Defending champ returns for Tour

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SBS Bank Tour of Southland cycling champion James Piccoli.

LAST year’s SBS Bank Tour of Southland cycling champion James Piccoli will be back this year to defend his title.

The popular Canadian became just the fourth international winner of New Zealand’s most prestigious stage race when he claimed a 35sec win over Michael Vink in the tour finale on Gala St.

Tour director Bruce Ross is excited that Piccoli will be back in the racing colours of the Kia Motors-Ascot Park Hotel team.

“While Kia Motors-Ascot Park Hotel haven’t confirmed their full line-up yet, we know they will have a strong squad to throw behind James in this year’s race,” Ross said.

“James was a worthy champion last year – he won the Bluff Hill climb and produced a superb solo effort to chase down a strong breakaway in the fifth stage. Aside from that he was also a great bloke off the bike and you could tell that he really loved his week here in Southland.”

Overseas riders have been prevalent in the SBS Bank Tour of Southland down through the years, but few have been able to come out on top in a battle against the local riders and the local conditions.

Australians Mal Powell (1964) and Mitchell Lovelock-Fay (2014) and United States rider John Lieswyn (2002 and 2004) are the only other overseas riders who have claimed the tour’s yellow jersey since 1956.

With 2015 champion Brad Evans also a confirmed starter, and the possibility of other former winners also on the starting line come October 28, Ross is confident some great racing is in store.

“We’ve seen some very close racing in recent years and this is shaping up to be a very strong field. We’ve had some great interest from overseas teams and, of course, we will also have the best of New Zealand’s up and coming riders on show as well.”

The 2018 edition starts with the traditional team time trial around Invercargill’s Queens Park on October 28, followed by nearly 1000km of hard racing on the roads of Southland and Central Otago before a winner is crowned on Gala St on November 3.

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