We’re thrilled to introduce the newest addition to the MitoCrew, the New Zealand Cycling Project – a group of New Zealand-based cyclists founded by former elite racer James Canny, with a focus on giving talented kiwi cyclists an opportunity to race internationally.
In November 2020 the team competed in the Tour of Southland – one of NZ’s toughest and most prestigious cycling challenges. Here we introduce you to James and the amazing ethos of his team, track how they performed in the Tour and discover how MitoQ supported their incredible results.
Introducing James Canny and The New Zealand Cycling Project
James’s story is one of hard work and resilience. Growing up he had a dream to be a pro cyclist, but this dream was abruptly put on hold when he was hit by a drunk driver in 2003. After a long road to recovery, James managed to return to racing at an elite level in the USA, but the lasting impact from his injuries limited his racing potential. After returning to New Zealand and finding it difficult to join a local team, James decided "Stuff it, I’ll just start my own”. Founding the New Zealand Cycling Project, James juggles managing the team with full-time work as a corporate lawyer and being a husband and dad to new twins.
Despite being a small outfit, the New Zealand Cycling Project is now the longest-standing elite cycling team in New Zealand, and they have had huge success both at home and in some of the biggest races in the world. Internationally the team has gained a reputation as the go-getter Kiwi battlers, or the underdogs if you will, but as James explains,
“It’s in those bigger races overseas that you might get your head kicked in but that’s not really the story, the story is that you got there in the first place”
The History of The Tour of Southland
It all began in 1956 when a starting pistol was fired outside the old Post Office in Invercargill, New Zealand and the riders of the inaugural Tour of Southland set off. The, then three-day event, has grown over the last 60 years, becoming the largest and arguably most prestigious cycling race in New Zealand. Stretching across a grueling 832 kilometers (516 miles) over 7 days, James explains that these are the races that his team train all year for. “Staged races are seen as the most prestigious to win because not only do you have to be good on the day, but on multiple days.”
The beauty of The Tour of Southland lies in its terrain. Notoriously grueling, the race takes place in the rugged, wild and unpredictable bottom of the South Island, which is often buffeted by winds coming straight from the Antarctic. A day’s weather can start with a crisp clear morning, hit peak sun by mid-morning and then be snowing and raining by lunch. This unruly weather is complemented by steep hill climbs, gritty surfaces and narrow roads. It’s a challenge for even the most experienced of riders. James, who has been a participant of former Tours, knows the challenges of the race. “It’s a tough sport, it’s like running a marathon every day for seven days straight,” he explains. “It’s this crazy race where professionals can come out from America or Europe (when there’s no COVID) and get absolutely smashed by a 38-year-old local firefighter. It’s one of the few races where amateurs can rub shoulders with professionals and actually beat them.”
The race itself is run like a mini Tour de France with riders battling each day to win colored jerseys and accumulate points for final placings at the end of day seven. The three jerseys are color coded with yellow going to the leader of the race, polka dot to the fastest up the hills or ‘King of the Mountain’ as it’s known, and green to the fastest in the intermediate sprints – known as the ‘Sprint Ace’. While each racer is ultimately battling for a placing, the teams must work together to support each other in order to get there. For the series, the NZ Cycling Project, whose team of six Tour riders was named ‘Creation Signs MitoQ’, competed against a field of 16 other teams, and 96 riders.
The New Zealand Cycling Project’s strategy for this year’s Tour of Southland was bold, says James. “We wanted to maximize our potential to win, so we targeted all three jerseys. It was a risky strategy, but we thought about it carefully and were really lucky that it paid off.”.
From day one, the team helped member Paul Wright to take out the King of the Mountain jersey, with other members scoring points in the sprints. Holding onto the King of the Mountain jersey for all seven days guaranteed Paul the series, and the team also began to pull ahead on the sprints by supporting rider James Fouche to the front of the pack. Despite the wind in the fourth stage, James grabbed the Sprint Ace jersey, which he then successfully defended for the remaining stages.
Winning both series jerseys was a huge achievement for this small go-get-em team. “It’s bloody hard to win just one of those jerseys, let alone two,” says James. “And at the end of the day, success is what makes the guys want to ride their bikes.” He believes a large amount of this success is down to the team’s performance as a whole, “The guys rode aggressively and together as a team. I think it’s the most complete team performance that the New Zealand Cycling project has had in our 11-year history”. He points out that of course this isn’t disparaging any of the amazing achievements that they have made in the past. This was just one race where all six guys where working succinctly and it was a great performance.
“It was a really good display by the boys, they were stoked and the mood at the end of it was pretty high”.
Other highlights include:
- Stage ONE - Invercargill to Gore saw George Jackson take out 7th place in the bunch kick.
- Stage TWO - Riverton to Te Anau, George Jackson went on to finish 5th, shortly followed by James Williamson in 12th place.
- Stage THREE - Mossburn to Queenstown was a beautiful ride through the mountains with Theo Gilbertson finishing in the top 20.
- Stage FOUR - Invercargill to Bluff Hill, Theo Gilbertson powered on to 9th with James Fouche close behind placing 15th.
- Stage FIVE - Invercargill to Lumsden had James Williamson take out 6th and George Jackson place 10th.
- Stage SIX - Winton to Invercargill, in the final day George Jackson backed it up in 7th place, with James Williamson in 16th.
How MitoQ supported the riders
MitoQ first met the NZ Cycling Project and James Canny at the iconic Intelligentsia Cup road race in Chicago, where team member James Williamson came 2nd, and instantly recognized a shared purpose for taking on challenges with positive passion. James Canny admits he was initially a sceptic about the supplement but had been recommended MitoQ’s merits by riders he respected, so decided to give it a try. “Cycling is one of the hardest sports in the world, you push your body to the limits, riding massive distances, so I knew I’d notice pretty quickly if MitoQ was going to make a difference or not.” For the team, James’s biggest priorities were that he wanted better recovery and resilience – mentally and physically.
“If we are getting that recovery and resilience benefit then we are sleeping better and feeling more energized. From that perspective MitoQ has been fantastic and it’s definitely given us performance benefits,” he says.
But it’s not just the performance gains the team are thankful for. James explains how important sponsorship is to the team. “Without the financial support of MitoQ and our other sponsors, some of our guys would get lost in the noise of the sport. They could only turn up to the races they could afford to turn up to and in whatever gear they could afford. With sponsorship we’re able to remove that hurdle from them and allow them to succeed.”
Cycling is an expensive, and therefore often elite, sport so financial support can have a big impact on young riders’ lives, enabling those with passion from all walks of life the chance to compete. “I know the gaping hole that would be left if this team fell over and I’m lucky to be surrounded by some cool people that help and share the load,” says James.
James believes the reason the New Zealand Cycling Project has been so successful is their tenacity. “It’s such a hard sport and you know the sacrifices it takes to get to that level. Cold, wet, rainy training sessions. Finishing work and going out riding for a couple of hours at night, getting up early in the morning, it means missing that party or event.” So, he says it’s great when you see the hard work pay off.
“You know those sacrifices and then you see them do things well, you have a really good team spirit, and you all get to enjoy the victories together. That’s when you know you’ve cracked it.”
MitoQ is incredibly proud to support this amazing team and thrilled to help power their recovery and performance during this epic race and beyond.
Photo credit: James Jubb