Tour of Southland, NZ

The last race of the 2013 season took place in the South Island of New Zealand where the slightly cooler conditions ensured all of our winter kit made the journey. The first four days was spent in the picturesque location of Queenstown where the whole team had the chance to explore the surroundings and bond before the seven day Tour of Southland began some days later. The training rides were amazing and we were lucky enough to have some great weather whilst in Queenstown. We may have used up all of the Wifi data in Queenstown, but the coffee was great and the Indian and Thai restaurants were even better!
Two days before racing started, we had a 200km transfer with all bikes and gear to the start location and our base for the first four days, Invercargill. Known as a wet and windy location, the first ride took place in exactly those conditions. Despite the weather, our accommodation was very central and only a one minute ride from the TTT Prologue course which was the opening race in this year’s Tour of Southland.
To begin the 900km’s total race distance covered in this year’s Tour; our first race was the TTT Prologue which didn’t start until 4:48pm in the evening on day one. Everyone was up by mid-morning for a 30minute pre-roll to get the legs moving and the blood flowing. Upon returning, before we began our race warm ups, we enjoyed some movies, healthy snacks and basically took the mind off the task ahead. 4.2km’s doesn’t sound like much, but when you’re going full-gas for five minutes, it certainly takes it out of you. The TTT restricted teams from using TT bikes and disc wheels, so we were left with skin suits, shoe covers, aero helmets and our road bikes to maximise our advantage. The whole team were very positive leading into the race as fellow teammate and local kiwi Joe Cooper was a favourite to win the Tour. Being the NZ Time Trial Champion and a specialist in Road Bike Time Trials, he had never won the TTT at the Tour of Southland before so we were all aiming to get the job done for Joe and the team.
My legs were feeling great and I love short time trial prologues like this one. We set off together, led by Joe who gradually built up our speed. I followed Joe, with new kiwi recruit Taylor Gunman behind me, then followed Tom, Sam and Kane to make up our team of 6. Everyone was riding exceptional and at one stage when I looked down at the speed on my Garmin, we were doing 60+kms/hr. Approaching the final 1.5km’s, Tom pulled a super turn to swing off and set us up for the finish. The time was taken on the fourth rider to cross the line, so our plan was to maximise our speed and sacrifice two guys to increase speed in the final kilometre – similar to a sprint train’s lead-out I guess. Around the last corner, I saw the finish flag and looked behind to make sure Joe was going to be the first across the line. The rider who finished first across the line from each team will wear the yellow jersey if you end up winning the TTT, so Joe was told cross first for us.
Awaiting the times, we had no idea where we would place in comparison with the other kiwi teams who had strong line-ups. The announcement came over that we had won and everyone was super happy! It was a great feeling; there is no better feeling than doing the hard work and pushing your body to get the reward at the other end. The TTT Prologue win is even better because it’s purely a team effort and teamwork wins races.
Soaking in the celebrations with the boys, it was time to concentrate on our recovery and the next six days of racing which lay ahead of us. The first road stage of the Tour was a 187km flat stage where our team had to try and defend the yellow jersey which rested on the shoulders of Joe Cooper. A break went clear, but despite having Taylor in the move, it was simply too big and we were left to chase it down. Some tremendous work from Tom and Kane kept the break in reach until we hit a fast and furious tailwind section which fuelled the breaks determination. Sam and I were asked to assist with the chase and we had the bunch speeding along at 55km’s/hr to get the job done.
In the finish, Kiwi Roman Van Uden broke away solo and the bunch sprinted for 2nd. I was well out of position and struggled to find a safe wheel for the finish and ended up running top 10. We lost the yellow but less than 4seconds was the gap to the new leader on GC. Welcomed again by no rain at the start of the third day, we set off on the 138km road stage which finished at the top of ‘Bluff Hill’, a well-known steep climb of 2.5km’s in distance. The stage began very fast and for the first hour of racing, we had averaged 50+kms/hr! We shared the work between the team, allowing one of us to follow a move and the others to rest before they would follow another. Soon enough, a break was formed and I joined four others out in front. Five kilometres later, four new riders bridged the gap and my teammate Taylor was one of them.
The break was working fairly well, with most of the guys going for the many intermediate sprints along the way. At the 55km mark, our team car, driven by ACJ and accompanied by Team Soigner Neil Walker, came up to deliver us some fresh bottles. The message from the team car was to keep eating and drinking and “look after yourself”. I also was told to contest the ‘Time Bonus Sprints’ which rewarded the place getters with bonus time for GC. I contested both and although challenged by talented Kiwi rider Tom Scully, I was fortunate to get the maximum time available of three seconds in both. After accumulating bonus time, I was the virtual leader of the tour for most of the remainder of the stage. Our break survived all the way until the steep Bluff Climb with less than 2.5km’s to go, but the speed of the main peloton saw them come screaming past us. Joe climbed well to stay in contention of the overall GC lead by finishing third on the stage and only 11seconds down on the new leader. We also finished the day by leading the Team’s Classification after three days of racing.
The stage three road race began in Riverton and set off along the very picturesque coast line on undulating roads in the direction of Te Anau. Leading into the stage, we were fairly relaxed as the whole team was hoping for an easy day ahead of Stage four’s 187km road race finishing at the top of Cornet Peak. Our plans for the day soon turned out to be on track with a break of 6-7 riders riding clear of the main field. The yellow jersey’s team, Kiwi-Velo had their work cut out for them as they controlled the pace making for the majority of the race. My teammates and I enjoyed an easier ride in the bunch, saving our legs for the important days of racing to come. The weather was fantastic, blue skies and sun shining, very unusual for the Tour of Southland in previous years.
With 20km’s to go, the break’s lead had reduced from four mins to two mins and our hope for a bunch sprint was looking good. Teammates Kane and Tom were asked to assist Kiwi-Velo in the chase but in the end, the main field fell short by 30 seconds! I mixed it up in the fast and flat bunch sprint, jumping off another team’s train to finish in 8th place. No time was lost in the overall GC and we retained our team’s classification lead at the end of the third stage. With racing over and a big day in the saddle tomorrow, we enjoyed the views of Te Anau and a buffet dinner at the local Club Hotel.
Along the Tour we were greeted by many schools, all of which took part in the celebrations of the racing. At the start of this particular stage, the local school kids had made various posters, hats and dressed in the various team colors. We couldn't resist saying hello to the kids who supported our team and put so much effort into their hats. Stage four was the Queen stage of this year’s tour, finishing at the summit of Coronet Peak. We had two main tactical options leading into the stage and fortunately enough, it all worked out in the end.
Some kind weather conditions with little wind made the 187km stage seem slightly more sedate on the approach to Queenstown, but that was short-lived as the fireworks began at the base of the final deciding climb. A breakaway was established early on and stayed away for the majority of the stage. The lead riders were caught at the base of the climb and the climbers set themselves up for the eight kilometre ascent to the summit. The whole team were positioned at the front all day, riding safe and protecting both Taylor and Joe who would be our key assets come the final climb. A lot goes on behind the scenes during a long stage like this one and credit must go to guys on our team like Kane Walker and Tom Robinson who share the work load on the front, get fresh bottles and keep us fuelled at all times. I’m sure it made a big difference with both Taylor and Joe riding very well on the climb. Taylor not only rode well, he won the stage in his first tour with our team ahead of the 2014 season. The win moved Taylor up into 3rd on the General Classification and Joe Cooper held onto 8th on the GC standings to see the team well-represented in the top 10. We held onto the overall Team’s GC which we now only led by a marginal seven seconds with two days remaining.
With the weather turning for the worst at the start of stage five, rain jackets came out and everyone looked for shelter. The racing started in the Invercargill Velodrome and was under control for the first seven kilometres. Just as the flag dropped, so did my rear derailleur which unfortunately decided to snap clean off my bike. I was less than one kilometre into the 160km stage and already found myself on the side of the road swapping pedals and changing seat heights onto the team’s only spare bike for this race.
After 15km’s of chasing, I re-joined the main field just as the pressure was being applied in the cross winds. Scattered showers were on and off throughout the race with the winds a little stronger than previous days. Despite the bike being a lot smaller than usual, it was enough to see me finish the stage and stay in the tour. We missed the break but all was ok as the bunch came back for a bunch sprint at the finish of stage 5.
It was a furious finish with 160km’s in the legs and a lot of desperate riders diving into the final corner with 300m to go. I was at the pointy end but went too early and was positioned too far back to finish 6th. The only highlight for the stage was retaining our Team’s GC lead with only one day remaining.
The last day of competition saw a 13 kilometre Individual time trial take place to cement the final General Classification Standings for the 2013 Tour. Thanks to Armstrong Sports in NZ, we had the luxury of warming up on brand new Lemond Ergo trainers, which I must say are awesome to use!
With little wind and sun shining, the conditions were fast and the open course made for an ideal race circuit. My teammate and New Zealand time trial champion Joe Cooper, demolished the competition to triumph in his pet event and win by more than 50 seconds. Taylor Gunman was the 2nd placed finisher, determined to hold his GC position and in doing so, moved up into 2nd overall to cap off an impressive stage by our team, which also saw four of us finishing inside the top 20.
The final stage of this year’s tour was set to be a fast race as the winds blew from behind us the whole way into the stage finish of Invercargill. The 87km stage was completed in less than 2hrs with an average speed of 48.5kms/hr. The decision to finish the stage as a ‘bunch sprint’ was made mutual between teams before the start of the race, allowing those on GC to consolidate their positions and the sprinters on each of the teams to have a red hot crack for the stage. The boys jokingly said one thing to me before the start, “you’d better win BJ, or you can keep riding to the airport”. I guess I kept that thought in the back of my mind all race and approaching the finish, I flicked the switch! I had an easy ride most of the race. I was paced along by my team in front sitting nicely in the main bunch, so my legs were good. The race finished with three laps of Queen’s Park (the 4.2km circuit used for the TTT Prologue) and with some added rain which had dampened the road surface, it was a fast but sketchy finish. I had some amazing support from the boys all race, but in the final few laps it was Joe & Tom who drove the front of the bunch keeping the pace high and allowing me to ride safely at the front. Their incredible efforts couldn’t last forever though and with two kilometres to go I was on my own, aiming to get it done for the boys! I slipped perfectly into the KiwiVelo lead-out train and there I stayed until the one kilometre banner when a swarm of riders charged up to the front and began to ‘box on’ with each other ahead of the final corner with 300m to go.
At one point, I thought it was nearly over. I was too far back, out of position and had nowhere to go. But with 500m to go, I gave it one last crack, I couldn’t give up just yet! I dived into the final corner about 5th or 6th wheel and I could see the finish line. I once again sat perfectly behind KiwiVelo who had two riders left as they opened up the sprint for home. Waiting patiently, I snuck up the inside with everything I had left and despite being pushed towards the crowd, I held my ground and gave a little back fighting all the way to the line. I won! I actually got the job done for the boys, on the last day, the final stage of the tour and the final race of my 2013 season!
I went to find my teammates straight away and thanked them for their sacrifices. Teamwork really does win races and if it wasn’t for my teammates today, I would have struggled to achieve such success. Everyone was over the moon as we had just dominated the final two stages, finished 2nd on the Individual GC with Taylor and the Team took out the Team’s Classification win as well. The presentations were very enjoyable to say the least. To add to the spoils of winning, since 2006, I am the first Australian to have won a stage in the Tour of Southland which has been dominated by Kiwi and International riders in previous years with Taylor and Joe being prime examples of the kiwi talent.
To sum up the week, I’d say it was one of the best experiences I’ve had on a bike so far in my career. A great environment, fantastic locations and a tremendous performance by the team which made for a very happy travel day back home to Australia.
I’d like the thank Andrew and Tracey Christie-Johnson for their support and passion for this team, we couldn’t have done it without you both. To Neil Walker, the super soigner who has learnt to multi-task over the year and ensures our bikes are always 100%. To the sponsors of our team, we thank you for your support throughout 2013, helping us retain our number one National Series Teams Ranking and be so successful throughout the year. Last but not least, to my family; mum, dad, brothers and close family, my supportive girlfriend Lucy, coach Matt Wallace, Masseur Jude and Chiropractor Sharon, words can’t explain how fortunate enough I am to be surrounded by your support, I wouldn’t be continuing to chase my dreams without you all! Hope you enjoyed the epic read, stay tuned on my preparations for the 2014 season which will be an exciting year!


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