Southland stager returns for last hurrah

By Alan Messenger

Among the most remarkable achievements in sport are those rare spells when on athlete dominates an event year after year. Lance Armstrong's seven-year reign over the Tour de France is probably the most famous, and then there's Sean Kelly's seven consecutive Paris-Nice victories. In New Zealand, Brian Fowler enjoys the status of 'local legend' for his eight wins in the Tour of Southland between 1985 and 1992.

Age hasn't wearied the Canterbury veteran. He's ridden the Tour 22 times and he'll be back this year for what will probably be his last, the 50th running of the race.

Fowler also won the national road championship twice and at Commonwealth Games he won a gold medal, four silvers and a bronze. He won the Wellington to Auckland Tour and has won or recorded fastest time in every classic in the South Island.

Fowler remembers well his first win in the Tour of Southland. "It was very cold but I think I won nine of the eleven stages," he said. He regards Southland as definitely his favourite tour. " It had everything that I liked. Short but hard stages and it was the only tour back then that had really good prize money as well. Even in the North Island Tour you were basically riding for pots and pans as prizes. As well the people down there and the crowds were really good."

Fowler is regarded or accused, depending on who you talk to as having introduced team riding into the Southland tour but he says that isn't so.

"There were always teams, even before I went there. There used to be Cox, Jack Swart, Stockwell and Cuff. They used to ride together all of the time and it was pretty hard for any of the young guys to break through," he said.

He describes how his own level of team riding evolved. " When I came along a lot of them were getting near the end of their careers. We learned a little bit from them and fine tuned what they were doing and it just worked out over the years."

Fowler acknowledged that he always had a good team around him and he regarded his friend Landry Burt as always having played a big part in his wins. Burt was rewarded with the tour win for himself in 1993.

How does Fowler rate the tour now with those of a few years ago? He has ridden the last two years so he is well qualified to comment. "The tour is actually easier now in a lot of ways. The average bike rider is better now so the bunches don't split up like they used to. Also when we used to ride in October it was a lot colder. Now you have to make up your time on the Bluff Hill, the individual time trial and the stage that finishes on the Crown Range," he said.

Brian Fowler doesn't expect to win a ninth Tour this year but he can look back with a lot of pride. After all there will have been fifty Southland Tours after this years race and he will have ridden close to half of them and with eight wins under his belt he's certainly written his name into the race's record book.

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