Mitchell Lovelock-Fay wins Tour of Southland

FAST FINISH: Mitchell Lovelock-Fay became the first Aussie to win the Tour of Southland in 50 years.
FAST FINISH: Mitchell Lovelock-Fay became the first Aussie to win the Tour of Southland in 50 years.

The Avanti Racing Team will be back next year to defend their Tour of Southland title.

After finishing runner-up with Taylor Gunman last year, Avanti team manager Andrew Christie-Johnston was excited about the future after watching Mitchell Lovelock-Fay retain the yellow jersey on the final day.

Avanti, the leading team in Australian cycling this year, will be a New Zealand-registered squad next season.

"It's even more important now that we are going to be registered in New Zealand," Christie-Johnston said. "We want to be support New Zealand cycling. If you win this year you have to come back, but we would have been coming back anyway.

"We came here and got second last year and were a bit disappointed finishing like that. This is a hard race - it's shown in the fact only one Australian has won in the last 50 years.

"It's a credit to Bruce Ross and the race. We really enjoy coming across and to get the win is a perfect way for us to finish [the season]."

The win didn't come easy for Lovelock-Fay.

Starting the final day on Saturday with just a four-second buffer over Barry Stewart Builders rider Michael Torckler, Lovelock-Fay's second-placed finish in the time trial behind team-mate Joe Cooper left him with a 41sec cushion over Cooper, with under-23 leader Hayden McCormick (Breads of Europe-All About Plumbing) trailing by 43sec and Torckler by 58sec.

The race appeared to be all but over with just the short 87-kilometre final stage from Winton to Invercargill remaining, but Torckler had other ideas.

With team-mate Hamish Schreurs and triple stage-winner Ben Hill (McCallums Group) he managed to get a break going that led at one stage by nearly 2min, to be firmly in the race lead.

However, as the final hill climb at Rakahouka loomed, a hard week of racing finally took its toll and Torckler's legs deserted him.

The peloton picked up the breakaway group and was together for the final laps of Queens Park, with Otago rider Brad Evans (PowerNet) winning the sprint to end the tour.

"To see Torckler and then Hill go away right from the go, the heart rate was definitely up there in the car," Christie-Johnston said.

"The boys were told to watch out for Torckler and not let him go, and within 2km he's up the road.

"It was a bit of a scramble, but the boys rallied together, relaxed and then tried to bring him back over time. I told them if they stayed together and kept calm they would be able to get the job done."

Lovelock-Fay, just the second Australian and the third international rider to win the Southland tour since it started in 1956, was pleased with the way his legs recovered from the morning time trial.

This was his first time riding the SBS Bank-sponsored tour, although he did ride the junior Tour of Southland several years ago without much success.

"It was a learning curve because I'd never really ridden in crosswinds or super-cold conditions before. It was definitely an eye-opener and I didn't want to come back to Invercargill, but here I am and I'm glad that I did."

After a disappointing 2013, he spent most of this year riding support for Cooper and hadn't had a win since 2012.

"[My team] worked extremely hard all week. I've raced with these guys all year, so it's nice to be able to repay them with a win after looking after them all year."

Following Lovelock-Fay's win on Coronet Peak on Thursday, McCormick appeared to be his closest challenger, but he had to settle for the under-23 classification win.

"The last few days of the tour were still wide open - there were probably 10 guys who could have won the race," McCormick said. "Avanti definitely had the most to lose - it was nice to keep the under-23 jersey, even though it's a bit of a booby prize for me.

"I was here to win the tour. You race to win and no one remembers who won under-23. I'm proud of my team for taking on Avanti, not sitting back like a lot of other teams."

Southland's Matt Zenovich held on to win the sprint ace jersey, while Englishman Thomas Stewart had already wrapped up the King of the Mountains title.