Michael Vink will arrive in Invercargill for the 2019 SBS Bank Tour of Southland armed with one vital piece of knowledge – how to win New Zealand’s most prestigious stage race.
The lanky, likeable Cantabrian finally saw his name etched onto the winner’s trophy last year after nine attempts, including runner-up finishes in both 2016 and 2017.
“I feel like I’ve had the legs to win a few times, but a few things just haven’t gone my way. You definitely need a bit of luck. Last year, having a good team around me made a big difference from previous years,” Vink said.
“Now I know what it takes to win, and I know what it takes to lose as well. Having those two experiences, you can put them together and map out a plan of how to approach the week.”
Vink has spent the season racing for the St George Continental Cycling Team in Asia, a squad which includes Dylan Kennett, who won the UCI 2.1 Tour of Taihu Lake earlier this year, and Southlanders Corbin Strong and Matt Zenovich.
Vink’s Placemakers team also includes Southlanders Josh Haggerty and Hamish Keast, alongside Ethan Batt and James Harvey.
“We’ve got a really good team this year, a couple of locals, which is always good, Dylan Kennett, who recently won a big race in China, he’s going to be our sprinter, and some good all rounders,” Vink said.
“It’s probably one of the better teams I’ve had supporting me in the 10 years I’ve been coming to Southland, but at the end of the day I’ve got to have the legs to finish it off.”
Race director Bruce Ross, who will be taking part in his 50th Southland tour, including the past 30 years in charge of the race, believes this could be one of the most even fields he’s seen.
Ross, who is tremendously proud of the platform the SBS Bank Tour of Southland has provided for New Zealand riders to launch international careers, said picking a winner for 2019 is no easy task.
“Michael Vink was a great champion last year and it will be fascinating to see who comes out of the peloton to challenge him in 2019,” Ross said.
Robbie Hucker (Kia Motors-Ascot Park Hotel) finished runner-up to Brad Evans in 2015 and will be riding alongside Mexican rider Eder Frayre, who arrives in Southland on the recommendation of former winner Heath Blackgrove.
James Fouche (Creation Signs-Ronald McDonald House-Ricoh) is the national road champion despite being just 21-years-old and joined World Tour team Mitchelton-Scott as a stagiare, or apprentice, for the second half of the 2019 season.
Then there’s exciting addition of the endurance riders from the New Zealand track cycling programme including Strong (Team Skoka Fruzio), who managed a top 10 finish on debut last year, fellow Southlanders Tom Sexton (Business South) and Nick Kergozou (Coupland’s Bakeries), and Base Solutions Racing-WCNI team mates Jordan Kerby and world omnium champion Campbell Stewart.
Or it could be one of the lesser-known riders from overseas, with six different nationalities represented across the field.
Vink will be watching as the threats in the peloton reveal themselves.
“It’s hard because at this time of year everyone is winding down from a hard season and the guys who have had a bad season will use this for some late motivation,” he said.
“You never know who is in what form, and it’s hard to pick out a standout list. It’s always going to be hard racing and there will be someone who comes out and gives you a good challenge, that’s for sure.”