Euan tackles Southland…twice!

Euan Mason lined up for both the Yunca Junior Tour of Southland AND the SBS Bank Tour of Southland, a mere 4 weeks apart. After an untimely crash at Schools Nationals that left him wheel-less one week out, he borrowed our Maker SL Carbon demo wheels to tackle both events.

2023 Yunca Junior Tour of Southland (29 September - 1 October)

The 2023 Yunca Junior Tour of Southland brought with it the usual standard of tough racing made even tougher this year by the weather conditions. I was racing in the U19 category with a strong lineup of top National and World Champion competitors. Invercargill lashed us with the worst weather I have experienced in cycling. The lineup of 27 U19s fought against 60km winds, rain, thunder, hail, and teeth-chattering temperatures for 3 days, 6 stages of racing. 

I was lucky enough to have been given the opportunity to race on a Wheelworks Maker SL wheelset for the tour and was blown away by the performance of these wheels in the tough racing conditions.

The things that stood out to me as a rider was the crosswind handling, in particular, the stability in very gusty winds. This was down to the different rim depth and shape options which include a 35mm deep front wheel and a 50mm deep rear wheel. This created the perfect balance between straight line aerodynamics and crosswind stability, which proved essential for this race.

The other performance gain I noticed was the slightly wider internal rim width, paired with 28c tyres, this increased the air volume in the rim and tyre, meaning I could run lower pressures for increased grip and better rolling resistance. I notice the increase in grip on the wet roads of Southland throughout the race and was impressed by the confidence inspiring handling.

Day 1 of the tour saw an individual opening 2.5k TT in the morning, followed by a kermesse in the afternoon. I had a great opening TT finishing 15 seconds down and sitting in 14th place. A strong performance, 1 second behind Elliot Robertson. By the afternoon the weather had deteriorated, with heavy 80k winds, the race had been shortened by 2 laps of the 2.5k circut. Within the first 400m there was a big crash in the group with most of the top GC guys going down. This split the race up with people all over the show and skipping laps due to injury. Yet again I managed to hold 14th place and crossed the line safe and sound.

Day 2 consisted of 2 big road races on an exposed course. The weather conditions where still deteriorating with cold rain and hail to add to the already 80k strong winds. With the race spliting up and conditions blowing all over the road, I ended up crossing the line in 19th place in stage 3 (80km). 

Stage 4 bought hail and extreme low lying cloud towards the end of the day and I fought to cross the line in 18th place after a very hard day out.

The weather finally improved for day 3 with a 25k 4 corner crit in the morning. I finished this stage in 18th place again with a normalized power of 340 watts a hard morning out and loads of accelerations out of corners. The final and 6th stage, a 60km two lap route where the sun showed its face for the first time during the weekend. The Yunca Junior Tour of Southland was an amazing way to wrap up the National Road Series event

All the results above are out of an Under-19 field of 27 riders including some top International and World Champion contenders. I'm very happy with my performance and thrilled I got the opportunity to race on Wheelworks Maker SL wheels.

- Euan Mason

SBS Bank Tour of Southland 2023 (29 October to 4 November)

Just 28 days after finishing the Junior Tour and I was back in Southland and ready for 900km of grueling stage racing ahead.

The Tour began with a 4km prologue Team Time Trial around Queens Park. Each team had 6 riders and the time was taken on the 4th across the line. The Team Time Trial went well and a good way to set the tone for the racing to come. 

Stage 1 was a 40km 10 lap Criterium race around the same Queens Park circuit; it was a really hard and fast opener for me. With a big bunch of some of New Zealand’s top riders, it didn't take long for the gaps to open.

After day 1, I'd had a taste of what it was like being in a full Tour environment and a big bunch, but the real test was to come the following days.

Stage 2 - The famous 166km gravel run to Lumsden. The pace was on for most of the day with an average speed of 41kmph, but I especially noticed the first hour of even higher speed with the breakaway trying its luck. I managed to stay in the main bunch all the way up to the gravel section (which this year was particularly deep and rough). Coming home and crossing the line a respectable 90th. 

Stage 3 - Te Anau. This was by far my hardest day on the bike. With a rolling start out of Riverton, it didn't take long for me (with my lack of knowledge and positioning) to get caught out in the back split 40km into the 150km stage. This meant I was in for a very long day with a handful of others rolling turns and in the end only making the time cut by 3 minutes. However, some valuable lessons were learnt that put me in better positions (literally) for the remainder of the Tour. I also learnt how NOT to use the convoy. Never fight against the vans to overtake, wait until they hit the brakes first then jump onto the next van.

Stage 4 - Was the run into Queenstown and finishing at the top of the Remarkables. This was the day I was worried about the most due to the 7k 10% climb to the finish, but this actually turned out to be my best day on the bike the whole Tour. After learning the previous day, I made sure I was in good positioning over all of the key sections for the race (at one point even rubbing shoulders with the top 20/30 wheels over the Devil's Staircase). This meant I made it to the bottom of the Remarkables with (dare I say) relative ease and was able to then focus on the road infront. To top it all off I not only did my best power record up the Remarkables, but also got my highest placing of this years Tour, finishing mid pack 77th. 

The following day and stage 5 brought some damp, cloudy, drizzly conditions and the run into Bluff Hill to finish. It was a tough day right from the start, with a major crash only 5km in, which brought down 2/3rds of the bunch. I had to use every trick in my book to get back to, then stay in, the main bunch whilst the break was fighting to go. I managed to achieve my goal and made it to Bluff Hill after three and a half hours and an average speed of 44kmph. 

Stage 6 - Gore was another fast day with an early break which started a chase for most of the day: it hurt, it really hurt! The first 2 hours sat at an average of 48kmph. Now, I'm not going to use getting a puncture as an excuse for why I got dropped, because I would be lying if I didn't say I was only hanging on by the skin of my teeth, but the puncture was the final nail in the coffin and 120km in I got dropped after changing wheels. I did get to implement my new van drafting skills and convoy navigating though. I ended up doing the remaining 30k out the back but rolled home well within time cut.

The last day brought with it stages 7 & 8. Stage 7 was a 14km Individual Time Trial where I buried myself, as the 20% time cut still applied. This meant I couldn't lose any more than 3 minutes to the winners. AND THEN THEY EXTENDED THE TIME CUT! I did my target effort and finished 96th.

Stage 8, the final stage, a short 77k home run into Invercargill and thus marking the end of my first SBS Bank Tour of Southland.

What an experience!

I am very happy and privileged to have participated in this years Tour of Southland. Learning a lot about myself, but also crucially I learnt more about top level racing and tactics. Thank you to everyone who contributed to and supported me in getting me to the event, including Wheelworks for yet again lending me a pair of their wheels and contributing to my success. 

- Euan Mason