The stage races
Multi-day stage races or ‘tours’ brought new excitement to New Zealand road racing in the second half of the 20th century. Two events, both originally amateur, stand out – the Tour of Southland and the Dulux Six-day Cycle Race.
Tour of Southland
The tour started in 1956 as a three-day Southland centenary event. In 2012 it ran for seven days, in eight stages, over 900 kilometres. Early on in the tour’s history, Warwick Dalton and Tino Tabak made a big impression, with three wins each. Between 1985 and 1995 Brian Fowler claimed a remarkable eight victories. In 1995 the tour became a team event and in 2002 it gained UCI status.
Dulux Six-day Cycle Race
This began in 1960 and ran for 25 years. The Dulux was a world-class event, covering a wide range of terrain, through as many cities and towns as possible between Auckland and Wellington. Racers covered an unprecedented 1,000 kilometres in less than a week. To increase the spectacle, race organisers offered sprint prizes during each stage and handed out thousands of small flags to school children and spectators along the route.
Drawn-out battles between great riders such as Laurie Byers, Blair Stockwell and Jack Swart were broadcast throughout New Zealand, helping to make them household names. The withdrawal of Dulux sponsorship led to the tour’s demise in the mid-1980s.
The 1962 Dulux offered 240 prizes totalling over £1,200 ($50,000 in 2018). There were prizes for the top 20 general classification riders and top 10 ‘King of the Mountain’ riders as well as the sprint trophies. As this was an amateur event, prizes were called trophies and had to be engraveable. They included stereograms, silverware and salad servers.
The early 1970s saw increased success on the international stage. Time-trial rider Harry Kent and road racer Bruce Biddle both came away from the 1970 British Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh with gold medals, the first claimed by Kiwis at a games cycling event. Kent was declared sportsman of the year, ahead of All Black captain Colin Meads. New Zealand riders subsequently struck gold on the track in the 1978 and 1982 Commonwealth Games, then four times at the 1990 Auckland Commonwealth Games. At the 2014 Commonwealth Games, road and track cyclists won 13 medals, including five golds. At the 2018 Commonwealth Games the medal haul was 15, including two golds; former rowing superstar Hamish Bond won bronze in the time trial..
Not until the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona did a New Zealand cyclist win an Olympic medal, when Gary Anderson from Whanganui won bronze in the individual pursuit. The next Olympic Games allowed professional riders to enter, increasing the level of competition another notch.
New Zealand’s first Olympic gold medal for cycling was won at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games when Sarah Ulmer won the 3,000-metre individual pursuit, setting two world records.
Cycling New Zealand
The move towards professionalism had been signalled by increasing commercial sponsorship of amateur elite racers and events. The International Cycling Union (UCI) directed the New Zealand Amateur Cycling Association (NZACA) to set up a cycling federation to govern both professional and amateur cycling, and on 1 January 1994 Cycling New Zealand was formed. Cash prizes replaced trophy vouchers; the feud between cashies and amateurs was over.
‘No room for sheilas’
English cycling official Barbara Levido immigrated to New Zealand in 1953. Visiting a race in Wellington she introduced herself to a race official and asked if she could help. He replied: ‘There’s no bloody room for sheilas in cycling, but you can help with the afternoon tea.’ In 1980 Levido became president of the NZACA.1
The first NZACA championships that included women’s races were in 1981. Women cyclists were accepted into the 1984 Olympic Games and the Commonwealth Games in 1990, at which Sue Golder took third in the sprint and Madonna Harris won the individual pursuit. Later that year at the World Championships in Japan, Karen Holliday won gold in the points race – New Zealand’s first senior cycling world championship gold medal. In 1994, 18-year-old Sarah Ulmer won two junior world cycling championship titles and a silver medal at the Commonwealth Games. Linda Villumsen won gold in the time trial at the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games and 2015 world championships, and silver at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, where Georgia Williams won gold in the road race.