Tour of Southland leader Jones has target on back

Stage winner Bissell rider Carter Jones crosses the line during the PowerNet Tour of Southland, day five, stage five, from Te Anau to Crown Range.
Stage winner Bissell rider Carter Jones crosses the line during the PowerNet Tour of Southland, day five, stage five, from Te Anau to Crown Range.

United States rider Carter Jones will try to defend a four-second buffer over the final 100km of the Tour of Southland today before the 2012 champion is crowned in Gala St in Invercargill.

Jones (Bissell Pro Cycling) is bidding to become just the third foreigner to win New Zealand's most prestigious stage race, after Australia's Mal Powell in 1964 and American John Lieswyn in 2002 and 2004.

While he has plenty of New Zealand support around him, in the form of team-mates Jeremy Vennell and Michael Torckler and manager Glen Mitchell, there will undoubtedly be a feeling in the peloton that this race should be won by a New Zealander.

It's not an anti-foreign attitude as such, but it is a feeling that was prevalent when Lieswyn was the best rider in the race during the early 2000s.

"Me personally, I don't want an American taking the jersey," Hayden Roulston said after helping instigate a four-man breakaway that managed to elude the peloton through the wind and rolling countryside of eastern Southland yesterday.

"I'd rather have [Node4-Subaru rider] Mike Northey or one of our [Calder Stewart] guys. Nothing against Americans - I love Americans, that's just the way it is."

Roulston, Clinton Avery and 18-year-old Fraser Gough (Share the Road) were joined by Node4-Subaru's Daniel Barry for a break that gained four minutes on the road and had Barry as a virtual leader at one point.

Roulston was ruing a puncture in the shadow of the Crown Range on Thursday, which resulted in him starting the day 4min 8sec in arrears, meaning only an audacious attack yesterday would get him back into contention.

"I gave it 150 per cent today. Four minutes is a lot and if I hadn't had the trouble yesterday, I would have done a different climb and it would have been a whole different race. I said I wasn't going to give up and I think today showed exactly what I meant. It was one of the hardest days I've had on the bike."

The peloton was blown apart by galeforce winds early in the stage and while they diminished as the day wore on, nothing should be taken away from the grit shown by the four breakaway riders.

After Gough dropped out of the running for the stage win, a broken spoke ruled Avery out of a second stage win and Barry was able to outsprint Roulston in a photo finish.

"I don't think this race is over yet and if Bissell want to take that jersey home to America with them, they better get some friends," Roulston later said.

While Sam Witmitz (Share the Road) and Joe Chapman (Creation Signs-L&M Mining Group Racing) have locked up the sprint and King of the Mountain classifications, respectively, under-23 rider Keiran Hambrook is scrapping for second place in both competitions.

He has a two-point lead over Gough in the sprint standings and is tied on 20 points with his Ascot Park Hotel-Kia-NZ Bike Mag team-mate Avery, a stage winner in Te Anau this week, in the KOM competition.

With one climb left in the race, the Grove Bush hill climb, the Ascot Park Hotel combination will probably focus on the eight sprints between Winton and Invercargill.

It's already been a great tour for the Nelson-based Hambrook brothers, with Keiran prominent in two classifications and younger sibling Sean, 18, seventh overall and second in the under-23 classification.

Team-mate Pieter Bulling has done a massive amount of work this week in his debut tour and is the leading Southlander in the race, 13th overall and sixth in the under-23 classification.

Bissell may look back on the Gore stage as the moment they were able to hold on to this tour - which is ironic, given they have been flashing a "No Deal" sign during their three stage wins, an in-team joke on Jeremy Vennell that dates back to 2007 when Glen Rewi won the Gore stage after agreeing with Vennell that he wouldn't sprint for the line.

This morning's individual time trial at Winton was to have been used for the first time last year but was abandoned because of heavy snow.

A significant move on the final stage to Invercargill is extremely difficult to pull off, leaving Jones at his most vulnerable during the time trial - although he represented the US at world championship level in the under-23 time trial last year.

The stage will have the Tom Tindale Memorial Trophy contested for the first time.

Tindale was an Englishman who settled in Invercargill and won the second edition of the tour in 1957, largely through his time trial ability, becoming an inspiration to a generation of young Southland riders.

He went on to become one of New Zealand's leading cycling officials and an international commissaire, while still competing and winning on the bike into his 70s.