There is very little of the PowerNet Tour of Southland that Winton’s John McHugh hasn’t seen.
The Winton publican has been involved with the iconic Tour in some form almost every year since 1980 and is relishing the chance to be involved in the 2012 edition with the return of old friend Brian Fowler, as part of the Henderson Construction Limited team.
Fowler, 50, is an eight-time Tour winner and McHugh has been there for every one of those wins. McHugh started his Tour involvement helping out with the Winton Hotel team in the 1980s, which included Fowler’s six-year stronghold over the Tour title. When McHugh and wife Nancy bought the Winton Middle Pub, they started sponsoring their own team, which Fowler became a part of.
This year they are supporting the Henderson Construction team, which they are hosting in Winton and have welcomed Fowler, in particular, back with open arms.
“It’s quite coincidental, but four of the riders in the team have ridden for Winton Middle Pub in the past. It’s a bit of a reunion of old friends and riders really,” McHugh said.
“It’s great having them all stay out in Winton. Winton has always been a tremendous supporter of the Tour and it is great to be part of it.”
Glancing through a list of former winners, McHugh can reel off a lengthy list of those he has supported over the years. Whilst Fowler admittedly isn’t in the running this year, he is pleased to be back for his 24th Tour.
“I always thought I’d like to come back and do it when I was 50 and see what it was like,” Fowler said.
“Jimmy Fowler (of Winton) died earlier this year and he had followed just about every tour, he supported us all that time, so we’re really doing it as a bit of a memorial.
“A number of people have been around since I started racing the Tour and a number of them are still here supporting it, still sponsoring it. There were quite a few reasons to come back really.”
While Fowler has noticed a huge increase in professional teams joining the PowerNet Tour of Southland, he believes there will always be a place for amateur and domestic riders.
“A lot of these guys race in Europe all winter and they train all the time, which makes a huge difference,” he said.
“But it’s tough training, especially when you are working fulltime and, being older, you don’t recover the same. I’ll be trying to look after myself this week to get through the week.”
The Henderson Construction team might not be making waves in the overall standings so far during this week’s Tour but they are certainly having an influence on the Tour in their own way, with many in admiration of Fowler’s determination.
And, while McHugh may not add to his impressive list of Tour winners to date, he’s more than happy supporting the team and being part of the Tour that has become an annual staple in the Winton Middle Pub’s calendar.