Some of New Zealand's best young cyclists will take to the roads of Southland from tomorrow for the three-day Junior Tour of Southland.
A fortnight before the big boys test themselves against the province's cross-winds, the junior riders will get their chance across four age groups in the long-running Yunca-sponsored tour.
While many will be experiencing multi-stage racing for the first time, for others this is the pinnacle of their cycling season.
Alexandra's Tom Vessey is hoping for a top performance in the men's under 19 category where a high placing could seal the national points racing series from rivals including Te Awamutu's Scott Creighton and Otago's Patrick Jones.
It's been a good year for 16-year-old Vessey who gained his first selection in a New Zealand team when he competed in Canberra earlier in the year, winning the Canberra state criterium championship.
Younger sister Georgia is also a national road representative, although she is yet to commit fully to cycling.
Alexandra has proved to be something of a glasshouse for cycling talent in recent years, with James and Sophie Williamson both competing at the junior world road championships in Copenhagen recently.
Their father, Martyn, also coaches Vessey, who has been cycling competitively for two years after initially being a swimmer who moved on to triathlons.
"I'm all focused on cycling now," The Dunstan High School year 12 pupil said. "In triathlon there's not actually a lot of racing – race tactics or savvyness. I like racing side by side."
Riding in his second junior Southland tour, Vessey counts his hill climbing ability as a strength in this early stage of his career.
His climbing legs will not be tested greatly during the relatively flat courses over the next three days, but Vessey will be focusing on the opening stage, a time trial at Teretonga.
"The time trial is critical because that's where you lose and gain all your time, and positioning in the cross winds because it's fairly flat down here."
The men's under 19 field looks challenging and includes riders who have spent the past season riding in Belgium and France.
Vessey hopes to one day join the growing list of New Zealand riders plying their trade overseas.
"I would like to go over to Europe and make a pro team, hopefully make some more New Zealand teams along the way as I go through the age groups."
YUNCA JUNIOR TOUR
Tomorrow Stage 1: Prologue, Teretonga time trial. Racing from 11am Stage 2: Teretonga Kermesse.
Starting 1.30pm Saturday Stage 3: Beast of the East. Racing from Te Tipua from 9am Stage 4: New Vale circuit. Racing from 1.30pm SUNDAY Stage 5: Inner city criterium. Racing from 8.30am Stage 6: Mabel Bush-Springhills circuit. Racing from 1pm
Story courtesy of The Southland Times