SBS Bank Tour of Southland set for great week of racing




The SBS Bank Tour of Southland didn’t become New Zealand’s longest running and most prestigious cycle race without being able to cope with a challenge or two.

SBS Bank Tour of Southland race director Sally Marr.

And what a challenge 2020 has been for new race director Sally Marr.


Marr, who comes into the role after Bruce Ross stepped down following a 50-year involvement with the event, can’t wait for the race to get underway after months of varying levels of Covid-19-related uncertainty.


“I’m really excited, especially with how the year has played out,” she said.


“The way the Southland community has gotten in behind the event again, with everything that’s happened this year, is huge. It just shows how much this event means to the region.


“It was never going to be easy to fill Bruce’s shoes, although he’s still a big part of this race, and I’m really lucky that a majority of the team are coming back. Full credit to them because along with having that sponsor support, the support of our volunteers is vital to this event.”


The Covid-19-enforced border closure has significantly impacted what is usually a field featuring riders from across the cycling world.


In fact, only three ‘international’ riders from Scotland, Northern Ireland and Canada will take part in 2020, thanks mainly to the fact they had been living in New Zealand with their Kiwi partners pre-Covid.


Despite that, this year’s peloton will feature many of New Zealand’s best bike riders.


Defending champion Michael Vink returns to attempt a hat-trick of Southland victories, the Black Spoke Cycling Academy professional team including former winner and Olympian Aaron Gate will be one to watch, and Southland’s world points race champion Corbin Strong and the rest of the New Zealand men’s track cycling endurance team are sprinkled amongst the field.


“Although we don’t have the same international flavour this year, we are pretty lucky we’ve got a high calibre of Kiwi riders who have been training the house down all year and are itching to do a race,” Marr said.


“That includes a number of past winners and some up and coming talent as well. As it has for the past few years, the Under 23 category will also be really hotly contested.”


The race programme also includes some interesting changes, with the Lumsden and Gore stages swapped around, and the Coronet Peak climb replaced with an even more exacting grind up the Remarkables.


The Remarkables finish will include a breathtaking climb of up to 11.5km, with race organisers hoping to include a final 3km gravel ending.


“The Remarkables certainly brings a new challenge to that stage,” Marr said.


“It might be a short stage on paper, but it’s a bit of a hefty climb at the end of it, so I’m sure some of the riders will love me for the changes, and some will be cursing me the whole way back to Invercargill.


“Bruce’s words of wisdom to me were ‘whatever you do in your first year Sal, don’t make any drastic course changes, because there’s a lot of work behind the scenes with course changes.’ It was really good advice, but I did want to have a little point of difference, so we’ve switched those two stages over and we’ll see how that plays out. A lot of it will come down to conditions on the day – the wind can play a big part in either of those stages.”


The 64th SBS Bank Tour of Southland gets underway with the team time trial prologue around Invercargill’s Queens Park on Sunday, November 1.


The race features seven stages, finishing back in Invercargill on November 7.