Tour wide open after Roulston pulls out
The future is now.
Stage five of the Tour of Southland yesterday saw a seismic shift in the race with tour leader and four-time champion Hayden Roulston forced to pull out through illness.
The young guns of New Zealand road cycling needed no second invitation to steal the bike race away from the establishment and last night three under-23 riders – Josh Atkins (PowerNet), Patrick Bevin (Ascot Park Hotel) and George Bennett (Kia Motors) were holding the top three places in the overall standings.
An under-23 rider has not won this race since Karl Moore's surprise victory in 2001.
Atkins dominated the seven switchbacks of the Crown Range hill climb after some superb work by his young PowerNet team-mates.
A member of Lance Armstrong's Trek Livestrong development team, Atkins holds a 1min 9sec lead over Bevin, with Bennett a further 16sec back.
Roulston's withdrawal basically reset the clock on this race back to zero, and the final three stages have been set up as a frantic race back to Invercargill and the finish in Gala St tomorrow afternoon.
"The boys will be on the front for me,"Atkins said after his stage win.
"My legs are getting better and better each day. I'm not feeling too worried about tomorrow.
"If the wind is blowing I know the guys will have me on the front and I know I can ride there all day and it will come down to the time trial [but] there are guys like Marc Ryan who can probably pull 2min out of someone. I'm looking forward to the rest of the tour."
Yesterday's 180km stage saw Te Anau bid farewell to the tour with a combination of rain and 5 degrees Celsius temperatures.
It was a miserable way to start and the body language in the peloton was funereal.
That all changed 30km into the race when news began to filter through that Roulston had withdrawn from the race with a suspected case of kidney stones. Given the way he looked before the stage, it was some kind of gutsy effort that he even made it to the start line.
With Roulston gone, the peloton was galvanised with a shot of espresso.
Shoulders tensed, game plans were ripped up and thrown out the windows of the team vans and a new race began.
The Southland Times