Everyone knows the Tour de France. That almost cultish event that has cycling fanatics all over the world glued to their televisions every European summer. And some people get into that so much that they also follow the other big tours in Italy and Spain. And then there’s what the real fanatics like to call the “Fourth Grand Tour” – the brutal, windswept, unpredictable Tour of Southland.
The cycling Tour is is often considered one of the toughest sports events around. It’s an event that brings together a couple of hundred of lean, race-hungry cyclists, and then gets them to race every day for a week against each other over courses of about 150km per day, while including a series of mini-races within each day’s race. In fact, it’s exhausting just trying to explain it.
And then there’s the Tour of Southland…
Firstly, what you need to understand is that the Tour of Southland runs for seven days. Beginning and ending in the region’s biggest city – Invercargill. And racing each day around a region that is renowned for weather patterns that alternate at this time of year (November) between searing hot to freezing cold. And when we say “freezing” we mean it – the next stop off the coast of Southland is the frozen continent of Antarctica, and when you’ve got a neighbour like that, you can get some pretty hairy weather from time to time.
Next, the format. Seventeen teams of six riders each. Each day racing between 80-160km, for which the riders are racing for five individual jerseys and an overall team title. Among the jerseys on offer, most important is the yellow jersey for the overall tour leader. Then there’s the King of the Mountains jersey (red and white polka-dots) and the Sprint Ace Jersey (green) for the riders who accumulate the most points on a series of pre-determined hill climbs and sprints on each stage.
In short, it’s a race that never fails to live up to its reputation as one of the toughest around. Something that keeps bringing back teams like the New Zealand Cycling Project team led by team Manager James Canny.
“What’s unique about this race is it’s New Zealand’s Tour de France,” says Canny. “It’s super-aggressive racing and added to that, we’re in the deep south of New Zealand, riding out of Invercargill which is the closest city in the world to Antarctica, which means it’s windy and incredibly changeable. And that means you need to prepare for everything and anything each day. I mean, you often see riders applying sun-screen in the morning while it’s raining outside because you just don’t know what you’re going to get.”
“There’s something new every day,” adds team captain Jimmy Williamson. “That’s the iconic selling point. And that’s why guys like Mark Cavandish, who is one of the best cyclists in the world, know about this race and its reputation. I mean, if you put this race in Europe, one guy would win a hill climb on day 1, and then his team would defend him for the rest of the days. But in Southland, the wind makes that impossible, and so you have to fight for every metre you race, because any one of them can decide this race.”
“Added to that, we’re in the deep south of New Zealand, riding out of Invercargill which is the closest city in the world to Antarctica. And that means it’s windy and incredibly changeable... I mean, you often see riders applying sun-screen in the morning while it’s raining outside because you just don’t know what you’re going to get.”
So it's obvious from the get-go that toughness is a big part of this race. But just as important is recovery – and that’s where Canny got talking to MitoQ who were super keen to see if their mitochondrial-support supplement could help top sportsmen.
“I mean, recovery is utterly crucial, “ says Canny. “You see the guys after the race and they’re absolutely spent. They’ve given it everything and we have to get them back to the motel as soon as possible, get them fed, get them on the massage table, because tomorrow we have to do it all again.
“It’s all about how we look after ourselves. Because every time you go out and put in effort like these guys do, you’re actually damaging your body. So if we can get gains in our recovery from products like MitoQ, that helps us sleep, helps our bodies recover, it’s really a no-brainer. I mean, why wouldn’t you look after your body like that?”
And so when it came to MitoQ’s involvement with the team, it was a conversation about support rather than sponsorship.
“What we wanted to see,” John Marshall (MItoQ’s Chief Marketing Officer) says, “was what impact our product could have on elite sports people. I mean, we know a lot of things from research. But to see it in action at this level was something that really interested us”.
And so to the race itself. Which started calmly enough with a Prologue event on the first day before getting into the stages which took the cyclists all over the Southland region, through farmland, along the boundaries of the imposing Fiordland mountains and into neighbouring Otago where the cyclists scaled the side of the imposing Remarkables mountain range (perhaps the best-named mountain-range in the world).
And what unfolded over the week was something quite exceptional for the MitoQ-supported team.
Firstly Paul Wright threw the dice and got himself into the King of the Mountain’s Jersey on the first stage. Then, through shear team-work, the team defended the jersey for the rest of the tour while also getting James Fouche into position for the Green Sprint Ace Jersey as well. So by the time the final stage was raced, the Creation Signs-MitoQ team had two out of the five jerseys on offer won – an exceptional effort for any team at this elite level.
“This whole week’s been phenomenal,” said Team Soigneur, Rob Dallimore, who watched the race unfold from behind the wheel of the support van. “This is one of the hardest sports you can do – every day these guys go to war and do things that most people would struggle to do for five minutes.
“It was hard to imagine at the beginning of the week that the team would go as well as it did. I mean, here we are on the final day with two out of the five jerseys – and a most of the teams leave here with nothing – so we’re exceptionally proud of what we’ve achieved here this year.
“And I think a lot of that comes down to the quality of recovery we’ve been able to get for the team. Every morning, they walk out of their rooms and treat each day as if it was the first. And I see it from the support van – every time there’s been a break, there’s one of our guys in it, and a group of our guys covering at the front. And you can only put that down to their recovery. Because with MitoQ you know they’re getting the best of the best and all they have to do is take the product, get their sleep and eat right, and it’s those simple things that has made life on tour so good.”
And for MitoQ – for a first year riding shot-gun on the Tour of Southland, that was a fantastic result that will keep us coming back for more.
“This is one of the hardest sports you can do – every day these guys go to war and do things that most people would struggle to do for five minutes."