Gruelling conditions made tour a test

NATHAN BURDON
Last updated 05:00 05/11/2012

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Tour of Southland

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OPINION: My 13th Tour of Southland was arguably the most gruelling I've covered.

While the weather is generally a factor in this race, the past week dished up some especially challenging conditions for the riders.

The head wind from Riverton to Tuatapere on Wednesday morning was tough - veteran rider Jeremy Vennell admitted that he'd been a bit scared at times - while the wind during the early parts of Friday's stage, from Invercargill to Gore, had some of us questioning whether it would have to be shortened.

Spectators watching at Woodlands were struggling to stand up in the blustery conditions but, thankfully, it calmed down a bit as the race carried on into eastern Southland.

Those following the tour who opted to ride back to Invercargill that afternoon were left ruing the decision.

There was persistent rain for the stage start in Te Anau, snow flurries in Winton for the time trial and hail as the media crowded around 2012 champion Mike Northey on Gala St.

Undoubtedly the weather played a huge part in proceedings.

Bissell Pro Cycling looked strong enough to ride young Carter Jones all the way to the finish, but when they lost Paddy Bevin to a lung infection, the balance of power started to shift.

When they lost another rider who inextricably finished outside the time limit in the time trial, Jones only had three team-mates to help defend a 17sec lead.

With the support of a trade team which rides together all year, but which managed to hang tough with the help of ring-in Daniel Barry, Mike Northey proved a hardy and capable champion.

His win was a victory for persistence.

Hayden Roulston started the tour below his peak, but his ride in the stage to Gore was a standout.

Many riders arrive in Southland tired from the rigours of their seasons and have to weigh up whether it's worth emptying the tank one more time with a well-earned off-season just around the corner.

Roulston attacked when the race seemed to already be out of his hands and he almost pulled it off. If the tour had continued for another day he would probably have won a fifth title.

The talking points before this year's race were the limited presence of the police as part of a new national policy around event support, and the final year of major sponsor PowerNet's involvement.

Traffic safety management and tour officials were left to do the bulk of the heavy lifting when it came to managing the race on the road.

Anecdotally, the pressure on marshalling was noticed, with "civilian" cars managing to get into the tour convoy more often than anyone would be comfortable with.

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A traffic management vehicle just does not carry the same mana as a police car, but I believe the tour is making the best of a difficult situation. No-one wants to see this race put in the too-hard basket.

Race director Bruce Ross was adamant at the finishline on Saturday that there will be a race next year, despite PowerNet's long-signalled withdrawal after a 12-year partnership.

PowerNet had developed into an ideal major sponsor, with a number of staff committed to the race.

We know that Calder Stewart have discussed taking over sponsorship of the race at board level, while other large companies may be keen to link their profile with an iconic Southland event - perhaps boosting their environmental credibility in the process.

- The Southland Times

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