This time next week we will be underway with the last major fixture on Cycling Southland’s 2012 calendar, the 2012 PowerNet Tour of Southland.
And what a finale it promises to be.
No other event shines a spotlight on our region like the PowerNet Tour and, as usual, there are so many storylines.
Firstly, our wonderful tour sponsor PowerNet ends twelve incredible years of support as naming rights sponsor this year. Its name will forever be linked with the race and it gives the PowerNet sextet of riders a little extra motivation to send the company out on the highest note possible. The defending champion Josh Atkins may not be returning, but PowerNet has replaced the youngest ever Tour champion with a man who lifted the trophy just two years earlier. Heath Blackgrove is one of the sport’s nicest guys who has been quietly going about his work in the US and looms as one to watch when racing starts on Sunday.
Another man not lacking for motivation will be four-time winner Hayden Roulston. His early withdrawal due to injury last year will no doubt fuel his engine for another tilt at his “drive-for-five” this year.
Then there’s the return of the only man with more Southland wins than Roulston. At the grand age of 50 (note I didn’t say grand old age), eight-time champ Brian Fowler is back to take on the race he dominated in the late-80s and early 90s. Having not raced competitively for close to four years, no one is expecting number nine next week, but one wouldn’t be surprised if Chook shows up some of the peloton, who he will have more than three decades of experience on.
It is only fair to also look at the younger end of the age spectrum. Earlier this year we watched Dylan Kennett, Hayden McCormick, Tayla Harrison and Hamish Schreurs ride for New Zealand at the Junior World Track Championships. Now the foursome will line up to make their open racing debuts at the 2012 PowerNet Tour.
And just to emphasise the young talent coming through the ranks, no less than four riders from Cycling Southland’s recent Yunca Junior Tour, will back up to ride the senior equivalent with Kennett and Harrison being joined by U19 Men’s Yunca Tour champion Ayden Toovey and fellow Australian Jordan Payne.
Another of the younger brigade is last year’s runner-up Patrick Bevin who finished less than a minute down on Atkins in the overall classification last year. He returns as one of the favourites as part of the US-based Bissell Pro Cycling team who make a welcome return to this year’s race under the tutelage of another former Tour champion Glen Mitchell.
Then there’s the international flavor with teams from the US, Australia and UK all entered along with riders from Canada, the Netherlands, Sweden and Brazil and the local flavor with no less than 12 Southlanders lining up at the start line.
I reckon that’s enough to keep us busy for the week.
Photo courtesy PowerNet Ltd