Heavy attrition saw Whanganui's professional cyclist Glenn Haden become the focus rider for his new Couplands Bakery (CPB) team, after winning the Silver Jersey and getting a Top 12 overall finish at the SBS Bank Tour of Southland last weekend.
Entering New Zealand's pre-eminent cycling tour for the second time, Haden claimed the Silver Jersey for the Over 35 competitors ahead of perennial favourite Paul Odlin – the former 2012 New Zealand and Oceania time trial champion.
His 12th overall in General Classification was also an improvement on the 14th last year, with Haden most proud of coming second overall in Stage 6 of the individual time trial section of the tour – behind 2015 UCI team pursuit world champion Dylan Kennett but ahead of the eventual overall tour winner in Michael Vink of Canterbury.
The Tour of Southland is six days over a gruelling 850km of road racing, where professional teams work together to get their best riders up the front on their journey to the likes of Bluff, Coronet Peak and Gore.
Haden has joined the new CPB team for the domestic season, which was spearheaded by American professional Chris Butler.
"[Butler] is a pure climber and was on the short list for potential tour winners with Coronet Peak and Bluff Hill climbs suiting him perfectly," said Haden in a Facebook message.
"My job early in the week was to make sure I stuck to him like glue, to make sure of no time losses on the flat cross wind days – which are iconic for blowing the racing to bits at Southland – while also keeping my overall [placing] up there as much as possible."
Team tactics were working perfectly until midway through the tour, when 2km out from the Coronet Peak climb, a cyclist in front of their group clipped some gravel and brought down six riders travelling at 60kmh, including Butler and Haden.
Haden's bike was twisted and he was left with bad grazes, but Butler was gone with a badly broken arm.
"The next day we had another blow when our gun sprinter Nick Kergozou got taken down in similar fashion, banging his knee up, which put him out of the tour," said Haden.
"Fortunately he scored a solid third in Stage 1 sprint, but was for sure like Chris a high hope for a win.
"So basically the attention turned to the old boy in the team – me – to grab the Silver Jersey."
In total, reflecting his team change in focus for the latter stages, Haden put together stage finishes of 19th, 17th, 21st, 11th, 31st, 2nd and 12th.
"I managed to string together a solid final day to seal the deal," he said.
Haden made up 27 seconds on Odlin in the final stage – a 77km race from Winton to Invercargill – to win the Silver Jersey at the finishline on Gala St.
Odlin's Powernet squad still won the team title, as they had three riders (Alex Heaney, Hamish Schruers, Antonie Van Noppen) take positions 2nd to 4th behind defending champion Vink (Placemakers).
Vink became the first rider to earn back-to-back tour victories since 2008.