Cantabrian Michael Vink is on the cusp on a hard-earned SBS Bank Tour of Southland victory with two stages remaining in New Zealand’s most prestigious stage race.
After surviving everything the peloton could throw at him on today’s Mataura Licensing Trust 151km stage from Invercargill to Gore, Vink will be hoping it’s third time lucky tomorrow after finishing runner-up in the SBS Bank-sponsored race in 2016 and 2017.
“I’ve been runner up twice, third, fourth, seventh and ninth - I’ve been so, so close so many times and I feel like I’ve made every mistake in the book in this race so I feel like I’m due a win,” the affable Vink said.
“You just don’t know. Things can turn on their head so quickly on this tour - a bad night, a puncture, I’ll prepare for the worst and hope for the best.”
It was a relatively quiet stage today after the weather battering the race has received this week, but there was a huge amount of pressure being applied on Vink and his WPC South-Joyride Apparel team, especially by the Kia Motors-Ascot Park Hotel team including defending champion James Piccoli and Hamish Bond.
With Vink, Bond and Sam Gaze catching the early break midway through the stage and Vink latching onto second-placed Bond’s wheel throughout, Piccoli was able to slip away on the Broughton St hill climb to take his second stage win in as many days and make up for some of the disappointment of his crash at the base of Coronet Peak on Wednesday.
“Today the plan was just to disrupt the race as much as we could to try and gain some time back on GC for Hamish,” Piccoli said.
“Unfortunately Mike Vink did a great job of defending today. We threw everything we had at him and we got close to making him vulnerable so we will keep fighting tomorrow. That’s why we are here, to fight and race our bikes. We won’t give up until the race is over.”
Vink, who leads Bond by 1min 32sec, Piccoli by 3min 03sec and Gaze by 3min 17sec, is a noted time trial rider and won’t expect to lose significant time over the short McConachie Shearing 13km course based around Winton.
That will leave him with a final 77km stage from Invercargill to Winton to defend the yellow jersey tomorrow afternoon.
“I think I’ve won that (time trial) three of four times, but I’ve never had to go up against Hamish Bond before, and a Hamish Bond who is in the GC battle. I’m going to ride as fast as I can, that’s the plan,” Vink said.
Today’s stage got underway with a nice moment when Southland’s junior world team pursuit champion Corbin Strong was honoured with a haka by his Southland Boys’ High school mates as the peloton passed the school.
Strong is placed second behind Ethan Batt in the under 23 classification, and ninth overall, with Batt having also virtually locked up the King of the Mountain jersey.
Southland’s Matt Zenovich has a big lead in the Sprint Ace classification, while Paul Odlin is the race’s leading over 35 rider.
The riders face two phases on the final day of racing with the 13km Individual Time Trial in and around Winton, followed by the final 77km leg from Winton to Invercargill.