There was a lot of talking in the corridors of the Fiordland Hotel last night as various teams were trying to organise something for today’s stage to Lumsden. In the two years that Roulston had previously won the Tour of Southland, he did so with a superb attack on Gorge Hill. And so we were expecting something similar today.
However, as the morning stage unfolded and we got closer to Gorge Hill, nothing happened. Surely the race was going to blow apart on the climb. Still nothing happened: a head wind negated some half-hearted moves off the front but the peloton stayed together over the hill. Then the speed increased as the riders raced towards the only bonus sprint in Mossburn and it became clear that Calder Stewart were going to use the bonus seconds on offer to close the 3 second gap between Rollie and Bauer. There were two sprints within 1 km and Gordy led Aray out to take the first one. At the second bonus sprint Rollie managed to come third with PowerNet lending a strong hand, which meant that Bauer’s lead was reduced to 2 seconds.
From then on the peloton stayed largely together until Lumsden and all the teams with a sprinter, including Orca Velo Merino, started muscling their way forward for the stage finish. Andy drove hard for several kms as we got closer to Lumsden and then Floyd and Sam got into the mix. But the combined strength of the teams that had decided to collaborate with Calder Stewart BikeNZ swamped everybody and Rollie came through for the win, overtaking Bauer to snatch the yellow jersey off him. Aray was in the mix but had to settle for 5th. Sam, who had led Aray out, continued to ride hard and finished 9th.
The afternoon’s stage was from Winton to Invercargill, with 3 laps around Queens Park. With Rollie in yellow Calder Stewart and Powernet continued to control the stage. Three riders got away and took the points on offer, One of the riders was Shem Rogers who was lying second ion the Under 23 competition. Since this threatened Josh Atkins’ lead, his Benchmark team came to the front and worked as hard as they could to pull back the gap. But they were clearly not as strong as they needed to be and eventually Ascot Park Hotel came up to lend a hand. Then the gap started to come down more rapidly as the bunch got closer to Invercargill. By the second lap of Queens Park the break had been caught leaving it to the top sprinters to battle it for the stage honours. Hendy eventually took the stage to prove what a class sprinter he but Bauer did not give up, managing to claw back a couple of bonus seconds with his 3rd place. The end result was that Roulston had won the Tour of Southland by just 2 seconds from Jack Bauer.
The Orca Velo Merino lads did the best they could against the combined might of Calder Stewart BikeNZ and the other collaborating teams, and brought Aray to finish in 6th place.
So the Tour was over, almost 900kms of hard racing. We ended up with Floyd in 4th, Aray in 12th and Will in 20th place. Aray also finished 3rd in the U23 competition and in the points competition. Overall Orca Velo Merino finished 5th on team classification: a very satisfying result for a team that had been cobbled together only 6 weeks ago.
It was a fun tour for Jane and me, being 3rd van in the convoy and being able to see the race unfold in front of, rather than having to watch it on Cue TV or read about it in the next day’s paper.
All riders finished in very high spirits and so I can safely say that the Orca team had a whale of a time!!