Stage win on debut special for Burnett

A spectacular climb by Southland rider Josh Burnett lit up stage four of the Tour of Southland yesterday as Michael Vink tightened his hold on the yellow jersey at the midway stage of this year’s race.

Burnett has been following his home tour since he was 5, but even during a practice ride of The Remarkables a couple of weeks ago, he never dreamed he could win a stage on debut.

In fact, it was only when he finally crossed the finish line after a gruelling 6km climb up The Remarkables at the end of a 101km stage from Mossburn that he was able to start taking it all in.

“The whole race is so special to people from Southland. I just can’t quite believe that I’ve done it,” the 21-year-old said.

“My parents have been helping out with this race since I was 5-years-old and when you go to an Invercargill primary school you know all about the Tour of Southland.

‘‘Coming around the corner, I knew I couldn’t take a guy as classy as Vink to the corner so I just had to go for it, and I managed to hold on.”

Josh Burnett celebrates after winning stage four of the Tour of Southland at The Remarkables...
Josh Burnett celebrates after winning stage four of the Tour of Southland at The Remarkables yesterday. PHOTO: HARRY TALBOT/TOUR OF SOUTHLAND

A national cyclocross and under-23 mountain biking champion, Burnett was able to ride away from Vink, who finished second on the stage, and Max Meffan, who was third.

Earlier, a breakaway of 19 riders kept the peloton on task but was too widely represented to be given much freedom.

When they were captured in the shadows of The Remarkables mountain range, only a small group emerged to challenge for the stage, Burnett making his move at the midway point and holding his nerve to the finish.

Looking to claim a third Southland crown in the space of four years, Vink’s disappointment at missing out on a stage win was tempered by the fact he was able to take significant time out of all his main rivals.

“It’s such a tough climb — the stage is quite short but it’s a hard run through the Devil’s Staircase and then a steep climb to the finish,’’ Vink said.

‘‘It’s a stage where you can’t really hide and it’s usually won by the best guy, and the best guy won today.

“It would have been really nice to finish off with a stage win for the boys but you’ve got to think bigger picture. I’ve got good legs, which is the key thing. Josh was better, but in terms of the GC we are still on track.”

Vink now leads the SBS Bank-sponsored tour by 1min 43sec over Ollie Jones.

Bailey O’Donnell has climbed up to third place overall at 2min 19sec and has the lead in the under-23 classification.

Southlander Josh Haggerty had a good day in the break and was named most combative for the stage.


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