Cycling: Former winner back for 11th Tour

Heath Blackgrove, front. Photo / Dianne Manson.
Heath Blackgrove, front. Photo / Dianne Manson.

The last time Heath Blackgrove competed in the Tour of Southland he won it, then promptly headed away to get married just hours later.

Three years on and the 32-year-old rider is back, he and his wife have a 9-month-old child and he has been based in America since February 2010.

One of the few constants for Blackgrove, though, has been cycling - and he can't wait to get what will be his 11th Tour underway on Sunday.

Blackgrove will join fellow American-based rider Ryan Wills in a strong PowerNet team, including four of last year's team riders in Olympian Shane Archbold, Myron Simpson, Cam Karwowski and Tom Scully.

While Blackgrove has years of experience on his side, he also has a team that knows how to win - having won the Tour last year with Josh Atkins.

"The experience these guys gained last year, riding for the leader, and defending that lead ... that's invaluable," he said.

"We are coming here to try to win, but whether that happens you don't know, we've just got to put our best out there on the road."

Blackgrove has raced for Elbowz Racing for the past two years where he has taken on a level of responsibility on top of the riding itself.

"My role has been as a rider and as a team leader and team captain, almost a director on the road. I have been mentoring the younger guys, teaching them and passing on my experience. I make all the calls when we are racing.

"As a team we have had a fantastic year, we have far exceeded expectations and all the goals we set."

With his attention now firmly on the Tour of Southland, Blackgrove is looking forward to the course changes that came into effect last year. While the PowerNet team has plenty on their side - including a talented roster, a former Tour winner and the experience of a winning team - the boys are being careful in their approach.

"Any stage can be decisive. What could be the easiest day could end up being the hardest if the weather turns," Blackgrove said.

"What makes this Tour so hard to win is that every day is decisive. It's so tiring and wearying, but you have to be on at all times. Even when it went from five man teams to six man teams, it's still so hard to defend."

While Blackgrove had to rush away post his Tour victory in 2009, this year Archbold will be in the spotlight. His distinctive mullet, which he has grown for years, will be cut off after the Tour to raise money for the Child Cancer Foundation.

"We were trying to work out who would be more emotional - when Heath got married after the Tour or me losing my mullet," Archbold joked.

So far he has raised more than $2500 for the cause and hopes that will climb as awareness of The Flying Mullet campaign increases.

- APNZ

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