Track world champion Corbin Strong proved the toughest to edge fellow Vantage Elite Track rider Aaron Gate and defending champion Michael Vink in the ascent of Bluff Hill to win stage four of the 64th SBS Bank Tour of Southland.
It moved the 20-year-old Strong into the tour leader’s yellow jersey with two days remaining and the major climbs behind them in his attempt to become the first Southlander in more than a quarter of a century to claim the Tour title.
Opening stage winner Gate (Black Spoke Pro Cycling) was second ahead of Michael Vink (Transport Engineering – Talleys), both recording the same time as the winner.
Gate’s Black Spoke teammate James Oram was again prominent to place fourth just six seconds back ahead of Ollie Jones (Powernet), mountain biker Ben Oliver (Central Benchmakers – Willbike) at 13 seconds and 18-year-old double junior track world champion Laurence Pithie (Circuit Asphalt) at 25 seconds back.
Vink, yet to record a stage win so far this week, has moved stealthily into second place to be poised within nine seconds Strong and the opportunity for a third straight Tour of Southland victory.
Oram is third on general classification at 15 seconds ahead of Jones at 19 seconds and Gate at 35 seconds.
It would appear, unless there is a major breakaway effort tomorrow that the overall winner is likely to come from these leading five riders.
Two-time junior road champion James Fouche (Creation Sighs – MitoQ) has a strong lead in the sprint category; teammate Paul Wright has a healthy lead in the King of the Mountains, Strong is the leading under-23 rider and Black Spoke Pro Cycling is the leading team.
Cycling New Zealand high performances coaches will be pleased with the efforts of their track squad preparing for next year’s Tokyo Olympics, with their riders winning all but one stage of the tour so far. Tom Sexton won the opening prologue, Gate took out stage one and Strong stage two and again in stage four.
Friday is the longest stage of the Tour over 170km to Lumsden with an individual time trial and final 77km sprint from Winton to Invercargill on Saturday to decide the honours.
There is daily coverage on https://www.tourofsouthland.com/ with television highlights programme each evening on TV1 repeated the following morning on Duke.