American Carter Jones of Bissell Pro Cycling has climbed his way into the lead in the PowerNet Tour of Southland, after winning the 179km stage from Te Anau to the Crown Range, near Arrowtown.
It was a day of mixed fortunes for the Bissell team with Paddy Bevin, who had already won two stages during the week’s racing, forced to withdraw from the Tour due to a lung infection.
While that will make retaining the yellow jersey harder for the team during the final two days of the Tour, Jones, 23, is confident his team has the capability to defend the lead and credited his strong climb up the final 3km of today’s stage to a good team effort.
“My team mates worked as hard as they could so with 1km to go, I thought ‘they did all of that work for me so I’ve got to give it a shot’. I’ve got good legs, and it worked out,” he said.
Jones now takes a 29 second lead over Node 4-Subaru’s Mike Northey; the biggest lead of this week’s Tour so far.
Bissell team manager and former Tour winner Glen Mitchell said whilst it was disappointing to lose Bevin, everything else on today’s stage had gone according to plan.
“We wanted to stay hidden as much as we could and save everything for the last 10km to launch Carter into the position where he could challenge for the lead of the race – and we couldn’t have asked for more, it worked out exactly,” he said.
“With Paddy not being in for the rest of the Tour, it reduces us to five riders to defend over the next stage. You have to take this Tour one stage at a time as anything can happen out there, but we’ve got a strong team of motivated riders.”
Today’s stage – the longest of the Tour – was decided in the final 3km, but prior to that a group of nine riders, including Pure Black Racing’s James Williamson, did a power of work in a break that gained up to a 4minute lead.
The peloton caught the group after it passed through Frankton and with 10km to go there was very little in it.
Northey was in the hunt as the ascent to the Crown Range lookout began, but Jones had the legs and the stamina to take line honours, ahead of Southsure Insurance’s Brodie Talbot and PowerNet’s Heath Blackgrove.
Jones is the fourth rider to pull on the yellow jersey this week and six riders are now within 2minutes 35seconds of the lead, including former Tour winners Gordon McCauley and Blackgrove.
Tour director Bruce Ross said this was the sign of a very good race.
“It is a very interesting race,” he said.
“The lead keeps changing and that, to me, indicates a good race.”
The Harcourts Sprint Ace jersey sits comfortably with Share the Road’s Sam Witmitz, while Joe Chapman (Creation Signs-L&M Group Racing) keeps hold of the Jesco Hydraulics King of the Mountain jersey and Taylor Gunman (Pure Black Racing) retains The Co-operative Bank U23 jersey. Node 4-Subaru leads the Wensley’s Cycles teams classification.
Tomorrow’s stage covers a 167km route from Invercargill to Gore and Ross believes it will be defining.