Commonwealth Games silver medalist Ben Oliver won the SBS Bank Tour of Southland yellow jersey for the first time after an impressive race on day one.
The 25-year-old, who finished second to compatriot Sam Gaze in cross-country mountain biking at Birmingham earlier this year, capped off a stellar day for his Creation Signs-MitoQ team at the start of his fifth round of the south.
After his team won their first 4.2km team time trial prologue around Queens Park in Invercargill, he was able to get into the decisive break with eventual winner Glenn Haden (Couplands-Booths Group) during the street race of the first stage of 42 km around the same circuit. .
“It’s a bit of a surprise to get yellow on day one, but I can’t complain, what a way to end the afternoon,” Oliver said.
“We just had to know who was coming up the road and make sure we followed the movements. I ended up in a pretty solid group with (Matt Zenovich) and Glenn and a few of the other boys. We had a decent gap, went for the timed bonus sprints and held it to the line, so happy with how it went.
“It’s a dream come true. A few of the boys told me that this year I should try and that’s what I did,” he said.
Although Oliver has been a mainstay in the MitoQ-NZ Cycling Project stable as a mountain biker, he is thrilled to have another chance to join his teammates on thin tyres.
“It’s my first road race with (the team) this year, they went to America to crush everything while I was on the mountain bike circuit. The boys spent three months abroad to show what they can do and now I’ve joined them for the biggest race of the year,” he said.
“Getting the team time trial is always special, what a way to start the tour. We’re just going to do everything, it will be more of the same tomorrow.
Oliver, who holds a 7-second lead over second overall Haden, should feel at home for at least part of tomorrow’s 166km second stage from Invercargill to Lumsden, which includes a test gravel climb on the hill of Glenure.
It’s the same stage that eventual winner Michael Vink, who is aiming for a fourth title in five years, left his mark on last year’s race.
The 2023 SBS Bank Tour of Southland celebrates its 66th edition and continues until Saturday 5th November.
On Monday, the 166km second stage leaves the ILT Southland Stadium at 10am and finishes in Lumsden around 2.30pm.