We took part in some fun bike races during our three months in New Zealand. Pictures are somewhat limited – there was no time to stop to take any – so to make this more interesting I added some haiku I made up whilst on one of our training rides. I am a very bad poet so don’t expect too much.
Keep pedalling, don’t stop
Seems easy right, but from the top
It’s a long way down
Cambridge (near where we were based) boasts a world class velodrome. The cover photo for this blog post is of the British team racing at the UCI Track Championships held there in December last year.
I completed the accreditation modules and joined a few training sessions. A highlight was riding with a fellow London rider, Clayton, during accreditation along with his father and mother in law (John and Roi) who were our instructors! Clayton and John (also sporting Twickenham Cycle Club kit) are in the photo below.
I also learnt the hard way that on the track when things go wrong they go wrong very quickly.
During the first open session I attended there was just myself, a rider I was told was Matt Archibald and someone he was coaching. Matt is currently in the NZ World Championships Sprint Squad so newbie Mark on his rental track bike was feeling a little self-conscious.
Everything was going well until I decided to go up to the top of the track just as I was going into the bend. As I pedalled hard my foot came out of the toe-clip. I knew I had to keep the speed up but as the bike (like all track bikes) was fixed gear the pedals were still spinning and I couldn’t get my foot back in. The banking is 43 degrees and it is a long way down from the top; I panicked and my instinct to lose height took over and I started heading down the track at a steep angle. I didn’t want to straighten out as I thought I would lose traction so a couple of seconds later I connected with the cote d’azur (the blue non-banked section at the bottom of the track) and wiped out.
Luckily there was no-one riding below and other than a few scrapes I wasn’t hurt. Thankfully I did not have to suffer the ignominy of destroying the season of a member of the NZ track squad! With hindsight I should just have carried on pedalling round the top of the banking as I probably wouldn’t have slipped. It was a valuable lesson and also pushed me to buy some Shimano cleats that would fit the pedals on the rental bikes; it was a hassle to keep swapping cleats on my shoes but worth it.
Thursday is race night
Punch up that hill, catch that break
To the line we fight
We raced in several of the Hamilton City Cycle Club spring and summer series races. They were really fun and with a relaxed and friendly atmosphere.
The races were usually three laps of one of three circuits on open roads but with minimal traffic. They lasted for about 45 minutes to an hour. The club was a nice bunch of people. I would highly recommend riding with them: Hamilton City Cycle Club.
Unlike in the UK you can enter any category you want and the groups are mixed men and women. There were generally 15-20 people in each race so it was often a through and off chain-gang but with some attacks and tactical riding. I found I was able to be competitive in Category B (best position sixth) although I was able to hang onto the Category A guys and not come last in a race when the two groups were combined. Lillian had a good time racing in Category D.
She also managed a sixth as her best result.
We also rode in five sportives/races. The two biggest and longest ones (at around 150km) were around Lake Taupo and around Mount Taranaki. I rode with Lillian for these two; we rode separately in the other three which were 100-110km long. These NZ mass-participation cycling events were billed as races by the organisers which I think is fair enough because there were prizes for the quickest riders in the various categories. The smaller ones had mass starts and in the larger ones the first starting group was a decent sized peleton.
Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge – 28th November 2015
Big groups and steep hills
Rain, some sun and lots of wind
One day, four seasons
We had ridden this the previous year, when the ‘four seasons in a day’ phrase was also uttered many times. It is NZ’s biggest cycling event with 2,900 doing the ‘Round the Lake’ challenge. The finish time is in a large part determined by the start group you choose… if you can stick with it.
This year’s event took place on the first weekend after we arrived in NZ. We started towards the back of the second start pen but probably in the 8th-10th group on the road as each pen was split into groups.
We got dropped, picked up by another group, and then dropped again leaving just the two of us riding together about 60km from the finish.
I stopped to faff with my water bottle and Lillian latched onto a fast group that went by. It was a clear demonstration of the power of the bunch/peleton. I can ride faster than Lillian but exhausted myself trying and failing to catch her. It was only about 10km from the finish, after she had been dropped on the descent from the final climb (over Hatepe Hill), that I eventually caught her. A hard day for both of us! It was 153km with 1,900m climb. We finished 20 minutes faster than last year with an average speed of 30kph.
SRAM Tour de Ranges – 16th January 2016
To the sea and back
Survived hills and cross wind, and then
Puncture, race is over
This was in the countryside around Clevedon (to the south-east of Auckland). The mass start was a bit dangerous with people frantically crossing the white line to try to get near the front… whilst traffic coming the other way on a twisting open road. A sizeable hill thinned things out and I was happy to be over the top in the lead bunch. Unfortunately I punctured 70km into the race. I ended up doing a three-up TT with two guys for most of the rest of the ride. We were overtaken by the third group approaching the finish which was a bit annoying but that’s the power of the group again. At least it was a nice day. 108km, 1,100m climb, 36kph.
Tour de Beautiful (Hawkes Bay) – 24th January 2016
First hill splits the field
Cross wind saps legs, on next hill
It’s bye to the bunch
This was smaller event than the others with only about 110 riders doing the 100km course. It was fast riding though and I got dropped about 50km into the race. I finished in a good group with other chasers to end up coming 24th which I was happy with. The scenery was also beautiful… when I managed to look around and see it! 100km, 900m climb, 36kph.
It was really well organised by the Central Hawkes Bay Cycling Club, with about 50 spot prizes being given away afterwards. As well as this race, the Lake Taupo and the Mount Taranaki events also had very generous sponsors with the best prizes being a new car and a new scooter respectively!
Around the Mountain Cycle Challenge – 30th January 2016
All alone after the hill
The mountain dwarfs our efforts
Lill pushes and gets fourth
This was another big event with about 550 riders starting the long course which goes around Mount Taranaki. We opted for the second start group figuring we would get dropped too quickly by the first group.
It was a good decision. We stuck with our group for 80km before Lillian was dropped towards the end of a gentle 15km long climb. However, about 10km later we managed to marshal a group of chasers into a chain-gang of sorts and finished in a good time of 4 hours and 11 minutes giving Lillian a fourth place. 147km, 1,200m climb, 35kph.
This event served the best post-race food we have ever had with a free, tasty butter chicken and beer for everyone.
Mount Taranaki is an impressive and beautiful mountain. There’s more about it here: North Island Volcanos.
The REV – 20th February 2016
Oh no, there’s a gap
Chase, chase, chase the wheel in front
Body is burning, I’m dropped
This was on our last weekend in NZ and took place on the roads near Cambridge where we regularly rode so it was a fantastic way to finish our trip. It was a high profile event with a UCI-category race on the same day and about 440 riders in the open ‘REV100’ race. There is a hard hill, French Pass, 5km into the race so we knew it was going to be important to hang on going up that. The lead group split on the hill. I was on the wrong side of the split but was close enough (having done an 8 minute power PB going up the hill) to eventually catch up. However, I was feeling pretty tired. After I had been recovering a bit at the back of the bunch I looked at my heart rate and it was still 167! 10kms and a few hills later I got properly dropped. Luckily a strong group of chasers formed and I made good time with them managing to finish 40th which was a good result for me. 101km, 1,100m climb, 37kph.
Lillian sacrificed her race to help someone who had crashed about 50km into the ride and was lying on the road with a bleeding head injury. Although she does not look after trauma patients and has never worked in A&E I’ve noticed in other accidents that we have dealt with the positive difference it makes on everyone’s spirits when Lillian says she’s a doctor. It also meant that she was able to ride the second half with a friend from the Hamilton Cycle Club when his group passed her. She ended up riding with 4 or 5 people we knew in various bits of the race along with other cyclists who recognised her from the Tour de Ranges and Taranaki races… we almost feel like locals here in the Waikato and are very sad to be leaving.