Graham Sycamore has just about seen and done it all during his 52 years on the Tour of Southland.
Timekeeping, judging, commissaire and race director - you name it, Sycamore has done it.
But one of his most demanding roles was reporting on the race while also competing as a rider for two years.
“I got sidetracked a bit because I was doing an apprenticeship at the Southland Times and they wouldn’t send a reporter out on tour because it was sponsored by the Southland News, so they paid me to do the reports on the tour,” he said.
“You had to line up at Tuatapere to get a telephone line and report back your story, it was a lot of fun.”
Sycamore has carved out a long career as a cycling commissaire both nationally and internationally, but the Tour of Southland remains his favourite race.
“In 1970 I had a ring from the president of the Southland Centre to twist my arm and get a few young guys to get the tour going again. He said if we didn’t it would die.
“I remember in 1969 the total prize money was $800 and we said that was ridiculous and we tried to double it. I think we ended up with about $1800 and every year we’ve just tried to do something a little bit better, rather than trying to fix everything at once.
“I think that’s really one of the reasons it’s lasted so long because ever since then successive management have just tried to do something better each year without going over the top.”
Sycamore was race director for eight years before taking a three year break, returning to the role in 1981 and doing another four years before current race director Bruce Ross assumed the role.
“I twisted the arm of a little short fella who had been one of my judges for a few years and here he is still doing it, he’s got number 50 coming up,” Sycamore said.
“It’s been a fantastic experience over the years. Every year we say it’s better and this year I wouldn’t believe we’ve got 100 riders who all have a chance of winning. It’s by far and away the most even field I’ve seen. One of my biggest thrills was seeing 95 guys sprinting down the main street of Lumsden (on Monday). I’ve never seen that many in a sprint finish in this country ever.”
Sycamore saw Tino Tabak win his last Southland tour in 1967 and has had the pleasure of watching the other greats of New Zealand cycling over the years, including Warwick Dalton, Jack Swart, Stephen Cox, Brian Fowler and Hayden Roulston, among others.
He remembers walking up to the New Zealand team before the team time trial at the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, where Sycamore was working as a commissiare, to wish the team good luck.
Fowler wanted to bend his ear about some money he felt he was owed by Cycling NZ, and he was chided by a team mate who thought he would be better concentrating on the Olympic Games race they were about to compete in.
“Fowler said ‘I’m not worried about this anyway, I can’t wait to get home and race in the best bike race in the world, the Tour of Southland’, so he had his priorities right,” Sycamore said.
Sycamore plans to retire to Cromwell next year, but this may not be his last lap of the province.
“I think it’s time I stepped down from the commissaire’s role. I wouldn’t mind going back to where I started, helping with the time keeping or judging or something. We’ll see what next year brings.”
Caption: Leading New Zealand cycling commissaire Graham Sycamore, left, with Tour of Southland race director Bruce Ross. Photo courtesy: James Jubb/Studio Jubb