Myself and Margaret entered the the Linfox Two Person Relay (Mixed) part of the challenge. I started at Taupo with the intention of completing the “160 km course which turned out to be ~ 153 km and joined Margaret at the Kuratau Relay Change (72.5 km) point.
Taupo to Tihoi Relay Change – 38 km
From what I understand there was approximately 10,000 participants in this year’s challenge and I think the majority of them started in the relay! Our planned relay start time was 9:15 AM and I got away at 9:27 AM so hats off to the organisers for the impressive way they got riders started. The first group of riders for the day got away around 6:45 AM and we where the last group to go! There was still a 1,000 + I would suggest behind me when I crossed the start line.
From the start we dropped straight down to the Waikato River and then straight into our first climb of many for the day, the Control Gates Hill. Well that got the heart going that is for sure. From the near the top of the hill we swung west to circumvent the northern end of the lake. It was not very long, in fact our first descent, before I came across the first crash of the day. A sober reminder to hold one’s line, to check before passing and to think twice about drafting. Thankfully it would turn out to be the only crash I saw, even though an ambulance passed me a couple more times during the ride.
The start was crowded as you can manage with so many starters, so thankfully Poihipi Road, until we turned off on the classic and relay routes (Whangamata Road) was closed to traffic. This allowed for some thinning out of the riders, not that you noticed! From this turn until the finish point the roads where open to traffic. Thankfully until State Highway 1 at Turangi this really was not an issue with 99% of drivers being considerate. We pretty much had the left lane to ourselves with traffic passing on the right with little fanfare.
This first section to the Tihoi Relay Change went well for me, I averaged around 25 km/h and found myself settling into the ups and downs of the route and found myself comfortably climbing the numerous 8% grades okay. The joys of fresh legs!
Tihoi Relay Change to Kuratau Relay Change â€“ 34.50 km / 72.5 km
Tihoi Relay Change was the first of the relay change points and a few cyclists pulled in here to “hand over” their WheelTags to their fellow relay team mates. I sailed on pass as I was heading to the Kuratau Relay Change to meet Margaret. Not long after the Tihoi Relay Change we swung south and now mixed in with the solo riders who where doing a slightly longer course than us. Again the riding was pretty good along here for awhile before we hit our first big one, Waihaha Hill. I loved the signs the organiser’s put up at various points like at the bottom of hills: very motivating where those signs, not! 🙂
Waihaha Hill while it gave me a taste of what was to come, it wasn’t as bad as I expected when I first saw it. I, like those around me seemed to climb it comfortably. My legs mind you where still feeling pretty good at this stage and whilst my average had dropped to around 24.5 km/h I was feeling good.
Then a few kilometres out of Kuratau I started to feel it as we entered a section of rolling hills. These hills where shorter sharper climbs with little recovery before the next one. This had the effect of dropping my average to around 23 km/h by the time I pulled into Kuratau Relay Change.
Kuratau seemed to be the big change point for a lot of riders that I had shared the ride with to now. There was a notable sense of comradeship in this first half amongst the riders, I think in part helped by the rider numbers that we wore on our backs. These are a smart design in my view as they have your name on them, your team name and most importantly where you where from. It was good to spot fellow Aussies and other international riders and have a quick chat as you rode along. It really added something to the ride.
Kuratau Relay Change to Motuoapa Relay Change – 39 km / 111.5 km
Kuratau Relay Change was where I pulled in to meet up with Margaret and to hand over the WheelTag. It was now her baby and her responsibility for the team. The relay changes are really well organised with a pull in area which is fenced off from the waiting riders. By chance I missed Margaret waiting for me so had to make use of the microphone to call out for her to find me (another neat little feature setup by the organisers). Once we caught up, Margaret dropped off her drop bag for taking back to the finish and I topped up my water.Â Water was available at all the relay changes as well as intermediate points between the relay changes. I never was short of water thanks to this set-up.
Once we got going I started to feel it as headed to our next big climb, Kuratau Hill which in turn was followed a while later by Waihi Hill. Somewhere along this section I lost touch with Margaret whose fresh legs showed up by younger ones by a country mile 🙂
Waihi Hill was where we once again got in touch with the lake, our first sighting since leaving Taupo a few hours early. Waihi Hill turned out be a nasty little number, more for its descent (153 metres over 3.27 km) than its ascent. There was a sign at the top which read along the lines of “Ignore the view” and for good reason. We descend fast in a zig-zag (a lot quicker and further than our zig-zag road here in the Perth hills). This was also one hell of a rough section of tarseal as the Kiwi’s call it. It shook the living daylights out me and I was feeling pretty sore by the time I reached the bottom.
After Waihi Hill we soon came across a sign, “40 km of flat.” Yippe I thought, an opportunity to put in some effort, to try and catch Margaret and maybe bump up the average. Wrong! They forgot to mention the headwind! Up to this point there really wasn’t a noticeable wind, well nothing that was causing trouble anyway. So of course we go from hills to flats to headwind. Wonderful. To make matters worse I was really starting to hit the wall along here, having made the mistake of not grabbing a bite to eat at the Kuratau Relay Change. I had been eating a banana or two and some energy bars but I really needed something more substantive.
Thankfully not long into the flats we pulled into Turangi and I quickly came across a Shell petrol station where I joined a few other riders seeking out food and drink. Once I got a sandwich and a ice coffee into me I head back out on the road to battle the wind along side the lake. This was by far the most picturesque part of the ride with the lake on our left.
Since Kuratau Relay Change the sense of camaraderie I had noticed in the first 70 odd kilometres had deserted me until by chance I hooked up with another rider who started out riding off my wheel. In time we started taking turns for a few kilometres until I had to answer the call of nature.Â This time of working together really helped as we rode into the winds.
Motuoapa Relay Change to Taupo – 41.50 km / 153 km
Having refilled my bottles at the Motuoapa I pulled out again into the wind and to my surprise started hanging out the hills. Hills meant some shelter from the wind; hills have definitive end points. Well I felt like this for 20 km until the big one, Hatepe Hill which is at the 129 km point. This is the one every one talks about it seems. At the bottom as I clunked down the gears a fit looking older guy came alongside and made some comment to me about the piddly little hill; well about 100 metres up that piddly little hill, said gentleman was walking. I guess Hatepe Hill got the last laugh.
Hatepe Hill is one mean hill – it climbs pretty straight and seems to go for every (144 metres over ~4.5 km). Even when the “summit” seemed to be coming into sight, there where still riders walking! That really got to me – summits should equal riders riding right? Not here it seems. For me Hatepe Hill was one long hot (the temperature peaked at 34 C on the climb) slow and I mean slow grind , turning pedal over pedal, crawling past riders walking and really not going much quicker than them, always hoping the rider in front would not suddenly dismount as such a event would sure spell the end of my own climb. Eventually I made the top and for the first time in ages bumped into Margaret who had recovered from the hill and was moving on. I tried to follow but really needed to recover some what more. We met again shortly afterwards at the last water stop. From here we teamed up for the relatively pleasant predominately descending/flat ride back into Taupo.
The riding was pretty good from the summit of Hatepe Hill until we got to around Five Mile Bay where we started to mix it up with the town traffic. Even though State Highway One had been much busier and there was the odd impatient driver prior to Hatepe Hill it had been pretty much agro free. I did feel that from around Five Mile Bay until we reach the closed road about 800 metres from the finish line that maybe a little more policing or closing off of a lane would have been good. That said, really the traffic and the route was really great overall and well managed.
As we rounded the last bend to head to the finish line Margaret had the legs over me and whilst I tried hard she crossed the line first ending our ride at 6 hours 58 minutes and 44 seconds (moving). Nice to squeeze in under seven hours. We placed 186th in our division (relay mixed) and 537th overall which I assume is in the relay category.
My thanks to the organisers of this event which is really well organised from the start to finish. The relay change points are really great, with bikes taken out and brought back for riders, riders are taken out and back and there is water and food available. Also there are numerous water points around the course and even ride by rubbish areas! The town to is really supportive with all the bike shops. restaurants open and often opening early and later than normal. A real community event and well worth doing if you haven’t had a shot. For those keen they also have mountain bike challenges and the big one, the 1,280 km Extreme Enduro.