Canadian James Piccoli has been one of the biggest contributors on this year’s SBS Bank Tour of Southland and he was finally rewarded with a stage win on the iconic Bluff Hill this afternoon.
Piccoli (Kia Motors-Ascot Park Hotel) has been prominent this week, including a second placing on Coronet Peak on Wednesday, and he started stage four from Invercargill to Bluff trailing tour leader Michael Torckler (Blindz Direct) by 44sec.
He found himself in a two man breakaway with Matt Ross (PowerNet) as the race rolled its way around the picturesque Glenham hills, but the decisive move would come on Motu Pohue.
“The breakaway was a bit of a gamble. We were hoping to draw a few other guys across. It turned out it didn’t work, so we reshuffled the cards and waited for the last climb,” he said.
Ross was left to carry on alone, but found support in Josh Kuysten (Blindz Direct) and Southland’s Matt Zenovich (Mike Greer Homes).
Zenovich briefly provided some hope for his second Southland stage victory, but the climb became a battle of the tour contenders, with Torckler, Piccoli and Michael Vink (Mike Greer Homes) all buying tickets.
Piccoli edged Torckler by 8sec to cut the New Plymouth rider’s overall lead to 32sec with three stages remaining.
Lionel Mawditt (Team Skoda Racing) was third across the line, with Vink fourth and third overall, trailing Torckler by 1min 13sec.
“It’s probably the steepest hill I’ve ever raced up so it definitely lives up to its reputation,” Piccoli said.
“We did it the day before the race in training so we knew what to expect. It’s an unbelievable hill and it was a great day. (This) is an awesome event - super well run, super coverage and we are super happy to be here. Kia Motors-Ascot Park Hotel have been doing a pretty good job of animating the race and participating.”
Piccoli now looms as the strongest challenger to Torckler. While a lot of good overseas riders have taken part in New Zealand’s most prestigious stage race, only three have ever won it.
“It will still be interesting the last couple of days,” Piccoli said.
“I’ve heard that this race can be lost at any moment with cross winds and the weather so we are going to keep the pressure on and hopefully make the race exciting.”
Torckler was a relieved bike rider after defending the yellow jersey on the same stage where his tour ambitions evaporated last year.
“The boys rode unreal, kept me out of the wind the whole stage and set me up beautifully at the bottom of the climb again,” he said.
Tomorrow’s 151km stage from Invercargill to Gore presents a new set of challenges, with crosswinds and testing climbs on the menu.
“It could be a real nasty day, we’ll be watching very closely to what’s going up the road, who is being aggressive and I’ll be sticking close to my boys,” Torckler said.
However, the Blindz Direct team were enjoying having the yellow jersey to defend, he said.
“They are thriving on it. It was pretty cool to have Josh Kuysten up the road too, that was a nice little treat for him. They are pretty pumped to be getting their time on the camera.”
Alexandra's James Williamson (Creation Signs L&M Mining Group Ricoh) continues to lead the Sprint Ace classification, with teammate Ben Barry taking over the King of the Mountains standings.
Alex West (Team Skoda Racing) retained the under 23 lead, while Paul Odlin (PowerNet) claimed back the over 35s Silver jersey.
Kia Motors-Ascot Park Hotel lead the teams classification, while Matt Ross (PowerNet) took Most Combative honours from stage four.
Results from the 4th stage of the SBS Tour of Southland. Invercargill - Edendale - Tisbury - Bluff
1. James Piccoli (KAP) 3h25m40s; 2. Michael Torckler (BZD) at 08s; 3. Lionel Mawditt (TSR) at 19s; 4. Michael Vink (MGH) at 24s; 5. Raphael Freienstein (AVE) at 28s; 6. Boris Clark (CST) at 34s; 7. James Fouche (CLM) at 41s; 8. Alex West (TSR) at 41s; 9. Mike Cuming (AVE) at 41s; 10. Ryan Christensen (KAP) at 50s; 11. Brad Evans (PNL) at 50s; 12. Sam Mobberley (ITM) at 54s; 13. Paul Odlin (PNL) at 01m03s; 14. John Wansink (ACA) at 01m15s; 15. Taylor Gunman (KAP) at 01m17s; 16. Campbell Pithie (ITM) at 01m23s; 17. Jake Marryatt (CST) at 01m23s; 18. Ben Andrews (AVE) at 01m23s; 19. Carne Groube (CBW) at 01m23s; 20. Joseph Swale (CBW) at 01m23s; 21. Kane Richards (ITM) at 01m37s; 22. Ben Robertson (TPS) at 01m46s; 23. Richard Randall (GLS) at 01m46s; 24. Andy Hagan (WWS) at 02m00s; 25. Florian Barket (TSR) at 02m01s;
1. Michael Torckler (BZD) 15h05m17s; 2. James Piccoli (KAP) at 32s; 3. Michael Vink (MGH) at 01m13s; 4. Raphael Freienstein (AVE) at 02m21s; 5. Mike Cuming (AVE) at 03m03s; 6. Alex West (TSR) at 03m21s; 7. Taylor Gunman (KAP) at 03m42s; 8. Ryan Christensen (KAP) at 03m49s; 9. Sam Mobberley (ITM) at 04m04s; 10. Brad Evans (PNL) at 04m25s; 11. Jake Marryatt (CST) at 04m43s; 12. James Fouche (CLM) at 04m56s; 13. Boris Clark (CST) at 05m30s; 14. Kane Richards (ITM) at 05m32s; 15. Ben Andrews (AVE) at 06m31s; 16. Paul Odlin (PNL) at 06m47s; 17. Lionel Mawditt (TSR) at 07m00s; 18. Richard Randall (GLS) at 07m07s; 19. Tim Rush (MGH) at 07m08s; 20. Andy Hagan (WWS) at 07m15s; 21. Roman Van Uden (PNL) at 07m57s; 22. Carne Groube (CBW) at 08m04s; 23. Campbell Pithie (ITM) at 08m47s; 24. Nick Kergozou (PMK) at 08m57s; 25. John Wansink (ACA) at 09m45s;
1. Kia Motors - Ascot Park Hotel 45h24m24s; 2. Aardvark Excavators Ltd at 03m22s; 3. Powernet at 07m41s; 4. Team Skoda Racing at 09m55s; 5. ITM at 09m56s; 6. Mike Greer Homes at 10m22s; 7. Calder Stewart at 15m25s; 8. Blindz Direct at 19m10s; 9. Wheelworks Handcrafted Wheels at 22m02s; 10. Giant Lakeside at 23m48s;
1. James Williamson (CLM) 27; 2. Alexander Ray (WWS) 21; 3. Paul Wright (CBW) 18; 4. Callum Gordon (BSS) 13; 5. Mathew Zenovich (MGH) 11; 6. Andy Hagan (WWS) 9; 7. Josh Kuysten (BZD) 9; 8. Logan Griffin (TGB) 9; 9. Raphael Freienstein (AVE) 9; 10. Matt Ross (PNL) 9;
King of Mountains
1. Ben Barry (CLM) 26; 2. Callum Gordon (BSS) 23; 3. James Piccoli (KAP) 22; 4. Michael Torckler (BZD) 16; 5. Logan Griffin (TGB) 14; 6. Andy Hagan (WWS) 10; 7. Eric Marcotte (KAP) 10; 8. Brendan Cole (ITM) 8; 9. Joshua Scott (CLM) 8; 10. Florian Barket (TSR) 8;
Stage 5 will take the riders over 151 kilometres from Invercargill to Gore