Euan Mason, 18, who finished his schooling at Paraparaumu College last month, has participated in cycling’s Tour of Southland. Mason, who has signed on with the Zappi-U23 development team in Italy next, lined up fresh out of the under-19 junior ranks and ready for 900km of gruelling stage racing with his ITM teammates. He was the youngest rider on the tour. Here’s his account of the experience.
Stage 1 was a 40km, 10-lap criterium race around the same Queen’s Park circuit. The criterium was a really hard and fast opener for me. With a big bunch of some of New Zealand’s top riders, it didn’t take long for the gaps to open. After day one I had a taste of what it was like being in a full tour environment and a big bunch, but the real test was to come the following days.
Stage 2 was the famous 166km gravel run to Lumsden. The pace was on for most of the day with an average speed of 41km/h, but I especially noticed the first hour of even higher speed with the breakaway trying its luck. I managed to stay in the main bunch all the way up to the gravel section, which this year was particularly deep and rough, coming home and crossing the line a respectable 90th.
Stage 3 was to Te Anau. This was by far my hardest day on the bike. With a rolling start out of Riverton, it didn’t take long for me, with my lack of knowledge and positioning, to get caught out in the back split 40km into the 150km stage. This meant I was in for a very long day with a handful of others rolling turns, and in the end only making the time cut by three minutes. However, some valuable lessons were learnt that put me in better positions, literally, for the remainder of the tour. I also learnt how not to use the convoy. Never fight against the vans to overtake, wait until they hit the brakes first, then jump onto the next van.
The racing took riders through some stunning scenery.
Stage 4 was the run into Queenstown and finishing on the top of The Remarkables. This was the day I was worried about the most. With a 7km 10 per cent climb to the finish, this actually turned out to be my best day on the bike on the whole tour. After learning the previous day, I made sure I was in good position over all of the key sections for the race, at one point even rubbing shoulders with the top 20/30 wheels over the Devil’s Staircase. This meant I made it to the bottom of The Remarkables with, dare I say, relative ease and was able to focus on the road in front. To top it all off, I not only did my best power record up The Remarkables, but also got my highest placing of this year’s tour, finishing mid-pack in 77th.
Stage 5 brought some damp, cloudy, drizzly conditions and the run into Bluff Hill to finish. It was a tough day right from the start, with a major crash only 5km in, which brought down two-thirds of the bunch. I had to use every trick in my book to get back to and stay in the main bunch for as long as possible - while the break was fighting to go - and haul myself over the KOM (King of the Mountain). I managed to achieve my goal and made it to Bluff Hill after three and a half hours and an average speed of 44 km/h. I then brought it home across the line, where I ended up finishing 80th.
Children show their support.
Stage 6 featured Gore and was another fast day, with an early break which started a chase for most of the day, It really hurt—the first two hours sat at an average of 48km/h. I’m not going to use getting a puncture as an excuse for why I got dropped, because I would be lying if I didn’t say I was only hanging on by the skin of my teeth. The puncture was the final nail in the coffin and at 120km in I got dropped after changing wheels. I did get to implement my new van-drafting skills and convoy-navigating, though. I ended up doing the remaining 30km out the back but rolled home well within the time cut.
Stage 7 was a 14km individual time trial where I buried myself, as the 20 per cent time cut still applied. This meant I couldn’t lose any more than three minutes to the winners, and then they extended the time cut, but that was okay because I did my target effort and finished 96th.
Euan Mason, fourth from left, with teammates.
Stage 8 was the final stage, a short 77km home run into Invercargill, thus marking the end of my first SBS Bank Tour of Southland. What an experience. I’m delighted and privileged to have participated in this year’s tour. I learnt a lot about myself but crucially, I also learnt more about top-level racing and tactics. Thank you to everyone who contributed to and supported me in getting me to the event, including the Kāpiti Cycling Club.
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