Vink clings on for maiden Tour of Southland victory
After nine attempts, and after being jilted twice at the altar, Michael Vink is finally a Tour of Southland champion.
It was third time lucky for the lanky Cantabrian after finishing runner-up in both 2016 and 2017, Vink clinging onto a 16sec lead during the final, frantic 77km stage from Winton to Invercargill this afternoon.
“I’m pinching myself. I’ve been close so many times and to finally finish it off in the way we did - defending the yellow jersey for three days,” Vink said.
“We lost a guy after Bluff, which was unfortunate, so for five guys to defend it against such a quality field was fantastic.”
Hamish Bond finished second overall, trailing by 16sec, with Sam Gaze third at 2min 59sec, while defending champion James Piccoli had to settle for fourth at 3min 22sec.
It was anything but a procession on the final day of the SBS Bank-sponsored race, with Vink seeing an overnight lead of 1min 32sec decimated by a fantastic individual time trial by Bond in Winton.
Like Bond, Vink is a national time trial champion, and a four-time Winton time trial winner, but he could do nothing to stop a determined Bond from putting himself in a position to win the race.
“To be honest, a gap was a gap. All I had to do was follow Hamish’s wheel and if he had’ve gotten away he would have won the tour - it didn’t matter if it was 18sec or two minutes,” Vink said.
“I thought I had a really good time trial but Hamish was next level and full credit to him.”
The final stage into Invercargill was taken out by Dylan Kennett, who had been challenging for a stage win all week.
“I had to be patient. I had to take second in Te Anau, then Gore, then the TT, and third in the prologue. I was really hungry for it this afternoon,” he said.
Southland’s Matt Zenovich, a stage winner on Monday and tour leader for two days, completed a great week by claiming the Sprint Ace classification, while Paul Odlin was the race’s leading over 35 rider and Kia Motors-Ascot Park Hotel took out the teams classification.
It was a massive week for Vink’s WPC South-Joyride Apparel squad with teammate Ethan Batt picking up both the King of the Mountain and under 23 jerseys.
There will be little time for Vink to reflect on the win, with both the Tour of Tasmania and Pioneer mountainbike race later this month, but now that he’s finally won Southland, he’s determined to come back and defend the title.
“Hopefully now it will come a bit easier. They say the first one is the hardest, I’d love to come back and have more. I love this race,” Vink said.
“There’s so much more than just a bike race going on here, it’s a real event that the whole of Southland gets behind, which is what makes it so special.”