Joshua Atkins (Trek-Livestrong) overall victory at the Powernet Tour of Southland catapaulted him into the record books as the race's youngest-ever winner. After coming close to winning the Tour of Tasmania against a seemingly unstoppable Nathan Haas (Genesys Wealth Advisers) it was clear the New Zealander was on some sterling form.
But even he surprised himself with his performance in Southland. Though Atkins was the benficiary of four-time-winner Hayden Roulston's withdrawal on stage 5, it wasn't like the win fell into the 19-year-old's lap. He won solo on the queen stage to Crown Range, and was strong enough to hold off the onslaught of the full Pure Black Racing team in the following days to show the maturity of a rider that have many pundits tipping him for a big future in the sport.
"I didn’t do a whole lot of racing overseas during the season [because of the last minute non-invite to Utah and Colorado]," said Atkins. "Not as much as I would’ve liked. But after Tassie I made the decision to come home and ride Southland. I think it was a good way to finish the season, I really enjoyed being back home in the lead-up to the race, and the race itself was really enjoyable."
"It is a race that holds a special place for every New Zealand rider. So to win was very special. I went in chasing a stage and the under 23 jersey. When Hayden pulled out, winning the under 23 also meant winning the Tour. I would've preferred to try and take the jersey off him on Crown Range, but that's racing. Guys abandon all the time, just look at this year's Tour de France."
A fast improving "mountain goat" Atkins has already posted a number of good results this year when the road tilts up. Along with the win on Crown Range, Atkins was part of the Jayco-2XU TTT success on Mount Wellington. Though not yet a pure climber the diminuitive Kiwi is certainly aiming to build himself in that guise in the years to come.
"At the moment, I'm still a bit of an all-rounder, you have to be for the races in Australia and New Zealand, but I think the time is coming where I need to specialise more - and my climbing is definitely something I can further develop.
"I've got the support of the Livestrong program around me which is really helpful, guys like Axel Merckx who have plenty of experience. Next year I'll be hoping to continue the progression I've had this season and hopefully I can follow the path of guys like Jesse [Sergent], Sam [Bewley] and George [Bennett] and eventually join up with Radioshack. But I'm not getting ahead of myself."
Canberra: Something in the water?
Atkins success comes on the back of a number of riders from the New Zealander's training base in Canberra making their mark in the last year. Regular training partners include last year's under 23 world champion Michael Matthews, Garmin-Cervelo bound Haas, Joe Lewis and Adam Phelan but to name a few.
Atkins echoed the sentiments of many of the Canberra community in crediting the area as perfect for road cycling.
"I've only been here for a year, but I noticed early on just how many really good bunch rides there are every week. It’s full gas, everyone swapping off. You get all the professionals coming down to the rides, and there are so many that it makes it easy get good training in. Everyone pushes themselves, and helps each other particularly at this time of year.
"Nobody has a big head or anything, we all keep each other in line. There’s a good atmosphere which I think encourages everyone to go well. There are so many good cyclists coming out of Canberra at the moment, so many turning professional, sometimes you think there must be something in the water."
Atkins is next taking some time off the bike before he begins to build for next season with Trek-Livestrong.