World omnium champion Cambell Stewart has sprinted his way into the yellow jersey in his debut SBS Bank Tour of Southland.
For the second stage in a row it was the young legs who finished fastest as Stewart just edged out his New Zealand track endurance squad mate Corbin Strong and previous tour leader Jensen Plowright on the Te Anau lakefront finish line.
Time bonuses saw Stewart, who claimed his first senior rainbow jersey with victory in the gruelling four-event omnium at the world track cycling championships in Poland in March, wrestle yellow from Plowright, along with lead in the under 23 classification.
“It was another solid day out there for everyone, the young guys are really targeting the sprints,” Campbell, who is racing for Base Solutions Racing-WCNI this week, said.
“Everyone was working hard, our boys were able to bring it back in the last 25km, which was awesome and it shows that they are on and ready for the rest of the week.”
Stewart won four world titles as a junior, along with silver medals in the scratch and points races at last year’s Commonwealth Games, and is one of a number of New Zealand track stars riding in Southland this week.
With World Cups in Hong Kong, Cambridge and Brisbane before next year’s world championships and the Tokyo Olympics, the SBS Bank Tour of Southland is seen as an ideal endurance builder for the New Zealand squad.
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Stewart is loving the opportunity to step off the boards and into a race he’s dreamed of competing in.
“It’s pretty awesome. I’ve watched it on TV for the past four or five years and have always thought it would be something that I wanted to come down and try, and now I’ve got a yellow jersey on my back,” he said.
The 21-year-old will have his work cut out defending the tour lead as the race heads into its Queen stage, the 138km beat from Mossburn to Queenstown which finishes with a 9km, 40min climb up towards Coronet Peak.
“Tomorrow is going to be a hard one,” Stewart said.
“I’m not exactly the best at going up hills, so I’ll try and limit the losses and see how it goes.”
It was another demanding day on the Tour of Southland, with Monday’s crosswinds replaced by persistent rain during the 148km stage from Riverton, along the southern coast, and over the Blackmount hillclimb to Te Anau.
A group of escapees including James Harvey (Placemakers), Nick White (Kia Motors-Ascot Park Hotel), Jayden Kuijpers (Team Skoka Fruzio), Ollie Jones and Hamish Schreurs (PowerNet) and Theo Gilbertson (Creation Signs-Ronald McDonald House-Ricoh) formed the major break of the day.
Jones was the first rider over the Blackmount, but the group’s five minute lead was never going to be enough once the peloton organised a reply, with Stewart and his teammates eager to shut down the attack after missing the break.
Stewart has a 4sec advantage over Monday’s stage winner Plowright (Kia Motors-Ascot Park Hotel), with James Harvey (Placemakers) 12sec off the lead and his teammate and defending champion Michael Vink at 13sec.
Just 15sec separates Stewart, Plowright and Strong (Team Skoda Fruzio) in the under 23 classification, while Paul Odlin (PowerNet) contined to strengthen his grip on the over 35 silver jersey.
Jones leads the Sprint Ace category, while Ioan Fuller Petrotec-Blackmax) is building a handy advantage in the King of the Mountain standings.
Tomorrow’s third stage started in Mossburn at 10.30am and is scheduled to finish on Coronet Peak at 2.20pm.
The 63rd SBS Bank Tour of Southland finishes in Invercargill on November 9.