TWO stage wins on the final day propelled Aaron Gate to his second SBS Bank Tour of Southland victory.
Gate (PowerNet) produced a dominant display in a 13km individual time trial at Winton in the morning before claiming line honours in the final 77km stage from Winton to Invercargill on Saturday to back up his maiden win in 2016.
Starting the day 33sec behind Southland’s Corbin Strong, Gate was the only rider to go under 16 minutes in the time trial, but still started the final stage trailing defending champion Michael Vink (Transport Engineering-Talley’s) by 1sec.
After claiming a time bonus on the penultimate sprint of the six-day race, Gate and Vink were tied on the same time, with the final result decided by a final, furious sprint to the finish.
“It was going to come down to the wire with Michael and I being on such close time and really having to race for that intermediate time bonus,” Gate said.
“It was going to come back to the time trial on countback and I’d forgotten to check the splits before it, so I didn’t want to leave it down to chance so I wanted to get at least third on the stage and to get the win was a bonus.”
In all, Gate won three stages, capping off a great race.
“I’d been training well and with no other racing happening I’d had this as a target and a motivating thing to keep heading out the door,” he said.
“I was definitely keen to have a crack at some stage wins but I thought the Remarkables was going to be too hard for me. The silver lining was the stage being shortened, but even then the way it was raced was just relentless and when I saw the forecast was that there
wasn’t much wind, I thought my chances of winning the race were gone. I had to take every single opportunity I had.”
Strong had some consolation with victory in the Under-23 classification, while his PowerNet team-mate Paul Odlin was the leading Over-35 rider.
Gate’s Black Spoke Pro Cycling Academy team won the team’s classification and Creation Signs-MITOQ ended a successful week with James Fouche taking away the Sprint Ace jersey and Paul Wright crowned the King of the Mountains.
Gate paid credit to the work put in by his team-mates during the week.
“The boys just rode super all week and everyone was really motivated to do some damage today. We came here to win it and it’s pretty special to pull it off. To come back and win again is pretty awesome and the thing that hasn’t changed is that I had a great team
behind me who were willing to sacrifice their own chances to help me succeed.”
Gate also had a word for Strong, who couldn’t defend the yellow jersey on the final day and secure a first Southland win since 1994.
“Corbin’s a great friend and I was fizzing to see him with the yellow jersey and I definitely wouldn’t have complained if he’d won. Bike racing is bike racing and you have to put your
friendships aside a little bit. I was never good at time trials when I was his age and he’s got a massive future ahead of him.”