More than 100 promising road cyclists from around the country will descend on Southland this week for New Zealand’s leading junior stage cycle race.
Now in its 33rd year, the Yunca Junior Tour of Southland constantly attracts a high calibre of junior riders looking to gain invaluable road cycling experience while also staking a claim for higher national honours.
Yunca Junior Tour of Southland race director Danielle Ralph said given the quality of young riders taking part, racing would be extremely competitive across the four age divisions.
“It’s a good mix too of new riders and returning riders. The U17 division for both boys and girls looks to be one of the most competitive we’ve had for some time, and riders will be keen to win that and stake a claim for national selection, but there will be some solid racing in the U13 and U15 divisions as well.
“We’re seeing a resurgence in junior cycling in Southland and it’s clear in the entries that’s happening across the country.”
One of the leading Southland riders with a good chance of winning the U17 boys section is 16-year-old Hamish Keast.
The James Hargest College year 11 student is a big fan of the tour, and will line up in his fifth Yunca Junior Tour of Southland on Friday, hoping to reclaim the yellow jersey that he won last year despite riding with a broken collarbone – he even delayed surgery on it to ensure he could race.
That commitment was noted at a national level, with Keast selected in the New Zealand U17 Road team to compete in Canberra in May.
Keast will relish racing at Teretonga on Friday – his time spent racing karts has given him a greater understanding for cornering.
“I first rode in Yunca as an U13. I’d never ridden road before so it was a great experience plus I won the tour and also the sprint ace and King of the Mountain.”
He has gone on to win the U15 and U17 categories in previous Yunca Tours.
“I’ve set myself some personnel goals for this year’s Yunca. It’s a very competitive U17 field with probably some of the best riders in this age group in New Zealand.
“I’ve had 12 weeks off my bike after Canberra so am rapt to be racing again with the lads and hoping I can have a good tour.”
Keast trains six days a week with two gym sessions, and has been focussing on his endurance so has been riding up to 400 kilometres each week.
He’s also been juggling schoolwork with training with the tour falling just after his mid-year exams.
While his ultimate cycling goal is to ride for a professional road team, he’s aware there’s a lot to learn before than can happen. In the short term he’s looking for a solid ride at the weekend and then securing a ride in the Calder Stewart Series next season.
The Yunca-sponsored tour has been a breeding ground for young cyclists for the past three decades. Glenn McLeay won the inaugural Tour in 1984 and went on to compete in the Barcelona Olympics in 1992.
The three-day tour starts on Friday with a time trial and kermesse at Teretonga, the Beast of the East and the New Vale Circuit stages at Te Tipua. This is then followed by the Inner City Criterium and the Grove Bush Circuit on Sunday.
Many of the riders taking part will also compete in the Junior Track Carnival & South Island Schools Track Championship at the SIT Zero Fees Velodrome in Invercargill on Tuesday.