Smith defies rivals, elements to claim stage win

Aucklander Morgan Smith (Aardvark Excavators) celebrates victory in stage two of the Tour of Southland in Te Anau yesterday. Photo: James Jubb/Studio Jubb
Aucklander Morgan Smith (Aardvark Excavators) celebrates victory in stage two of the Tour of Southland in Te Anau yesterday. Photo: James Jubb/Studio Jubb
The Tour of Southland bared its teeth in an evil grimace on day two from Riverton to Te Anau yesterday.

New Zealand's most prestigious bike race is renowned for its testing weather and, after a couple of years of relatively benign conditions, payback arrived in the form of wind, rain, hail and general misery for much of the 150km stage.

Southlander Matt Zenovich retained the yellow jersey for a second day after coming home in the chasing pack behind stage winner Morgan Smith, of Auckland, the Aardvark Excavators rider using his bulkier frame and dogged attitude to good effect on the way to taking most combative honours as well.

''Last year was pretty tame and the weaker, skinnier guys got away with a lot so it was good to have a tough day,'' Smith, who is contesting his seventh straight tour, said.

''I've come in fourth twice on this stage and it's one I target, I really enjoy it. I'm just so relieved to win. I'm a bit heavier than most so I don't feel the cold and I can handle the wind.

''I knew if I got over Blackmount in front of the boys, I'd be all right. The closer I got the more excited I got, and I just tried to wait and be patient and had a crack at the end.''

Zenovich (Placemakers) holds a 9sec lead over Oliver Martin (WPC South-Joyride Apparel), with Kevin Girkins (Kia Motors-Ascot Park Hotel) 25sec off the lead in third.

Defending champion James Piccoli is 1min 07sec down in 21st place.

''We started the day looking at the weather forecast as our main priority,'' Zenovich said.

''We all felt good as a team and we decided on a plan as a unit. We kind of pulled it off. We lost a couple of guys early, but it all worked out in the end. [It was] pretty tough, even for a Southlander.

''When everyone has the same idea when the wind goes sideways you have to be on the ball with what's happening. I'd call it a hard day in the office.''

Things do not get any easier today as the peloton braces itself for an assault on Coronet Peak, the dominant climb of the race and the stage which will sort out the true contenders in this year's event.

Tactics will play a vital role, with teams striving to deliver their principal rider to the bottom of the 12km grunt in the best shape possible, Zenovich said.

''You get there and your legs are already sort of cooked because the road surface is so tough, but you've just got to take it how you can,'' he said.

Today's third stage travels 138km from Mossburn to the Coronet Peak car park, finishing about 2.20pm.

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