Southern comfort for Northey at last
Considered one of New Zealand's most under-rated bike riders, Mike Northey rode away with this country's most prestigious stage race on Saturday.
The Aucklander had to overcome United States rider Carter Jones' 17sec lead on the Tour of Southland's final 87km stage from Invercargill to Winton to prevent Jones from becoming just the third overseas winner of the race since 1956.
With Hayden Roulston and Michael Vink determined to make a late impact on the race for their Calder Stewart team, Jones found himself isolated after starting the stage with only three of his Bissell Pro Cycling team-mates still in the race.
Tired from trying to defend the yellow jersey in gale force winds over the final two days of the tour, Jones saw his chances blown apart as Northey's British-based Node4-Subaru team-mates and tour veteran Gordon McCauley helped ride him to victory behind stage winner Roulston.
"I was in pretty good company, I think they might have gone a bit easy on me but they were happy to have a Kiwi win it - thanks to them as well," as hail struck the Gala St stage finish of the PowerNet-sponsored race.
Northey has followed a career path similar to many Kiwis trying to make it the international peloton, first heading overseas in 2006 with a national team in France before spending two years in Belgium with an amateur team.
He had spent three years racing in the US before joining the Node4 team in Britain this year.
The New Zealand criterium champion was a stage winner in France earlier this year, but rates his Southland victory as the most significant addition to his palmares.
"I've done this race, I think it's my eighth time and I never thought I'd win it."
Roulston, a four-time winner of the Southland tour, paid credit to its newest champion.
"You've got to hand it to him, and hand it to his team. To see a Kiwi win the race, if it wasn't myself it couldn't go to a better guy. Mike's been on the scene for a long time and just hasn't been able to nail a big result and this result is huge for him."
Michael Vink won the penultimate stage, the individual time trial at Winton and the Tom Tindale Memorial Trophy, to boost his chances of overtaking PureBlack Racing's Roman van Uden for the under 23 title.
Jones' third place finish - Subway Pro Cycling's Paul Odlin was runner-up in the sponsor's final apperance on tour - helped increase his lead from 3sec to 17sec, although it proved to be a lot less than he needed.
Last year the time trial had to be abandoned due to snow, and there were some nervous moments on Saturday as the temperature dropped to freezing level and snow flurries and hail lashed Winton's main street.
The worst of the weather had cleared by the afternoon and the final, furious beat to Invercargill, where Vink was able to get the break over van Uden to claim the under 23 pink jersey and Roulston threatened a miraculous late victory before finishing second overall to Northey by 1min 20sec.
Speaking at the tour dinner on Saturday night, Jones was still feeling disappointed at seeing his first tour lead slip away.
"It was a super tough day with the wind and it's so hard to control a race like that in the wind. We did the best we could and came up isolated," he said.
"I definitely learned a lot. It was my first time trying to defend a jersey and it was a good experience for sure, sharpening up my cross-wind racing and pack racing. Even though I'm not racing again until March there's some things I'll carry forward."
Well before the final stage, Creation Signs-L&M Mining Group Racing rider Joe Chapman has wrapped up the King of the Mountains classification for a second straight year and Share the Road's Sam Witmitz had claimed the sprint ace jersey.
Pieter Bulling was the leading Southlander in the race, finishing fourth in the under-23s and 10th overall in his debut tour.
"I'm really happy and really surprised myself," Bulling said.
"It was hard, it was tough, especially the last three days. I had had to look after Clinton (Avery), to look after his back wheel coming into the sprint stages and then wee Sean Hambrook, he was our GC boys so I had to look after him. It's been a big week."
Bulling was a schoolboy star on the cycling track before injury struck and affected his motivation.
A season racing on the roads of Belgium with the BikeNZ development team has reignited his career.
"This is my first year of really giving the road a crack. Getting into the New Zealand under 23 programme has really opened my eyes and helped me see what I can do," Bulling said.
"I'm really pleased I did, pleased it's finished and I've got it under my belt.
"I'm looking forward to next year and coming back stronger. (The tour) is going to be one of my major events."
Of the two weekend warriors the Southland Times featured during the week, both made it to the finish line in their debut tour.
Southern Institute of Technology rider Rod Carpinter, who managed the Southland Times team for eight years, including three tour victories, finished 93rd of the 95 finishers, nearly two hours down on winner Northey.
Invercargill triathlete Lee Moreton, riding for the Southland Times team, was 77th and just under an hour down.
STAGE EIGHT RESULTS
Hayden Roulston 1hr 43:27; Michael Vink ST; Gordon McCauley 15sec; Dion Smith 17sec; Michael Northey 17sec; Matt Cronshaw 3:52; Samuel Witmitz 3:52; Daniel Barry 3:52; Pieter Bulling 3:52; Craig Hutton 3:54. General classification (top 10): Michael Northey 21h 20:30; Hayden Roulston 1:20; Michael Vink 1:45; Gordon McCauley 3:02; Carter Jones 3:19; Taylor Gunman 4:47; Dion Smith 4:49; Daniel Barry 5:39; Heath Blackgrove 7:52; Pieter Bulling 8:10. Sprint ace (top five): Samuel Witmitz 92 points; Keiran Hambrook 3; Fraser Gough 29; Hayden Roulston 29; Craig Hutton 20. King of the Mountains (top five): Joseph Chapman 44 points; Clinton Avery 20; Keiran Hambrook 20; Hayden Roulston 18; Michael Vink 14. Under 23 (top five): Michael Vink 21h 22:15; Taylor Gunman 3:02; Dion Smith 3:04; Pieter Bulling 6:25; Fraser Gough 6:36.
The Southland Times