Another ‘Not MTB’ post from me… If you were wondering why I didn’t make any posts last week, well I was somewhat occupied. A few months ago at the recommendation of some friends I signed up for the Lion Foundation Wellington to Auckland Challenge – a 7 day tour with a hugely wide range of abilities taking part.

Here’s a few specs from the week – 13 stages, 883km total ridden (including warm ups and riding to accommodation) 32 Energy Gels, 25 bottles of energy drink, no flat tires, 15 muesli bars, litres of sweat, 6 loads of washing (1 each night), about 11 cups of coffee.

I penned a bit of a report on for my personal blog but figured some of you may be keen for a read so check it after the jump……

Done and Dusted, the 2011 Wellington to Auckland Cycle Challenge, Race, Ride, Grovel or whatever you want to call it is in the bag.

Being my first ‘tour’ type race I wasn’t really sure what I was in for but Im glad to say that I did pretty well. The first few days I rode like a mad man, on the attack, on the front, using way too much energy – pretty amateur really!

Here are a bunch of pic’s from the week (not many, I was too busy riding!) and some explanation….

Day 2: On the stage from Masterton to Paihiatua I made a bit of a plan, to try and break away on the last climb and solo the rest of the stage. Down the hill, turn right, 500m to the finish. Easy.

Well it didnt really work out that way. Part way in 2 riders (Michael Hamid and Cliff Whitikaer) rode off the front making a break of their own, I hoped they’d be back but it began to look unlikely rolling into what I though was the last hill. So hitting the bottom of the climb boom I attack and get a good gap on the bunch, putting myself into 3rd on the road. Over the top of the climb I was expecting to see Paihiatua below me but no, once down the hill there was no right turn, only a 10km to go sign! Doh, I’d misjudged which climb I was on. Within a couple of minutes I’d caught Cliff who was up the road, putting me into second, and with the final climb in sight I was feeling a bit shakey on if I was going to stay away!

The long and short of it was I battled some gnarly wind down the hill (still sitting in 2nd) making it pretty slow towards the right hander, once I got to the corner the lead bunch was upon me and it was a battle to the line, 6th place in the sprint after a hearty 15km or so on my own. Stink but I gave it everything so cant complain!

Stage 4 (day 2 afternoon) from Paihiatua to Palmerston north was only 30km and with one big climb I figured it could be a good one for another go at a solo win. About 10 mins in we were battling the wind again and half way down a hill I kicked, attacked the bunch going down and road away to about 1 minute gap. The rolling terrain leading to the Paihiatua track climb was pretty well suited to me, although the wind was doing its best to break me! I was getting encouragement from all around which was pretty good, with Stephen Cox driving the wheel wagon behind me on the loud speaker giving me heaps, the TV3 camera car beside me much of the time yelling at me, and even an undercover cop slowed up beside for a chat! With my shirt unzipped, sweat streaming and snot flying I must have looked a site, no wonder the TV only showed a quick clip of me riding past the camera!

I made it first to the climb and settled into a pace which was manageable but certainly slower than the chasing bunch. With the top of the climb in view I could see tour leader Tom Francis and Ben Knight bearing down on me. A bit of a kick and I was over the top, taking max KOM points and getting a good bit of cred from the boys. Down the hill was where the action really began though.

With the wind in our faces Tom, Ben and I worded hard to stay away from the pack and hitting some turn way to fast! Tom knew the roads well and kept us informed with what was to come. About 5km from the finish the small chase bunch was catching and on the last small climb they caught us, Ben and Tom got straight in the mix while I exited out the back and into the main bunch. BUMMER! Lynton took the stage win so all was’nt lost.

Fields track wasnt too bad, with the first climb neutralized due to some bad road works, I was pretty stoked on this as I was feeling the burn pretty bad even at the neutral pace! One the race was on we had one other main climb where I was dropped just near the top. Fortunately there were a few of us so we attacked the down hill and got back onto the bunch – until the next climb. Again the bunch split and I chased as hard as I could getting within a stones throw of the bunch as we hit the next rise. The rise took what was left of my legs and I slipped out the back door into the chase group.

Once up on the Central Plateau we got a good bunch of about 5 working well together and we chased hard but with Ben Knight riding off the front of the lead bunch everyone was pushing hard. Coming into ‘Kune we were doing 60+km on the flat charging into town to limit our time loss. 12th and almost 4 mins back this was when my GC hopes dissapeared! After a solid feed and some sleep it was into stage 9, Ohakune to Turangi.

The afternoon stage from Turangi to Taupo was one of my redeeming points of the tour. Up near mission bay a small break got off the front and were working well. With Hatepe hill coming and me doubting I’d hold on the front I went for the break. Half way across I was joined by Michael Jones, we got straight to work helping each other and chased the break down, settling in to drag the gap out as far as we could.

Once Hatepe came we made a gentlemans agreement not to attack it too hard and save some energy for the rest of the stage. We dropped a couple of riders up the climb and got down to work, now just 3 of us. Michael Jones, Leith Chapman and I. We were getting buffeted around by the wind but managed to open up a good gap. To our surprise just as we descended the hill toward Taupo Tom Francis the current leader bridged the gap from the Main bunch after what must have been a super human effort! He joined in doing turns on the front and helped us get to Taupo now with 4 riders.

Coming into the finish I stuck to Michael Jones’ wheel hoping to kick and pass him just before the line but with a slight downhill finish that idea went out the window. 2nd by a wheel! Stoked but gutted at the same time! Pumped with my ride, Ive never hurt like that and for that long before so it’s gotta be good! After a stellar avo on the bike some good Italian went down a treat for dinner and the usual prep for the following day began.

Day 6 was only one stage. Tokoroa to Hamilton. We bussed to Tokoroa from Taupo (after a coffee ofcourse!) along with all the other competitors. The Tok stage was predominantly downhill and the wind decided to play the game so we trucked on as one big bunch, sitting around 50-60km/hr for a long time until Maungatautari where some small power climbs broke things up a lot. The peloton was playing its normal games after a couple of riders (Rod Carpinter and Steve Swart) rode away early on, no one really wanted to chase, especially Rod’s team mates!

The bunch was pretty huge coming into the last kilometer with lots of riders that had been swinging off the bunch all day still there. Needless to say carnage ensued with 40 odd riders trying to sprint for the win. The long and short of it was the stage had been won so only a hand full of people should have gone for the sprint. Wheels touched and a hand full of people ended up on the floor, 4 off to Hospital. All but one discharged that evening and 2 of them (Ben Knight and Andy MacLean) were back on the line the following morning. Good effort for those guys!

The last day was from Hamilton to Glen Murray for lunch, then on to Pukekohe. Having ridden ‘Big Naike’ only once I was vaguely familiar with the hills out towards Glen Murray and knew I was in for a world of pain. I wasnt wrong! Although I got dropped on the first big climb (only just) I managed my usual game of ‘chasie’ and got back onto the lead bunch. Steven Swart had gapped out and took the win while us in the chase bunch rolled though a couple of minutes later with myself in 6th.

The afternoon stage from Glen Murray to Puke was apparently “flat as” but there were plenty of rolling hills to put the pain in the legs and lungs. It ended up being a pretty uneventful stage but I felt the pain like never before! The weeks riding had well and truly caught up with me . Coming into Puke’ all of a sudden we were about 100 meters out from the line, somewhat surprised were there already I missed the print but rolled in for 4th place. Not bad but should have been better!

I ended up finishing 7th, 8mins 20. back from the winner who lead the whole week, Tom Francis.

Thanks to team Rocket for everything, especially Glen and Paul for organizing everything so all I had to do was turn up at the Airport! Cheers to Lynton for the encouragement and Manu for being a strong man!

Thanks to Haro mountain bikes and Malvern Star road bikes for their continued support, and the boys at Whorralls for sorting my new Zipps last minute!

Ill be back next year for sure & I thoroughly recommend anyone with a road bike do this race. There was a huge variety of riders from ex-pros, current elite riders (not many though) and plenty of people who just wanted to make to to the finish! Check out more events at DYNAMO EVENTS.

Righto…. on to the Tour of Northland!

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