By Alan Messenger
One of the special guests for the 50th Tour of Southland this year will be Stephen Cox , a double winner of the race and one of the tough men of New Zealand cycling in the nineteen seventies and eighties.
Cox won all of the major tours in New Zealand, won the national road championship and represented New Zealand at Olympic and Commonwealth Games.
These days the Waikato man works as a sales manager for brewer Lion Nathan and in his spare time he is a successful cycling promoter. In that capacity he organized two Women's World Cup events and the high profile Hamilton to Whangamata fun ride.
Cox has fond memories of the Tour of Southland, which rode eight times for two wins, two second placings and fourth, fifth, sixth and eighth placings. "Its just the whole environment down there. Everybody knows the race is on. It doesn't matter where you go, and everyone loves to see it. It's the best tour in New Zealand by a long shot," Cox said.
Cox's most vivid memory of the Tour of Southland isn't of either of his two victories, though. "Yes I won it twice in 1981 and 1982 but I always believe that I should have won it for a third time in 1983," he said.
"We had a pretty interesting episode on the side of the road when the police stopped the bunch and not me. We started just out from Invercargill but came through the city on the way to Bluff and it was quite a windy day. I was away on my own and the bunch was all over the road apparently. A policeman pulled up just in front of me but didn't say anything but he stopped the bunch behind me. The gap was only about thirty seconds and I just kept going and virtually rode all the way to Bluff before they convinced me to stop and meanwhile the rest of the race was still sitting just out of Invercargill. There were some lengthy discussions and they ended up actually bringing them all up to where I was and starting us again. They started me twenty seconds in front and we were only a couple of kilometres out of Bluff and then there was the Bluff hill. I'd ridden my butt off into the head wind and they'd all had a free ride from Invercargill in the cars. I lost a lot of time going up the hill. I got most of it back later but I still landed up being only second. It was just one of those things, right or wrong!"
Although there were fewer overseas riders in the Tour in those days, Cox rates the Kiwis of the time as being tops. "In the late seventies and early eighties we had Vern Hanaray, Blair Stockwell, Mike Hughes, Paul Jesson, Eric MacKenzie and Jack Swart.About that time Brian Fowler first rode the Tour as a junior then along came a new bunch headed by Graeme Miller and Paul Leitch," he said.
Cox particularly remembers some fierce battles with his friend and Waikato team mate Jack Swart. "We may have been team mates to some degree but we'd still race our butts off to beat each other," he recalled.
There will no doubt be plenty of other stories bandied about at the Tour this year.