By Alan Messenger
Last year's winner, US professional John Lieswyn leads a strong Southland Times team in the PowerNet Tour of Southland, which gets under way from Invercargill in New Zealand's South Island on Monday, November 7 and finishes back in the city on the following Saturday, November 12.
But Lieswyn gave out a word of warning on his prospects this year. The likeable American has been changing the focus of his cycling career and will in the future be based in New Zealand. "I've had a lot of life changes with the shift to New Zealand and haven't been on the bike much for six weeks. I'm going into the race underdone but I received a lot of encouragement from finishing fourth in the K2 yesterday," he said.
Lieswyn emphasized that he would very well play a support role this year. "I don't feel that I could win this year but I'm going to be there for Glen (Mitchell). We have been personal friends for a long time and he worked hard for me last year so I hope I can help him this year."
The other team members, all very capable of winning the Tour are: US based Mitchell, former world track champion Greg Henderson and New Zealand track squad riders Peter Latham and Tim Gudsell. Mitchell, second in last year's tour, won the North Island K2 Classic last Saturday after finishing second in the national road championship the previous week. He won the Southland Tour in 2000 and a repeat this year would certainly not surprise.
Henderson has made a big impression as a road rider in the USA this year and he recently won the Australian Grafton to Inverell Classic. Latham is a newcomer to the team, replacing 2003 winner Scott Guyton. He is rated New Zealand's hottest young cycling prospect after taking the bronze medal in the under 23 time trial at the world road championships at Madrid this year. Last year in the tour, riding for the Rabobank team, he won the individual time trial stage and took out the under 23 overall classification.
Zookeepers looking good
The Zookeepers Café team, always one of the strongest in the tour, has additional backing this year from Trek and they probably have three riders with a chance of taking the big prize. Gordon McCauley is a previous winner and two weeks ago he joined New Zealand cycling legends Nick Carter and Jack Swart as a four-times winner of the national road championship. He did a lot of his early career cycling around the roads of Southland and the local knowledge will again stand him in good stead. Heath Blackgrove looked like a Tour winner last year before striking a series of mechanical problems and Jaaron Poad is an Australian based Kiwi with a big reputation on both sides of the Tasman.
The tour has attracted a record 105 entries in 21 teams with riders from Australia, Ireland, Switzerland, Austria, Canada, Holland and the USA. Among the Australians is the Oceania champion team MG Xpower headed by Rob McLachlan. The other team members are Tony Mann, Stuart Shaw, Kiwi Aaron Strong and another Australian to be named later.
Stage 1 - November 7: Queens Park Invercargill TTT, 8.3km
Stage 2 - November 7: Invercargill - Bluff Hill, 81km
Stage 3 - November 8: Invercargill - Tuatapere, 103km
Stage 4 - November 8: Tuatapere - Winton, 88km
Stage 5 - November 9: Lumsden - Crown Range, 133km
Stage 6 - November 10: Balfour - Riversdale ITT, 15 km
Stage 7 - November 10: Riversdale - Invercargill, 133km
Stage 8 - November 11: Winton - Te Anau, 163km
Stage 9 - November 12: Te Anau - Lumsden, 79km
Stage 10 - November 12: Lumsden - Invercargill, 78km