Gate makes strong start in Tour of Southland

A group of riders on the Tour of Southland rides past a field of tulips in the stage from...
A group of riders on the Tour of Southland rides past a field of tulips in the stage from Invercargill to Gore yesterday. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Former winner Aaron Gate and his strong Black Spoke team have laid down an early challenge after the opening stage of the Tour of Southland yesterday.

The Aucklander executed the winning move late in the 151km stage from Invercargill to Gore, beating the peloton home in a bunch sprint to take stage honours and the yellow jersey.

What is expected to be an ultra-competitive 64th edition of New Zealand’s most prestigious stage race started in chilly conditions.

“It wasn’t as exciting to start with as we were hoping because there wasn’t much wind,” Gate said.

“Our plan B was to light it up on the climb into the back of Gore and it just worked out perfectly with James Oram doing a perfect little leadout.

‘‘The two of us managed to sneak away and then Ben Oliver [Central Benchwalkers-Willbike] joined us and the three of us managed to hold off the peloton for the win, so that was awesome.”

Oliver was second on the stage, with Oram third.

Southland’s Matt Zenovich deservedly rode his way into the sprint ace jersey, leading a two-man breakaway for most of the stage with New Zealand endurance track representative Jordan Kerby.

Paul Wright, who also featured early in the breakaway, finished the day with the king of the mountain jersey.

Black Spoke has ventured south with a strong team which includes Gate, the 2016 Southland winner, 2013 winner Oram, and two-time winner Scott Guyton in the team car.

Time bonuses helped Gate to a six-second overall lead from Oram, with Tom Sexton, who started the day in yellow after the opening prologue, in third place, 14sec down.

Defending champion Michael Vink is in ninth place, trailing Gate by 29sec.

Black Spoke will be concerned about Ethan Batt after he was caught up in a crash yesterday.

Its debutantes Alexander White and Joshua Kench are expected to do plenty of work defending the yellow jersey during today’s 148km stage from Riverton to Te Anau, including the Blackmount hill climb.

“We're sort of going to work it out on the road and see how it goes,” Gate said.

“We’ll be on the front and be active. We don’t want to have too big a group sneaking off the front.

‘‘Blackmount is always an interesting one that you have to be ready for. It’s not the longest climb but it can still do a bit of damage and it’s often a fast finish from there.

‘‘We want to be in the right place at the right time and just be attentive really.”

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