Michael Vink came into this year’s SBS Bank Tour of Southland under the radar, but that has all changed now.
The 26-year-old Cantabrian made the torturous 12km Queenstown Flooring Xtra Coronet Peak climb look like an escalator at the end of a 138km stage from Mossburn to Queenstown today to take a 1min 20sec lead overall at the midway point of the SBS Bank-sponsored race.
“The key today was having an easy ride the last two days. The team has looked after me so, so well and I hit the bottom of the climb really fresh,” Vink said.
“It’s a sedate stage until you hit the bottom of the climb, but I knew that the legs were good.”
Vink has been one of the top riders on the New Zealand cycling scene for a decade, including finishing third overall and leading under 23 rider in the 2012 Southland tour, and runner-up for the past two years.
A seven-strong breakaway led by U23 Australian rider Jensen Plowright (Aardvark Excavators) took the tour through northern Southland and around picturesque Lake Wakatipu, edging out to a lead of nearly 4mins.
Plowright would eventually take on the Coronet Peak climb alone, before being joined by Vink, Hamish Bond, Sam Gaze and Lionel Mawditt.
Vink bossed the climb to finish well over a minute ahead of Commonwealth Games gold medallist mountainbiker Gaze, with Bond third.
A niggly crash in the shadow of the climb threw a scare into the peloton, and then defending champion James Piccoli crashed heavily at the hard right hand corner leading into the climb.
He eventually recovered his bike and tried to mount a brave last ditch assault, but it’s likely the popular Canadian’s title defence is over for this year.
Overnight leader Matt Zenovich managed to limit his losses on the climb, but still slipped to 12th place overall.
Southland’s Corbin Strong impressed on the hill, the world junior team pursuit champion finishing sixth overall.
Vink (WPC South - Joyride Apparel) has put himself in position to win the Southland tour before, but has missed crucial breaks at crucial times.
This year he believes he has the team around him to cling on to a yellow jersey which has proved slippery in the past, with a 1min 20sec lead over teammate Oliver Martin, Gaze third at 1min 21sec and Bond fourth at 1min 34sec.
“It’s always good to have a lead, but things can change so quickly so we have to be on our game if we want to hold it. I’ve been in this position before so I know what to do and we’ll be ready for it.”
In Vink’s favour is the fact he has won tomorrow’s BDO Invercargill stage from Invercargill to Bluff Hill before and he can draw on the experience of 2015 tour winner Brad Evans in the team van beside him.
“It’s really nice having Brad as road captain. In other years I’ve been GC rider and captain, which is a hard thing to juggle. I think finishing with six guys in the prologue on the first day, and riding such a quick time was a really good sign straight off the bat. The boys have had a pretty good run so far so they’ll be ready to unleash tomorrow.”
Auckland’s Connor Brown leads the under 23 classification by 22sec from Strong, while Matt Zenovich leads the Sprint Ace standings, and Ethan Batt the King of the Mountains.
Glenn Haden has moved into the lead in the over 35 classification, with WPC South-Joyride Apparel the leading team.
Tomorrow’s fourth stage is 148km from Invercargill to Bluff Hill, finishing at about 2.15pm.
Riders face Invercargill to Bluff