Most running or cycling events have their own attraction but I’d never really understood those that feel the urge to turn up at the same event year after year. That is until I completed my first ‘round Taupo challenge. It’s great fun, particularly if you go in a group and has earned its iconic status with great scenery, good natured crowds and good organisation.
The 2013 event is coming up on 30 November so you still have a bit of time to dust off the bike and get a few miles under the wheels before the day. Think of it as the perfect way to get fit for summer tramping trips. If you’re a bit shy of having a go at the full loop (a bit under 160 km – let alone those with a shaky grasp on reality who go around up to 8 times), there are plenty of options (seventeen in all!) including a MTB challenge to choose from. Check out the website: http://www.cyclechallenge.com/
You can be as un-serious as you like; my sister has been known to take a picnic and stop for coffee (her version follows next). My first crack was in 2010 on a MTB but I wouldn’t really recommend that. There are training programmes on the web, but my acid test is if I can survive a loop of about 130 kms around some of Wellington’s hills than I reckon I’ll be ok on the day. In 2012 I only managed to fit in a few weeks training due to a badly timed holiday but tramping and running fitness were enough to get by. This is how it panned out for me…
Driving up on the Friday night gives the opportunity to check out the last 50 km of the course from Turangi, including the infamous Hatepe hill (not as bad as the Akatarawas!).
In the morning my start group is scheduled to set off at 7.30 (you preselect based on your anticipated finishing time, but it’s pretty casual). There’s a bit of a wait in the chute but plenty of people to chat to.
This is the time for ticking off final mental check lists. Shirt pockets contain a light jacket, banana, gels, a one square meal. And on the bike I’ve got: 2 tubes, repair kit, pump and two water bottles (one with electrolyte). Let’s hope it’s enough.
And it’s into the chute and off. This year I have a simple plan; go out a little harder and try to get some early bunch riding. The first part of the course climbs gently but consistently and the wind is not too strong. Bunches form, but tend to break on the next hill so as often as not, I potter along on my own. Knots of spectators gather at intersections and there’s plenty of encouragement. The morning is overcast and cool; perfect.
Fitness from cycling around Wellington and tramping pays off on the stretch to the west of the lake. It’s fairly hilly and the day starts to warm up. There’s the usual mix of experience amongst the riders with some making bunch riding very difficult with unpredictable riding styles. Most riders however are pleasant to be around. Around the 40 km mark, head down and in a world of my own: a voice suddenly says from over my shoulder; “you’re on fire!” There is a moment of confusion during which a sluggish mind drags itself back to reality; what could be burning? How did it happen? Do I need to do something?? The voice enlightens me: “you’re cracking along; I’ve been bludging off you for miles!” I reply that I may just call in the favour and he obliges good naturedly.
Eventually (around 95km in) there’s the long glide down Waihi hill then it’s flat for ages. This is a cue for cyclists to start flocculating into large clumps. Bunch riding can be a little intimidating at first but it significantly eases the load and you get used to it pretty quickly.
The bunch I’m in clips along to Turangi, where I take my turn at the front but manage to get boxed in when we catch some slower riders so find myself at the back again. Here I learn the importance of not getting stuck behind someone that varies their speed (e.g. stands up to stretch their bum or wobbles as they extract goodies from their pockets). Eventually it gets a bit much, so with a bit of effort I push on ahead.
Etched into the chronicles of the race is Hatepe Hill. About 20 km from the end, it is not particularly high or steep but it stands on its own and riders often get there in the heat of the day. Being wide and open it has a curiously depressing psychological effect and there are always a few people trudging up beside their bikes. It’s not too bad today despite the warmth. Ideally you join a bunch from the top but not today; there’s just solo riders. The road takes a long easy roll down (it always seems to be a head wind here) before a sudden plunge to the lake.
The last few features of the ride flick by: the tiny rise on the water front; increasing numbers of people cheering the riders; the first of the shops; the start of the crowd barriers; the right angle bend into the finishing straight; a bus … “What the #$@%?” … it just manages to lumber out of the way. Then it’s the last few hundred meters and, not a moment too soon, the timing strips. The crowd is gratifyingly generous with its applause for all riders. I’m happy with a quicker time than last year and knowing I couldn’t have put much more into it.
So there it is. Whether you want to give it heaps and go for a personal best or just enjoy the scenery and stop for a picnic, Taupo should definitely be on your ‘to do’ list. The only question is; why not this year?