Luke Macpherson will be the rider to beat when the Tour de Lakes gets underway on Friday.
The Invercargill cyclist has been close to winning the Vital Signs-sponsored four-day tour in the past, but with the likes of Alex McGregor, Brad Evans, Matt Zenovich and Josh Haggerty all racing overseas, Macpherson shapes as a likely frontrunner in an A grade field which also includes former national road champion James Williamson.
Macpherson has twice won the Frank O'Conner Cup for the leading Southlander in the race.
The trophy was first presented to the fastest Southlander in the Timaru to Christchurch race and was won by John Holloway in 1957.
It became part of the Tour de Lakes event in 2010 and has world champion team pursuiter Pieter Bulling amongst it's past winners.
Jerard Stock and Tour de Lakes race director Allan Dunn are the only riders who have won the cup three times.
"Luke has had a couple of [podiums] in this tour, he's always been there or thereabouts. I'm giving him the No 1 [race number]," Dunn said.
About 80 riders will contest the 20th edition of the Tour de Lakes, which starts with an individual time trial prologue at Cromwell on Friday.
The race continues with stages from Remarkables to Five Rivers and Five Rivers to Manapouri on Saturday.
Sunday includes a time trial from Manapouri to Te Anau and stage four from Te Anau to Five Rivers.
The final day of the race includes stages from Queenstown to Glenorchy and Glenorchy to Moke Lake.
Dunn resurrected the Easter race two decades ago after the Glengarry Cycling Club ceased to exist.
The club had previously run a Queens Birthday race to Queenstown from the 1960s until the early 1990s.
Dunn, an Invercargill real estate agent, is passionate about the race and has poured plenty into it over the years.
He's proud of the fact that many of his sponsors are happy to be involved year after year, that new sponsors continue to come onboard and that Invercargill businesses are also prepared to support the race even though it is predominantly staged in Northern Southland and Central Otago.
With four grades, including a ladies grade, the race was about nurturing cycling talent, Dunn said.
Many riders had graduated to ride in major races like the Tour of Southland, or compete overseas.
"It's a grassroots race, the idea is to develop people, to show them what tour racing is all about, to improve their skill base. They learn so much from the vets [but] then we lose them."
"My daughter is 16, so she was only four years away from being born when we started. I've been thinking about the anniversary for the last three or four years. This is 20 years of my life, which is a big chunk of someone's life when you spend six months organising it. It's something I wouldn't turn the clock back on, I love it."
Article and photo courtesy The Southland Times