Excitement is growing for this year’s edition of the SBS Bank Tour of Southland cycle race, with a refreshed route set to deliver exciting and unpredictable racing over the course of the week-long event. A number of high-profile New Zealand riders, including past winners of the race, have already indicated that they will be lining up when the tour kicks off in Invercargill on 1 November.
Race director Sally Marr said that although the current alert level status in New Zealand made for a tough environment for event organisers to operate in, she was confident that the event would be able to go ahead as planned, in no small part thanks to the return of most of the major sponsors of the event.
“We have been very fortunate to see the return of our naming rights sponsor, SBS Bank, as well as our long-running classification sponsors including Henderson Construction Limited, Jesco Hydraulics, Harcourts. Stonewood Homes, and Wensley’s Cycles. Without the ongoing support of these sponsors events like the SBS Bank Tour of Southland would not be able to go ahead,” she said.
The tour was also fortunate to have the continued support of community funders including the ILT Foundation, Community Trust South, Invercargill City Council, The Southern Trust, and the Lion Foundation.
“Many organisations and events are lining of for funding support in the wake of the lockdown, and we are truly honoured that they have seen their way clear to support the SBS Bank Tour of Southland again,” said Marr.
This year’s course sees a mix of traditional stages, with some in new slots within the tour, and some new twists to ensure the riders are kept on their toes.
The race will retain its traditional start with the Riverside Rentals team time trial prologue around Queens Park deciding the first yellow jersey of the tour, while also providing an excellent opportunity for spectators to see the riders up close and get to know the teams that will be ruling the roads of Southland for the next week.
The Mataura Licensing Trust Stage 1 will take riders on a 151km stage from Invercargill to Gore. Although this is one of the traditional, and often decisive, stages of the tour, it has usually featured as the fifth stage, with the new slot potentially changing the way teams will approach the stage.
The Distinction Hotels Stage 2 will take the riders from Riverton to Te Anau on a scenic but challenging 148km route, including the gruelling climb up Blackmount, but many riders will not want to go too deep on the day, knowing what is coming up on Stage 3.
One of the big talking points for this year’s race has been a change to the queen stage of the tour, the traditional name given to the stage featuring the highest mountain in the race. Unlike recent editions that have scaled the heights of Coronet Peak, this year the race will take on the fearsome slopes of the climb up to the Remarkables ski station. The new finishing climb also sees a new stage sponsor come on board, with The Southern Trust sponsoring Stage 3, which starts from Mossburn and winds its way along Lake Wakatipu before turning towards the slopes of the Remarkables for a 13km slog that is likely to be a major determining factor in the overall winner of the tour.
The BDO Invercargill Stage 4 will be a 157km stage from Invercargill finishing up the ridiculously steep gradients of Bluff Hill. There are some quite challenging climbs in the middle of the course as well, which makes it a fertile hunting ground for a breakaway, especially for riders who might have lost some time on the slog up the Remarkables the previous day.
The Southland District Council Stage 5 will be another familiar stage in an unfamiliar place in the tour, having traditionally been the first road stage of the event. It is the longest stage of the tour, at 170km, taking riders from Invercargill to Lumsden, and has built a reputation for the havoc that crosswinds can wreak on the peloton. With a couple of days of hard racing in their legs, the distance and conditions could combine to turn the tour on its head yet again.
The final day of the tour, Saturday 7 November, will see a split stage, with the McConachie Shearing Stage 6 individual time trial in Winton over 13km, giving specialists the opportunity to make up some time on their rivals.
The Ascot Park Hotel Stage 7 wraps up the tour with a 77km race from Winton back to Invercargill, finishing with laps around Queens Park and a big final sprint, followed by the presentation of the final classification jerseys – the SBS Bank Tour of Southland yellow jersey for the race winner, the Henderson Construction Limited pink jersey for the best under 23 rider, the Harcourts Sprint Ace jersey for the top sprinter, the Jesco Hydraulics King of the Mountain jersey for the top climber, the Stonewood Homes silver jersey for the best rider 35 and over, and the Wensley’s Cycles team classification for the best team on the overall.
The event will also feature a new jersey and sponsor this year, with more information to be revealed in the near future.
Marr said she was very happy with the response received to this year’s course.
“The climb up the Remarkables has certainly got riders talking – the climb is an unknown to many, as it is only fairly recently that it has been paved, and the last couple of kilometres are still over gravel, which adds an even greater challenge to what will likely be the decisive stage of this year’s tour,” she said.