Tour of Southland
You go to Belgium for three things – chocolate, beer and bike racing.
Chris Macic can tell you just how hard it is to be a competitive cyclist in a country where the way of the bike is a religion.
Like any number of promising New Zealanders before him, Macic has spent the past season testing himself amongst some of the hardest racing on the planet.
There could be little better preparation for the Tour of Southland and yesterday the Share the Road rider delivered on the quiet pre-race predictions of his team manager, Brendon McDermott, who thought the Aucklander could be the dark horse this year.
Yesterday Macic stormed his way to the castle gates during the 100km stage from Tuatapere to Te Anau, threatening to unseat the reigning king of this PowerNet-sponsored race, Hayden Roulston.
In the process we learnt that Roulston's hold on the crown is strong, but not impregnable.
The tour leader holds a six-second lead over Macic with another determined challenger in the form of Josh Atkins (PowerNet), third, just 10sec back.
After four stages the top 10 riders are within one minute of Roulston, with Jeremy Yates and Tim Gudsell lurking just beyond.
For a long time during yesterday's afternoon stage, it appeared Macic would be able to drive the break long enough to wipe away a deficit of more than a minute and a half.
With his fellow breakaways more interested in who would contest the sprint finish up the main street of Te Anau, it was up to Macic to be the master of his own destiny, and he came up painfully short of spending last night with the yellow jersey hanging in his hotel room. "Unfortunately I had some passengers with me who didn't want to roll through that much and I just had a solid roll through to the finish, but that's bicycle racing," Macic said after the stage finish.
Macic credited tough overseas experience for the form he has brought to this race. "It's been a really long season for me," he said.
"I came back from Belgium a week and a half ago. I raced really well in the kermesses and just before I came back to New Zealand I won a pro kermesse which was the biggest win I've had in my cycling career.
"It's just the kermessing and the sheer racing that I've done – I've done 76 races. It's just really flat and hard every day. There's no hiding in those races over in Belgium."
The Te Anau stage finish was dominated by Kia Motors with Alex Meenhorst benefiting from a strong lead out from team-mate Kieran Hambrook to claim the win from Subway's Paul Odlin and PureBlack's Shem Rodger.
"The team was really motivated today," Meenhorst said.
"We aren't exactly the largest team but everyone just plays so well together and in the last 30km Kieran and I got away with Chris Macic and two others. Chris was riding for GC so he was really motivated to keep it away and so were both of us," he said.
"Kia is such an awesome sponsor. Unfortunately we haven't had a stage win in the last couple of years but it's really great to have something today and give something back."
The morning stage provided the sprinters with a chance to flex their muscles in the short 48km stage from Riverton to Tuatapere.
Auckland's Alexander Ray managed to edge his way ahead of Subway Pro Cycling's Nick Lovegrove and Creation Signs-L&M Group rider Aaron Gate.
Southland's Tom Scully saw his chances of taking a rare local victory in this race evaporate when he dropped a chain 150m from the finish.
"I was backing myself for most of the stage," Ray said.
"I knew that one we got away we would have a pretty good chance with Gatey and Scully – they ride the track and they are pretty fast."
- The Southland Times