SBS Tour of Southland  2018 – Race report by Antony Nalder

I wasn’t new to tour racing but I wasn’t that experienced either, having only started 5 tours of various caliber over the last 4 years. 2 PNP Easter tours, 2 New Zealand Cycle Classics (finished the last one) and the tour of New Caledonia. However, Southland was supposed to be something else, with long stages, difficult weather, strong riders and brutal conditions.

I decided to fly from Wellington to Dunedin, so I could catch up with my coach before starting the tour. In hindsight it was probably too far to ask him to drive me, but it allowed for cheaper flights and a good hour spin on some quite warm Dunedin back country. On the way down we yarned about anything cycling and skating related, most of the skating talk was about what a shit state Skating NZ was in. The cycling chat was about people’s form, tactics, nutrition and the differences between Wellington and Dunedin cycling. We passed through a heavy shower on the way and all made jokes that “this was the next week for me”. It was a possibility; the forecast had potential rain every day and looked like cold southerlies, but only time would tell. We arrived at the motel and met the team manager and driver. Usually for these things if you’re in a composite team like mine, one of the team members usually ropes in a friend, partner or family member to help out, and this was no different with Dan roping in his partner Teresa to manage us for the week.

We settled in to our team, sponsored by “Adair Craik Accounting”. The other members of our team included 3 talented youngsters, Burnie McGrath from Te Awamutu and under 19 NZ representative Blake Sunde (Auckland) an U23 climber with aspirations for Coronet Peak and Bluff Hill, and Oliver Young (Auckland) who was targeting U23 general classification. The last member of our team was Justus, a German sprinter.

The first part of the tour was the prologue, a 4.2km Team Time Trial around Queens Park. We went into it fairly unprepared having never ridden together as a team before, but we laid down a few ground rules, short even turn, no surging, easy out of the corners and lead rider should swing off after the corner. We stacked the team with Justus to lead us off followed by Burnie, Ollie, Blake, Dan and Myself at the rear. We were aiming to hold 50km/h but after the short hill at the start came a long down hill into the next corner and the group was holding 57km/h without too much trouble. Everything was going smoothly until my second turn on the lead and I must have pumped the pedals a little too much dropping Justus off my wheel. We reassembled with Justus sitting on the rear but the damage had probably been done. I made it back to the front and drove us home but a little to little too late. We finished with 5:04 averaging just over 49km/h, same as 3 other teams and and 4th to last. Still, not a bad effort for a new team. The winners, Team Power Net, finished in 4:41.



We returned back to the rooms to cook food, relax and rest. This is the first rule of tour racing, Rule 1 - Prepare easy meals. While some of the better managed teams were able to eat at a restaurant or have food brought to them, smaller composite teams like us didn’t have that luxury. Our room was sleeping 3 and we only had two elements meaning you could really only cook one thing i.e. Pasta and sauce. If you want to add anything else to it make sure it doesn’t need cooking. Our driver Jim decided to try and cook pasta, carrots, chicken, broccoli and asparagus with a tomato sauce. Too many things, too much time, not enough space. (I think it took about an hour to cook) Oliver had a better option, fresh pasta and a ready made sauce. One pot, 5 min, done!

Stage 1 Invercargill to Lumsden - 170km. We were ready to go and happy to see there wasn’t really any rain in the forecast. The race started off fast and furiously with 5 sprint primes in the first 10km. It didn’t settle down until 50km in, and a break of about 12 riders was off the front. From then on it business as normal. We were in a large peloton with KIA and Power Net doing most of the work. Somehow we managed to take a wrong turn at around 90km into the race and though we were quickly turned back on course, that would prove costly as the break had more than 6 minutes at the most. Last year the race split to pieces in the crosswinds after Nightcaps 100km into the race and so the peloton was prepared for the same this year. However when we turned the corner there were no real cross winds so nothing really happened with the exception of a small crash. From there the peloton drove it home and caught all but 3 of the breakaway in the last few km. Rule 2 - Get to the front. If you time it right and get right to the front in the last two Kilometres you wont drop that much further down or better still you will put yourself in a position to contest the actual sprint. I had some intentions of contesting the sprint but really didn’t commit to getting to the front. Going into the finishing loop 70th wheel mean I was never going to finish any higher than mid-bunch. Still, day done, 170km in under 4 hours and for most of us a fairly easy day on the bike.

Stage 2 Riverton to Te Anau - 148km. Today was much different to yesterday, we had 170 plus kilometres in our legs and were welcomed by a cold strong southerly. I was too hot yesterday in two base layers and my top, today I opted for two base layers, top, gabba, arm warmers and full fingered gloves, however after 10 minutes I was too hot and removed the gabba and gloves. Racing started off slightly calmer than yesterday, but by the 10km mark we hit the coast. Rule 3 - Don’t ride at the back. If you ride at the back in crosswinds you won’t win the race. The group will stretch from one side of the road to the other with about 10-20 riders at the front taking turns and getting shelter. All the other riders will be pushed into the gutter and eventually one of them will loose the wheel creating a split in the peloton. As it happened as soon as we hit the and coast  riders were put in the gutter. Experienced riders would have created multiple echelons to help everything stay together however when you’re snuggling this is easier said than done. I was far too far back at the start of this stage (something I need to work on) and ended up in the 3rd echelon. We were at most 15 seconds behind group 2 and chased for about 15 minutes with one of the Placemakers lads doing large turns. At about 5 seconds gap, the tail of group 2 swung into the gutter and crashed 5 riders. From then a few more solid turns and we bridged to form a large group of about 20 riders. We continued to chase the front but to no real success and after about 50km most of the riders behind us had caught back on, giving us a sizeable group of about 40 riders. At about this time the rain came in and the clothes went back on. I continued to take turns on the front but was I was starting to get tired and a bit disheartened by the number of riders not pulling through so I ended up spending a bit of time at the back. Rule 4 - Eat. Go into a race knowing how much food you need to eat and follow it! If you’re tired after 50km it may be because you’re not fit enough or have done too much work but chances are you just haven’t eaten enough. I had lot of food on me and I knew that I should have eaten 3 bars and 4 gels (i had an extra bar and gel if I needed it). However with the intensity of the race eating was put on the back burner and as a result I felt shit from about the 50km mark to the 120km mark. It was made worse by not sticking to lesson 3. Even in a smaller group riding tempo the back isn’t a smart move. If there are ever crosswinds make sure you are at the front pulling turns, as hard as it might be to pull through for a turn it’s even harder to be stuck in the gutter, you might as well be on the front. We ground our way on through the wet and the cold and dragged ourself over Blackmount where the temperature dropped down to 3 degrees. From there the weather improved and warmed up a little. We rolled in for 48th, 8 minutes down from the front. Ollie and Blake rode really well making the front split and not loosing time, Blake was even in the front break for most of the day while Burnie, Justus and I rolled in with the group. Rule 5 - Dress appropriately. If the conditions are going to be cold wear enough layers, if it's going to be wet have a rain jacket it its hot don’t have have extra layers you can take off. Dan abandoned his second tour of Southland midway through stage 2, our team car caught up to him really cold and well off the back. They have him some extra clothes but ended up dragging in into the van. He was only wearing a top and arm warmers. This caused two problems 1. He got cold and started to get hypothermia. 2. His hands got too cold that he couldn’t eat. Don’t get me wrong this stage was tough 10 riders DNF’d (Did not finish), but if he had stuck to rule 4 and 5 he would have finished and been starting with us tomorrow rather than handing out bottles from the team car.

Stage 3 Mosburn to Coronet Peak - 140km. This was an interesting stage, which started off fairly slow (enough for me to touch the front) however that was short lived as we were fairly unmotivated and were reeled back in. Perhaps for the best as around 100 of the 150km were into a block headwind and sitting in the peloton under control of the GC teams was a much easier option. The break still managed to extend their lead to around 6 minutes, but by the time we hit Frankton we had all but caught the break. My positioning leading into the climb was average at best, but worked out for me because there was a big crash just 1km from the base of the climb taking out about 15 riders. The crash still held me up a bit and I was roughly 15 seconds behind the lead group at the base, I threw in a hard effort to attempt to bridge up to the leaders but proved somewhat hopeless. From there I was keen to get up the hill as quick as I could without wrecking myself. I followed a few groups for a while but decided my tempo was the best option for me today. I looked back to see my team mate on the wheel of last years champion, James Piccoli, who had crashed going to fast into the bottom corner. He didn’t last long on his wheel and I asked if he wanted help but he was seeing stars and just cruised on. Kees Duyvesteyn raced up to me after being involved in the big crash and his team car yelled at me to pull a turn for him. I clicked up a few gears and jumped up to his pace and dragged him as far as I could at a silly tempo until pulling off and continuing to drag myself up the rest hill. Coronet peak is a tough climb, 8.2km in length averaging 8% with most of the actual climbing averaging over 10%. The climb was made harder by the head wind, however it didn’t seem to have any effect on Michael Vink who managed to storm up there 1:20 faster than Sam Gaze and Shane Bond who he effortlessly rode off his wheel. I was happy to finish only 8 minutes slower than Vink considering my effort. Rule 6 - Be lucky. This might be a hard rule and like to say you make your own luck, but being lucky seems to be an important part to cycling. We finished the day with the unfortunate news that Ollie had been involved in the crash and had probably fractured his wrist. Ollie did everything correct through the race and was well placed for the climb, Im sure he would have finished well on Coronet peak if he hadn’t been unlucky.

Stage 4 Invercargill to Bluff Hill - 149km. The wind, rain and cold returned for stage 4. I had intentions of getting into a good position right at the start and trying to get into a move, but the wind, rain and my confidence riding in a group meant I didn’t stand a chance. Before I knew it we hit the crosswinds and the group strung out. I desperately attempted to move up but I started to disappear backwards. Luckily I was able to hang on to the last wheel and then move up shortly after. I got into the rotation as it was easier than fighting for last wheel. We were group 4 on the road at this stage, but we quickly caught group 3 and then rode well together and caught group 2 leaving about 15 riders off the front. At this stage I was feeling good but with the increase of number so did the competition for the rotation and the draft. We had already shelled a 3rd of the guys in the group and I was just hanging on. I spent a bit of time in the cars but it quickly became apparent that I wasn’t able to get position to recover and I wasn’t going to hang on to the group. I left the group disappointed, my two youngest team members were able to stick with the group but I couldn’t. 1 minute later I saw the group swing to the right in the crosswinds and 3 riders crashed in the grass, one was unlucky and broke his collarbone. I waited for what seemed like forever for the groupetto to catch me. A few of the guys were motivated to press on but mostly we just absorbed more riders who had been dropped earlier. We ended up with 20-30 riders, 15 of who seemed keen to not roll through. You can’t really force anyone to roll through in the groupetto but you can’t really attack it either. The rain had stopped by halfway and the sun had come out but the wind was still intensely strong. We rolled through well in the crosswinds but as soon as we hit the headwind our progress stalled. I kept looking at my speedo seeing the kilometres tick over so slowly. We dragged ourselves down Gorge road, Invercargill Highway, they named the strava segment “the road of the endless headwind”. We ambled down 23.4km of road in 54 minutes at an average speed of 25.9km/h, 7 minutes slower than the lead riders. Finally we wade it to Bluff, and the pace picked up again as we approached the base of the climb. Yet again I didn’t want to do a full effort but I didn’t want to take it that easy either so I tried to stick with the front of the groupetto. The segment is 2.3 km long averaging 10.7% but about 1km of the upper section averages 14% with a corner 300m from the finish with sections over 20%. I knew the hill would be hard and thought about taking smaller gears but was worried I wouldn’t be able to hold on in the crosswinds with anything less than my 53/11 option. I opted for a 28/11 rear cassette thinking I should be able to heave myself up. I was all fine for first half of the climb and actually thought it wasn’t as tough as they had made out. That was until I turned the corner and hit the 14% section, it confronted us as an endless wall of tarmac. A small group of 4 continued up the climb, I even had a small chat to some of the guys and then dropped down a few gears and pressed on. I had always thought guys who zig zag on steep climbs weren’t hard enough, but as I hit the 20% section and my speed dropped, my legs ached and my arms hurt it was the only sensible option. I won't lie, thoughts went through my about getting off my bike, but I ground it out and finished after 148km and 4:18 hours of racing. Rule 7 - Wear sunscreen. Southland had really mixed weather this year, most days we started in overcast conditions (some with rain) with temperatures less than 10 degrees C. As a result I didn’t really think about sunscreen on many stages, however I got burnt on just about every day. The worst was on day 2 to Te Anau in those atrocious conditions where I got new leg tan lines burnt on because the bib shorts were 4cm shorter than I normally ride. If you’re lacking a little bit of hair or have a helmet with giant holes in it like mine, remember to use sunscreen under your helmet, most of us still have day jobs to go to after the race is over.

Stage 5 - Invercargill to Gore - 151km. Last year this was the hardest stage of the tour and riders were greeted with rain and wind, this year we were welcomed by lighter winds and no rain. Rule 8 - Charge your Garmin. Your Garmin (or other device) isn’t just what you use to upload files to Strava to prove to your riding mates that you actually did those kilometres, it’s an important tool for the race. Mostly for telling you distance so you can know where climbs, crosswinds, sprints and the finish line is going to be (often they wont be clearly signed). I had fully charged mine for stage 3 and usually it would last me over a week of riding. I didn’t calculate that I normally ride 10-12 hours a week and stage 3 and 4 totalled over 10 hours with warm up and neutral zones. Also leaving your Garmin searching for a phone on bluetooth and a power meter will drain your battery. This is what I found when I prepared my Garmin on the start line for stage 5, I quickly flicked off the bluetooth, power meter connection and turned the brightness right down, thankfully it lasted me until the last 10km. I had earmarked this stage as one that I wanted to do well on, it was slightly lumpy towards the end of the race with a steep pinch at just 3km to the finish. I attempted to go into a few breaks at the start but they were all shut down and then finally at 55m into the race the break was given some time. However they didn’t get given  much time (2 min at the most) with Dylan Kennett’s Placemakers team on the front driving the pace aiming for the stage win. The winds were light enough today and the pace controlled enough that you could sit just outside the line and not struggle too much, unlike the other days where not being on the wheel meant certain death. In fact once the break had gone the middle section of this race was the easiest of the tour so far. With about 60km under our belt we turned towards Gore meaning the wind was now a tail or cross tail and the speed soared to well over 50km without much effort. Around 90km Kia decided to ramp the pace up and force a split, I was well back as usual but I wasn’t the only one caught out as people started dropping wheels left right and centre. Glen Haden flew past me on his teammates wheel and I thought this was my only chance to get back on to the front. I gritted my teeth for the next 2 minutes as I followed his wheel hanging half in the gutter but eventually we contacted a small group that had been dropped, mostly Placemakers lads who had been on the front for most of the race along with Kees, Evans and Girkins. I pulled a few turns with them but decided my best option was to sit on the tail. I was thinking that I was in a good position, top 30 riders, 40km to race, sit in, protect myself and get over the hills. Unfortunately the pace at the front eased off and the group swelled again to around 50 riders as we approached the small hills. I negotiated the first two easy enough but the second to last one proved my undoing as I was too far back and the legs didn’t have the motivation required to make the split. Rule 9 - Work well as a group. If you’re in a group that wants to move follow these 3 steps, 1. Let the riders who are forcing the pace to the front. 2. Roll through smoothly, don’t surge. 3. If you can’t or don’t want to pull a turn, go to the back. 4. If you’re not rolling through, let the group know and speak up. Our group spectacularly failed at doing all 4 of these steps at one point, surging on the front means people can’t then roll over and hanging in the middle of the train but not rolling slows the momentum of the group (this may have been tactical by Skoda). Either way we never caught the front after this and conceded 1:20s to the front in the final 20km. James Piccoli rolled in solo after attacking on the final climb taking 11 seconds ahead of Dylan Kennet. I had a crack at the sprint but my heart wasn’t really in it and I came 3rd in the group for 32nd. Not the stage victory I was hoping to get out of this stage but I’ve learned some lessons.


Stage 6 - Individual Time Trial - 13km. This far into a stage race competition there are 3 distinct types of people who line up for the individual time trial. There are those who are good at time trials and want to place well, those challenging for the GC and want to make up, hold or not loose time and lastly there are those with no chance of doing well and are well off the GC that loosing a few minutes wont make any difference. I found myself in the latter group, positioned midway down the GC and not strong enough to match the likes of Bond or Kennet in a time trial. Still I had my goals for the time trial, and the time cut was still going to be in place (roughly +25% of the winners time) so I made a solid effort at it. Rule 10 - Get aero. For a time trial you can only put out as many watts as you have on the day. Seconds can be shaved off by improving your aerodynamics, the main things to focus on is you as a rider that makes up 85% of the wind resistance, the bike only contributes 15%. Your position is the most important, head down, back flat, shoulders in, as low as you can get without loosing too much power. Apart from that a TT helmet, skin suit, aerodynamic shoes (or shoe covers) and pinning your number on well will help as well. I left my TT helmet at home, didn’t have a skin suit and my shoe covers had holes in them, so all that was left to do was ensure I stayed low. The course was basically flat with a 6 right hand turns, so not the most technical course but it was made difficult by the middle 4km of head wind. My plan was to start out easy in the first 5km because the tail wind would make things fast then when I hit the headwind put in the effort in so I didn’t drop too much below 35km/h. After that what ever I could do down the final crosswind section to the finish line. I followed the plan reasonably well and as extra motivation I had my old skating mate Ollie Jones chasing me. I finished 15 seconds ahead of him, so job done finishing in 19:03 with a 40.5km/h average placing me about half way down the field. Sitting waiting at the finish I waited for the other riders times to come in, Kennet set an excellent time of 16:47 and Burnie McGrath our 18 year old produced a 17:33 to finish in the top ten. It was Bond’s time however that was spectacular, 15:50 on that course and he did it mostly in the rain (however the wind might have dropped with the rain coming through). It did leave the final stage more closely poised with only 18 seconds separating Vink and Bond.

Stage 7 - Winton to Invercargill - 77km. By this stage I was happy to just finish the tour without being injured, and as a result I started at the back of the field not wanting the increased risk of fighting for wheels at the front. Quickly we hit the crosswinds and the field splintered into 3 echelons, we were rolling well and it looked like things might have come back together but that was really when I needed to panic if I wanted to finish with the front and just make a jump across. As soon as we hit the tail wind I did a hard pull on the front and stretched the group out in a desperation effort to bring things back, but it was no use. That was the last we were going to see of the front. We continued to roll reasonably well up until the 40km mark when guys got a bit tired and started missing and sitting on a bit. One of the placemakers lads was content to slow our process by waiting to rollover too long. He ended up getting a rear wheel puncture and I couldn’t help but watch as he slowly drifted to the left of the road, he tried to correct himself but had no control. Eventually he hit the grass but it wasn’t until he hit the bushes that he actually came off. We pressed on but it wasn’t 5 minutes later he rejoined. We were told at the start that any group 4 minutes behind the front would not complete the 3 and a half laps of Queens park but would roll through the finish and then have our times adjusted. I was hopeful we wouldn’t be that far back and would be able to finish. However when we made it to Queens park the lead riders were just coming round the corner. I lead the group in and we peeled off to watch the finish were Kennet took the win over Brad Evans and Vink and Bond shook hands with one lap left to play out.

I came down to the Tour of Southland with hopes of being competitive with the lead riders, however I never did much better than finishing midway down the field. My main issue was my positioning in the group and riding too passively, but I wouldn’t have minded having an extra 30-50 watts, a team to support me during the race and a road captain to provide me with in race instructions. Even having extra support after the stages would have been nice, like some of the other teams had.

The 2018 Tour was a true Southland experience for all the riders, it's something that you can really only grasp by being a part of it. As bad as the weather was I don’t think it would have been the same if we were riding around in beautiful sunshine and light winds. It really made the race, spending all that time fighting for position in the gutter, riding in rain and cold meant the strong riders survived and the weak were dropped. I just need to be a stronger rider. I’ll be back next year, I’ll follow my rules and hopefully I’ll make a bigger impact on the race.

Comments   

#1 Mike Proudfoot 2018-12-03 06:59
Fantastic read Antony! Shows just how hard each step up in racing is. Great weeks riding competing at that level mate! Cheers Mike

Members please login to post comments