Joe Cooper takes Tour of Southland yellow jersey

LEADING THE WAY: Wellington cyclist Joe Cooper.
LEADING THE WAY: Wellington cyclist Joe Cooper.

It's deja vu for Wellingtonian Joe Cooper, who takes the Tour of Southland yellow leader's jersey into tomorrow's first road stage.

However, he is determined not to make the mistake he made last year.

Cooper was in the same position last year, after his Australian team won the prologue, and he'll start the week in yellow again after his Avanti Racing Team were comfortable winners of a very wet team time trial around Invercargill's Queens Park.

Cooper's team felt the pressure of defending yellow at such an early point in the race last year, using up valuable energy as they sent riders to the front of the peloton after Taylor Gunman got into the break on the way to Gore.

"[Ideally] you probably wouldn't want to have yellow, but we are more than happy to have it and we are going to go out and defend it to the best of our capability," Cooper said.

"We've got a really strong team so we are definitely not going to do what we did last year.

"If we get someone in the break we'll just let it play out, and hopefully some of the other teams want to take a bit of ownership of the race."

Caution was the word for the day as the riders edged their way anxiously around the four sharp corners and tried to produce as much power as they could on the straights around Queens Park, with a few riders having to resort to bunny-hopping centre plots when they got it wrong.

Cooper's Avanti Racing Team, winners of the teams classification in Australia's National Road Series this year, put their mark on the race early with a time of 4:57.72.

They were the only team to go under five minutes for the 4.2-kilometre circuit and were 11sec slower than last year's winning time.

The riders did exceptionally well to cope with the water-soaked roads around Queens Park, after strong winds earlier in the day gave way to heavy rain in the afternoon.

Ironically, the clouds parted not long after the final team, Kia Motors-Ascot Park, with Commonwealth Games points gold medallist Tom Scully and 2012 Southland tour winner Mike Northey on board, crossed the finish line for second place overall, less than 4sec behind Avanti.

A promising looking Breads of Europe-All About Plumbing team, which includes Hayden McCormick and Michael Vink, was third in 5:09.32.

The race proper gets underway tomorrow with a 167km stage from Invercargill to Gore.

The Southland Times