, returned to the Netherlands and got him into a Dutch team.
"That is how my career was springboarded and led to wonderful European experience."
Bath recalled Brian Fowler (Christchurch) and Jack Swart (Waikato) were two of the Tour of Southland's icons through the 1980s.
He rode in six tours from 1989 to 1995 before retiring in 1996.
For him, the tour itself became much bigger than merely riding in it.
Always interested in coaching after Schriek had earlier instilled a positive training attitude in him, Bath completed a three-year bachelor of sporting recreation degree at SIT, learning theoretical training basics and fascinating and relevant physiology.
He prospered from "two sharp tutors" in Dr Dan Van der Westhuizen and Dr Amanda Benson.
Also, Adelaide cycling celebrity Charlie Walsh had been in Invercargill on a lecturing tour while Bath was completing his SIT studies.
"He had been head coach at the Australian Institute of Sport for 16 years and I benefited greatly from his vast knowledge while he was in Invercargill for a week."
Life took on a whole new perspective when Bath and wife Natalie became parents of triplets in 2005.
Earlier, voluntary cycling coaching was a "natural progression" when clubs merged under the Cycling Southland umbrella.
Helping novices, teenagers and veterans opened up a whole new cycling dimension, highlighted by his coaching protege, John Alabaster, then in his late 40s, achieving spectacular success by winning two back-to-back veterans UCI World Titles (road time trials) in Australia.
Another of his products, Gordon McCauley, later won a bronze time trial medal at the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games.
"I have now phased out of coaching and become more involved as a voluntary Tour of Southland commentator for Sky TV with my inspirational driving force Julian Ineson."
Former Cycling Southland chief executive Nick Jeffries had taken the organising concept to world-class level over seven years and would be extremely difficult to replace, he said.
Most who assisted him had been volunteers.
"That's the Southland way of doing things ... I hope I never see the day when the huge voluntary input dries up. I couldn't have helped cycling voluntarily without the understanding and support of my wife Natalie, father John, and late mother Raylee.
- © Fairfax NZ News