After a surprise move on stage five from Invercargill to Gore, Olympian Aaron Gate has powered is way into the lead of the 2016 SBS Bank Tour of Southland.
With Christchurch’s Michael Vink seemingly set to cruise to victory over the final two days of the 60th anniversary race, it took a brazen move by a 20-strong breakaway in cold, wet conditions to shake up a race which has seen the yellow jersey change after every stage.
Cambridge rider Gate (Creation Signs-L&M Group Ricoh) was part of the early break which established itself 30km into the 151km stage and never looked back.
While Vink (Mike Greer Homes) led by more than two minutes at the start of the stage, that handy advantage began to look anything but as the breakaway continued to gain time through Drummond, Winton and Springhills.
“I looked around and we had a group of 20 guys and it was surprising at that point because a lot of guys that were up on GC were missing from that group,” Gate said.
“We gave it a nudge and kept pushing it and then all of a sudden we had a minute, then two minutes and at one stage we had six and a half minutes. We managed to hold on enough at the end to put me into yellow, which I’m really looking forward to wearing.”
Gate, a bronze medalist in the team pursuit at the London Olympics and fourth in Rio, and a world champion in the omnium in 2013, started the day 2min 19sec down on Vink, but finished with a 2min 29sec lead over Dutch rider Sjoerd Kouwenhoven (PowerNet) after winning a two-up sprint with Ayden Toovery (Tineli Performance Bikewear) along the main street of Gore.
“I was thankful to the guys who were helping out in the group, because we did have some sitting on us. At least we stayed warm, because it was a cold day out there,” Gate said.
“It’s still going to be all on tomorrow, the race isn’t won yet for sure. Anything can happen on that last day so I’ll be doing everything I can to protect it and wear the yellow coming into Queens Park, and hopefully secure the win.”
Gate has confidence his team mates will be able to help ride him to the title tomorrow.
“The boys are all excited, they can’t wait to step up tomorrow – a few cups of coffee in the morning and hopefully we’ll be ready to go.”
Gate holds a 2min 29sec lead over Kouwenhoven, with Vink now trailing by 3min 19sec.
Tomorrow’s final day begins with a 13km individual time trial at Winton, followed by a 77km final stage from Winton to Invercargill, finishing with four laps of Queens Park.