Winning one SBS Bank Tour of Southland title is a major achievement for any cyclist. Defending tour champion Michael Vink is coming into the 2020 tour with his sights set on a third yellow jersey in as many years.
The first win was a long time coming, as Vink finished in the runner-up position twice before, just not able to gain the last couple of seconds needed to claim the title.
“It was so special to back up my title in 2019. I think having won the race in 2018, there was a bit of pressure, mostly from myself as I wanted to show it wasn’t a fluke,” he said.
Only a very select few riders have won three tours in a row, all of them legends of the sport in New Zealand like Tino Tabak, Brain Fowler, and the most recent being Hayden Roulston. Vink knows how significant a third win will be, having grown up seeing Roulston as the king of the tour and a rider he always looked up to.
“I certainly don’t see myself as a Roulston, Fowler or Tabak, but that doesn’t mean I don’t think I can win three in a row. Every year, every stage, it’s just about putting your best foot forward as you never know when you might need to pull a rabbit out of a hat, so you have to be ready for anything. It’s not about trying to win three in a row, but rather focusing on each battle to win the war,” he said.
This year Vink will be riding for the Talley’s Transport Engineering Southland team, which retains the core of riders and staff from his 2019 team.
Team sponsor Stephen Keast of Transport Engineering Southland said he was excited by the prospect of seeing Vink attempt to claim a third SBS Bank Tour of Southland title.
“The Tour is a special part of Southland’s sporting tradition – the community involvement is outstanding. As a sponsor we are thrilled to have Michael on board with the team, he is a class act and we are proud to be able to support him in his third attempt at the yellow jersey with a super strong and talented team,” he said.
For Vink, having a strong team is only part of the equation, with team culture being potentially even more important.
“We’re very lucky to not only have a group of very classy bike riders, but also top guys that I would happily give the shirt off my back to. I think that’s the difference between a good and a truly great team,” he said.
“I was especially proud of how the guys rode in 2019. Right from day one we had the team working on the front as everyone believed from the get go that I could get the job done. It wasn’t all smooth sailing, but everyone kept the faith and when our opportunity came, we grabbed it with both hands.”
Team manager Brendan Akeroyd is also of the opinion that the title defence itself is secondary to the process.
“We haven’t even discussed the defense itself, we are just going into it the same as any other campaign. We know it is the focus, but we’re not putting any added pressure on ourselves than what is already there,” he said.
The SBS Bank Tour of Southland takes on a special significance this year, with so much of the racing season having been disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic, and many riders unable to pursue racing overseas as they would traditionally have done.
“It makes the event huge, this is now the biggest race of the year for our local riders. It is really only a handful of riders, maybe six or seven World Tour riders that aren’t here, that have been requested to be overseas by their teams. I think the level of competition is actually going to be stronger than ever,” said Akeroyd.
For Vink, having the tour to look forward to has been key to saving his season.
“Most of my 2020 racing has been cancelled, so the SBS Bank Tour of Southland is really important as it gives me something to work towards. Without the tour, I would probably be a bit lost at this point in the season, but instead I’m focused and firing on all cylinders and I really can’t wait to get back to racing come November,” he said.
For all the riders, a looming challenge will be the addition of the climb up The Remarkables as the big mountain day of the SBS Bank Tour of Southland. Vink is taking a philosophical approach to it, with his focus on the process.
“The Remarkables is obviously longer and steeper than Coronet Peak, but they are both long and tough climbs for the pure hill climbers to shine. I haven’t ridden The Remarkables, but the approach to the stage remains the same – get to the bottom as fresh as possible, then get to the top first.”
The SBS Bank Tour of Southland takes place from 1 November to 7 November, starting with a team time trial around Queens Park in Invercargill.