By GUY WILLIAMS
The only Queenstown rider in the Tour of Southland can’t wait for its most gut-busting climb.
Newly-minted pro rider Reuben Thompson, flew into the resort on Saturday after quarantining in an Auckland hotel following his flight home from Spain.
After a quick family reunion, he joined join his Vet4Farm teammates — including former Great Britain representative and Comm Games gold medallist Mark Stewart — on the start line at Invercargill’s Queens Park on Sunday.
The tour, New Zealand’s most prestigious and gruelling multi-stage road cycling race, has had a makeover with several route changes, and Thompson’s particularly excited about one of them.
Tomorrow’s 116km third stage will start in Mossburn and culminate in a 11.5km grunt up The Remarkables access road, with organisers hoping to tack on a final 3km gravel ending.
Thompson, who holds the King of the Mountain (course record) title for the climb, says he ‘‘absolutely loves’’ the road, and badly wants to win the stage.
‘‘I’ve spent hours and hours training on it, so it’ll be pretty special to have the opportunity to race it with home support out on the roadside.’’
He’s also got his sights on the tour’s under-23 classification, expected to be hotly contested this year.
‘‘I came so close last year, losing the U23 lead and my fourth spot on general classification on the final stage back into Invercargill in the crosswinds, so I have a lot of hunger after that disappointment.’’
The 19-year-old, who’s just signed a two-year deal with a World Tour team in France, says he’s ‘‘really not an indoor person’’, and found quarantine a struggle.
After feeling ‘‘pretty empty’’ on the stationary trainer to start with because of jet lag, he reckons he found his mojo early last week.
‘‘I was riding the strongest I have in my life when I left Spain, and have hopefully done enough to take some of that form into Southland.’’
He also wants to ‘‘have a heap of fun’’.
‘‘The racing in Europe involves a lot of stress, so I’d like to have a week where I can really enjoy racing my bike with no pressure.’’
Although the closed borders have impacted what is usually an international field, the race features a bunch of high-profile Kiwi riders.
The winner of the past two tours, Michael Vink, will be gunning for a hat-trick, former winner and Olympian Aaron Gate will be another 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.
The tour ends with a 77km race from Winton to Invercargill on Saturday.