Time to pass on the baton

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    Tour of Southland manager Bruce Ross reflects on his 50-year association with the tour at the SIT Velodrome last week. Photo: Petrina Wright

    THE ride of a lifetime is nearly over for Tour of Southland tour director Bruce Ross.

    After 50 years of involvement in the event, 35 years of which as race director, he is standing down from the role at the conclusion of this year’s event in November.

    “I have taken a long enough lap at the front and it’s probably time someone else came through to take a lap and I’ll sit back in the peloton,” he said.

    “I will miss it. Miss the people and the interaction, but there comes a time when you have to make the choice to pass the baton.”

    The 67-year-old said it was the right time to stand aside.

    “…while I have still got the ability to assist the incoming manager.”

    He intended to continue to be involved in the multi-stage road cycling event whether on the organising committee or as a volunteer, he said.

    Bruce Ross with the yellow jersey won by Kelvin Hastie at the inaugural Tour of Southland race in 1956.

    “I’m not turning my back on it. I have spent too much effort getting it to this stage, I want to see it continue to succeed.”

    It was in 1970 when cycling official the late Bunty Hewitt asked Ross to be a judge for the Tour of Southland. Mr Hewitt was Mr Ross’s neighbour and knew of his interest in cycling.

    “He asked me to help out which I duly obliged.

    “I had no idea anything like that [being involved for nearly 50 years] lay ahead.”

    Ross said he enjoyed cycling, but did not possess the necessary ability.

    “I had a growing aspiration to be a cyclist, but that was where it started and stopped…administration was more my scene.”

    He joined the organising committee in the early 1980s, becoming tour director in 1985.

    He got the job by default when the previous tour director Graham Sycamore was selected as the cycling manager for the New Zealand cycling team in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, he said.

    “I was put in there not terribly willingly thinking it was a one year term…I was mistaken.

    “Whether or not I did a good job as manager that first year I don’t remember.”

    He had seen a lot of changes to the event over the years, from the growing interest in the event from outside the region and overseas and the event expanding from a three-day individual event to a seven-day team event.

    Ross said at one time the organisers attempted to make the Tour of Southland a UCI-sanctioned event, but the criteria were too restrictive and did not work for the Southland situation.

    Once returned to a national tour format about 12-14 years ago, it had “blossomed”, he said.

    The national tour format allowed more international riders to enter as it was not restricted to riders who were in a trade race team, he said.

    The highlight of his involvement in the event was seeing many young riders who entered the Tour of Southland go on to represent New Zealand at the highest level, including Paddy Bevin, George Bennett and Southland’s Tom Scully who was now a professional rider and on the cusp of being the first Southlander to ride in the Tour de France, he said.

    One memorable tour was held during heavy snowfall.

    On arriving in Lumsden ahead of the stage all the team managers descended on his car. He thought they were going to ask for the stage to be postponed, but in fact they were all keen for the race to go ahead because of the novelty of racing in snow, he said.

    At that same race stage, a Dunedin rider was seen riding down the main street of Lumsden completely naked yelling about the fact all his gear and clothing had been stolen as a gag.

    Inaugural Tour of Southland 1956

    This year would be the 63rd Tour of Southland.

    Ross said the event had endured thanks to strong support from the community and sponsors.

    Ross also acknowledged the much-valued support of his wife Pam and his twin daughters Suzanne and Amy, who assisted behind the scenes of the event.

    “I have thoroughly enjoyed the challenge and meeting great people. I hope [the Tour of Southland] continues to be a part of Southland’s sporting scene for many years to come,” he said.

    SBS Bank Tour of Southland 2019, November 3 – 9

    Tour of Southland history and facts

    • in 1956 with 32 local riders;
    • last year it attracted 108 riders from throughout New Zealand and overseas;
    • 1968 stage winners received $17 and overall winner awarded $70;
    • this year winners receive $500-$750 and overall winner awarded $2600 individual event;
    • started as a three-day individual event;
    • today it is a seven-day event for teams of six riders, in line with similar international events
    • longest running cycle tour in New Zealand
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