Bluff Hill is one of the most famous climbs in New Zealand cycling and it didn’t disappoint today with Southland’s Corbin Strong (PowerNet) claiming his second stage win of the 2020 SBS Bank Tour of Southland.
The 20-year-old world points race champion has ridden the punchy climb above the port town plenty of times and he was welcomed home by Motupōhue with a cozy blanket of fog as he ground his way into a narrow overall lead with three stages remaining in this year’s race.
The PowerNet rider, who also won the bunch sprint into Te Anau on Tuesday, edged out 2016 winner Aaron Gate (Black Spoke) and defending champion Michael Vink (Transport Engineering-Talleys) to take a 9sec overall lead from Vink, with 2013 winner James Oram (Black Spoke) at 15sec.
“Before this tour started this is one stage I noted down and thought I could perform well in and to pull it off was pretty special,” Strong said at the end of the BDO Invercargill 157km stage from Invercargill to Bluff.
After his superb climb up the Remarkables yesterday, 19-year-old Reuben Thompson was part of a 20-strong breakaway group which headed up the road early and included most of the heavy hitters in this year’s race.
As he desperately tried to hold onto the yellow jersey, he received admirable protection from his Vet4Farm teammate Mark Stewart, but as the raiding party approached Invercargill with Bluff Hill on the horizon, the pressure told and his defence came to an abrupt end.
“Everyone knew it was going to be crosswinds today and poor old Reuben had a target on his back in yellow and with a lot of riders wanting to see some crosswind action,” Strong said.
“As soon as we turned the corner it was into the gutter and it was all go from the start. Reuben had a really gutsy ride, he was there for all of 140km of the stage and then he unfortunately fell victim to the crosswinds, but it was an extremely gutsy ride from him and I’ve got a lot of respect for how he rode today. I’ve got the same target on my back tomorrow so hopefully I can fight another day and be on the right end of the splits.”
Strong has already achieved a huge amount in a short career, but winning Bluff is a highlight.
“It’s definitely pretty special. I grew up watching the Tour of Southland, watched it go past my primary school, followed it in the vans for eight years. It took me eight years to win the Yunca Junior Tour of Southland and I’m in my third Tour of Southland. I really want to win it this year but there’s a long way to go and it’s a big ask for me and my team.”
The challenge ahead is a significant one, starting with tomorrow’s 170km stage from Invercargill to Lumsden, the longest in this year’s race.
“We are just going to have to be very attentive and watch whoever is going up the road. I’m a big fan of offence rather than defence, so we definitely won’t shy away from the challenge tomorrow,” Strong said.
There’s also Saturday’s individual time trial in Winton which the likes of Vink and Gate will be eyeing with hungry looks.
“They are all pretty strong time triallers and I’ve got a wee buffer on them at the moment but it’s definitely going to be a big ask. The PowerNet team has been riding really well this tour and we’ve still got Ollie Jones right up there too, so we’ve still got a couple of cards to play but we’ll have to ride exceptionally over the next couple of days to defend this jersey,” Strong said.
Strong has a significant lead in the Henderson Construction Under 23 classification, while his teammate Paul Odlin rode his way into the Stonewood Homes silver jersey for over 35 riders.
With Matt Zenovich (Vet4Farm) not making the crucial selection, James Fouche (Creation Signs-MITOQ) took advantage to leap ahead in the Harcourts Sprint Ace classification while his teammate Paul Wright continues to dominate the Jesco Hydraulics King of the Mountain category and Black Spoke lead the Wensley's Cycles team classification.
The Share the Road Ambassador jersey was awarded to Travis Kane (Business South).
Photo credit: James Jubb/Studio Jubb
1. Corbin Strong (PNL) 3h41m19s; 2. Aaron Gate (BSP) ST; 3. Michael Vink (TET) ST; 4. James Oram (BSP) at 06s; 5. Ollie Jones (PNL) at 09s; 6. Ben Oliver (CBW) at 13s; 7. Laurence Pithie (CCA) at 25s; 8. Logan Currie (TET) at 39s; 9. Theo Gilbertson (CSM) at 45s; 10. Luke Mudgway (BSP) at 53s; 11. Tom Sexton (BSS) at 01m00s; 12. Joel Yates (BSR) at 01m30s; 13. Bailey O'Donnell (TET) at 01m41s; 14. Paul Odlin (PNL) at 02m41s; 15. James Fouche (CSM) at 04m22s; 16. Hamish Keast (TET) at 05m17s; 17. Reuben Thompson (VFF) at 05m23s; 18. Mark Stewart (VFF) at 10m07s; 19. Jack Drage (CBW) at 14m15s; 20. Boris Clark (VFF) at 14m31s; 21. Glenn Haden (CPB) at 14m40s; 22. Navarh Brotherston (MEN) at 14m52s; 23. Camden Feint (BJC) at 14m54s; 24. Cathal Guiney (BMN) at 14m58s; 25. Jamie Shields (BJC) at 15m03s;
1. Corbin Strong (PNL) 13h29m06s; 2. Michael Vink (TET) at 09s; 3. James Oram (BSP) at 15s; 4. Ollie Jones (PNL) at 19s; 5. Aaron Gate (BSP) at 35s; 6. Luke Mudgway (BSP) at 02m09s; 7. Ben Oliver (CBW) at 02m25s; 8. Laurence Pithie (CCA) at 02m42s; 9. Logan Currie (TET) at 02m58s; 10. Theo Gilbertson (CSM) at 04m30s; 11. Tom Sexton (BSS) at 04m42s; 12. Reuben Thompson (VFF) at 05m11s; 13. Joel Yates (BSR) at 05m14s; 14. Paul Odlin (PNL) at 08m06s; 15. Bailey O'Donnell (TET) at 09m32s; 16. Mark Stewart (VFF) at 13m07s; 17. Kees Duyvesteyn (MEN) at 17m08s; 18. Jack Drage (CBW) at 17m13s; 19. Hamish Keast (TET) at 17m17s; 20. Barnaby Clegg-Shaw (RJS) at 17m24s; 21. Glenn Haden (CPB) at 17m51s; 22. Jake Marryatt (RVR) at 18m00s; 23. Campbell Pithie (CCA) at 18m27s; 24. Alex Heaney (PNL) at 19m43s; 25. James Fouche (CSM) at 20m00s;
1. Black Spoke Pro Cycling Academy 40h30m40s; 2. Powernet at 03m03s; 3. Transport Engineering – Talleys at 07m24s; 4. Vet4Farm at 34m57s; 5. Creation Signs – MitoQ at 39m03s; 6. Central Benchmakers – Willbike at 40m07s; 7. Business South at 45m25s; 8. Base Solutions Racing at 46m55s; 9. Real Journeys at 57m52s; 10. Meridian Energy at 57m53s;
1. James Fouche (CSM) 48; 2. Matthew Zenovich (VFF) 29; 3. Paul Odlin (PNL) 19; 4. Jordan Kerby (BSR) 18; 5. Dylan Kennett (TET) 10; 6. Paul Wright (CSM) 10; 7. Joel Yates (BSR) 8; 8. George Jackson (CSM) 7; 9. Ollie Jones (PNL) 6; 10. Liam Cappel (CPB) 6;
King of Mountains
1. Paul Wright (CSM) 37; 2. Ollie Jones (PNL) 17; 3. Aaron Gate (BSP) 12; 4. Laurence Pithie (CCA) 11; 5. Corbin Strong (PNL) 10; 6. Reuben Thompson (VFF) 10; 7. Michael Vink (TET) 10; 8. Theo Gilbertson (CSM) 9; 9. James Williamson (CSM) 6; 10. Matthew Zenovich (VFF) 6;
Stage 5 will take the riders over 170 kilometres from Invercargill to Lumsden