Date: Thursday, 13 October 2016

Southland cycling fans will have a rare opportunity to mingle with stars from the past and present during the birthday celebrations of the longest running cycle race in New Zealand.

Several former yellow jersey winners will be returning to the province to mark the start of the 60th SBS Bank Tour of Southland on October 30.

Among those making the pilgrimage south will be crowd-favourite Warwick Dalton, arguably New Zealand's greatest all-round amateur cyclist and a three-time winner of the Tour in 1959,1961 and 1969.

Known as "a champion of champions", Dalton dominated cycling in New Zealand in the 1950s and '60s and was a major attraction at the Kew Bowl cycling track, with crowds pouring through the turnstiles keen to see his superb riding skills.

He competed at the 1956 and 1960 Olympic Games, and won bronze medals in the 1km time trial and individual pursuit at the 1958 British Empire and Commonwealth Games.

He won two stages in the Tour of Britain in 1961, finishing third and winning the points classification, and claimed the Australian national road race title in 1963.

Another former champion returning to Southland is Tino Tabak, who won three consecutive tours from 1965.

His style was described as "riding as though his life depended on it" and after honing his skills in the Tour headed to Europe, where he footed it against some of the greats including Eddy Merckx, Joop Zoetemelk and Freddy Maertens.

He finished 18th in the 1972 Tour de France, still the best result by a New Zealander, but the "master of the breakaway's" cycling career was ended by injury in 1978.

Among the other champions taking part in the celebrations will be eight-time winner Brian Fowler (1985-1990, 1992, 1995), the last Southlander to win the race Doug Bath (1994), two-time winners Stephen Cox (1981,1982) and Paul Jesson (1976, 1978), Merv Davis (1968), Chris Hogan (1975), Eric McKenzie (1979), as well as those riding this year: Gordon McCauley (2005) and four-time winner Hayden Roulston (2006-2008 and 2010).

The public will have an opportunity to mingle with the champions at the team time trial prologue at the Gala St Reserve on Sunday, October 30.

The champions will also ride the team time trial.

The stars will also attend an invite-only birthday function on the Saturday night before the racing begins.

Dalton and Tabak will follow the tour during the week and attend each stage finish, as well as be the guests of honour on the Supporters Bus for the Invercargill to Gore stage on Friday, November 4.

The pair will also be at the start and conclusion of the Bluff Hill Challenge, which is an opportunity for amateur cyclists to tackle part of the notorious hill stage.

Tour of Southland director Bruce Ross said it would provide cycling fans a great chance to reminisce about some of the golden days of amateur cycling, with the names Dalton and Tabak likely to trigger great memories for many people.

"These guys were household names and had a massive following in Southland, and indeed the country," he said.

"Their presence back in Southland during our 60th birthday celebrations just makes the occasion even more special."

The Tour of Southland is the premier cycle stage race in New Zealand and runs from October 30 to November 5.

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