YOUNG cycling sensation Corbyn Strong surprised even himself during his remarkable SBS Bank Tour of Southland debut last week.
Strong has been regarded a future star of New Zealand cycling for some time, but the 18-year-old’s 10th place finish in the 2018 SBS Tour of Southland underlined that status for all to see.
Last week Strong was meant to be completing his final week at Southland Boys’ High School, but instead he took on the longest road race of his career in the form of the gruelling six-day Tour.
Strong went into New Zealand’s premier road cycling race with little expectation, and the messages from his support team was to take it easy to ensure he managed the demands of such a tough race.
On the first day of the Tour he found himself in a breakaway group and that thought of simply getting through his debut tour unscathed switched to a desire to mix it with the big boys.
“I went into the Tour with no GC (general classification) expectations at all. It was after the Coronet Peak stage, I thought ‘I’m in with a shot of maybe pushing for a top 10 place’,” he said.
A top 10 place was exactly what he achieved and it has piqued his interest around just what he could potentially achieve on the road in the future.
Strong has made a mark on the wooden velodrome boards, including winning gold as part of the team pursuit at the world junior track cycling championships in Switzerland this year.
Cyclists often try to juggle track and road duties, but Strong acknowledged if he was to give himself the best chance of succeeding on the road in the future, he would need to concentrate solely on that.
“[The Tour of Southland] has been a real eye-opener for me around stage racing, and I’d like to do more of it. I’ve got some decisions I’ll need to make at some stage,” he said.
Strong’s impressive debut Tour of Southland prompted cycling followers to ponder if he could well be the man to break the Southland drought in the future.
The last Southlander to win the Tour of Southland was Doug Bath in 1994, which itself ended a 21-year stretch since the last hometown winner.
“[A Tour of Southland win] would be very special for me and my family. I would love to do it.
“But seeing Michael Vink win for the first time this year, after being right up there in New Zealand cycling for the past eight or 10 years, it showed me just how tough of a race it is to win,” Strong said.
Matt Zenovich was Southland’s leading rider this year. He finished sixth, with Strong the next best at 10th.
To add to the occasion for Strong, on what was supposed to be his final day at Southland Boys’ on Friday, many of his school mates took to Herbert St in Invercargill to cheer him on and they also preformed a haka for him.
“It was disappointing I wasn’t able to be there with them for the last day, but it was great to have them out there cheering me on.
“Southland Boys’ have been very good to me with my cycling,” he said.
For Strong the focus now turns back to the track, where he hopes to line up at elite World Cup meets in January.