By Alan Messenger
In its first fifty years the Cycling Tour of Southland has only been won by three overseas riders, two Australians and an American, but this year an English rider is poised to win New Zealand’s premier cycling event.
Kristian House has been in good form all year, winning the Tour of Ireland then later, a stage of the French Tour le Bretagne, while last weekend he added the Tour of Tasmania to his tally for the year.
In the Powernet Tour of Southland, House has perhaps the strongest team in the race. The Calder Stewart team includes Australia’s former Olympian and current road series winner Rob MacLachlan. The Australian was third on GC in this year's Tour de Taiwan and two weeks ago he won the 300km Melbourne to Warrnambool Classic. MacLachlan himself is a major contender to win the Southern Tour. The other riders in the team are Australian David Pell and two talented Kiwis, Jeremy Vennell (Hastings) and Karl Murray (Auck).
Vennell wore the yellow jersey for two days in last year's Tour before handing it over to eventual winner, Gordon McCauley. McCauley is back in the field this year and aiming to be only the fourth rider to win the Tour more than twice. The others are Warwick Dalton (three wins), Tino Tabak (three wins) and Brian Fowler (eight wins).
The Tour has attracted a record entry of 130 riders, with a good balance of domestic and overseas cyclists. Probably the best chance of a New Zealand win for the tour's 50th year is with the talented former world track champion, Greg Henderson. The Otago rider has had a good season in the USA, and he recently signed a professional contract with top European team T-Mobile for 2007. In the Tour, Henderson will ride in the McIntyre Dick and Partners team with a strong backup of New Zealand and overseas riders.
There will also be a lot of interest in Hayden Roulston. The South Canterbury rider retired from the sport in August after being diagnosed with a heart problem, but he showed he was back and a force to be reckoned with when he won the National Road Championship at Dunedin last weekend.
Peter Latham is back this year and will again ride for the Southland Times team. The Te Awamutu rider won the Under 23 Category two years ago and finished third in the Under 23 Category Time trial at the World Road Championships. After a good season in France he could well be ready to take his career up another level.
The Tour starts from Invercargill next on Monday, November 6, and finishes back in the city on November 11.