Tuesday 30th October: PureBlack Racing have found what they have been looking for – a big performance on a key stage, with Taylor Gunman securing a third place finish up Bluff Hill, at the same time relieving his former BikeNZ-PureBlack Racing U23 teammate Cameron Karwowski (PowerNet) of the U23 Pink Jersey.
With the uncharacteristically sunny weather continuing, the stage started off strong with attacks coming straight after the neutral zone, and after almost making an early mistake, Taylor made his was back to the front. From there he saw his opportunity to hit the gas and bridge his way over to four others who were forming what would prove to be the decisive breakaway.
After just 12km of the stage and the break had swelled to 15 riders. No one expected the breakaway to stick, but when a crash in the peloton at around the 30km mark, the gap quickly stretched to two and a half minutes.
PureBlack Racing had two riders hit the tarmac in the crash, Cody Canning and James “Jimmy” Williamson. Jimmy required a change of wheel but it was Cody who had bigger issues.
With a broken cleat and left hand lever it looked like Cody’s tour was in serious jeopardy. But with pro-rider/pro-mechanic Louis Crosby (team mechanic for Tour of Southland) coming to the rescue, some Kiwi ingenuity quickly had Cody back in the peloton.
Cody was battling along with a bigger chain ring; and the pending Bluff Hill seemed an impossible task, but a little imagination saw Louis pass Cody a screwdriver to drop his chain ring into a lower gear for the big climb.
“For Cody to race almost the whole stage with his shoe taped to his pedal is just incredible,” said John “Harry” Harris, “He is just so positive and happy to be here, you never want someone who has travelled so far to be here to have to leave the tour early.”
Meanwhile, Taylor was in the breakaway working hard to increase the gap between the 15 riders and the peloton.
“Up until the 80km mark we expected to get caught,” said Taylor, “I thought it would just be a decoy but we were working well together.”
With 30km to go, and Bluff Hill looming, the break started to split, with a constant stream of attacks. Taylor rode tremendously to stick with the leaders, and ensure he was strategically placed to absorb the pressure.
“I knew I needed to preserve as much as I could, and not use energy recklessly,” said Taylor, “at 6km to go I decided it was time to stop working and start sheltering myself, I wanted to be in the top three at the base of the climb [Bluff Hill].”
Taylor hit Bluff Hill in a group of four, which included Mike Northey (Node4-Subaru) Carter Jones (Bissel Pro Cycling) and Karwowski.
“I was with Cam and I had to keep pace on him in the climb, I was just in front of him the whole way up and I knew I had to try to limit my losses on the guys up in first (Northey) and second (Jones) as well.”
“It was all about being smart about my effort because there are still four more days of racing,” said Taylor, “But I am feeling really good and my recovery today has been great. This has made up for the last four months of crashing and illness.”
Taylor crossed the line behind Northey and Jones, with Karwowski further back in fourth.
Back in the peloton, the crosswinds had thrown riders in every direction across the road.
Roman van Uden and Dion Smith in the leading echelon of the chasing pack, alongside four-time Tour of Southland winner, Hayden Roulsten (Calder Stewart), who would be looking to minimise his deficit on the yellow jersey.
“The team rode just brilliantly today, we had a guy in every facet,” said Harry, “the guys rode a smart race, and our team put the hammer down, and rode hard where it counted.”
“Dion rode like a champion, he got nailed when he fell off the lead group but claw his way back to get up there with Roman,” said Harry, “Roman orchestrated his strength today, when Roulsten threw everything he had at him, Roman just rode like he needed to.”
Jimmy and Dan Bonello also had strong rides both finishing in the third wave of riders after the breakaway and the leading chase. The tremendous effort puts PureBlack Racing in third place for the team G.C.
“There is nothing in it between the top four teams, it is anyone’s title to take,” said Harry.
As well as holding the U23 jersey, Taylor is also third on the Individual G.C. just 27 seconds behind stage winner Northey. Roman is also up on GC, sitting in 10th - down 2m 24s on leader, and with plenty of action to come, the team will be looking to build on these positions over the coming days.
Tomorrow is a double stage day, with a 48km road race from Riverton to Tuatapere at 10am followed by a 100km stage from Tuatapere to Te Anau at 1pm.