Formerly known as the Tour of Wellington the race has now moved to Palmerson North and is run over 5 days. Day 1 is a 7.1km prologue. Day 2 - 149.4km. Day 3 - 154.5km. Day 4 - 128km with hilltop finish. Day 5 - 112. UCI 2.2
I'd previously had a crack at this race two years ago when it started in Wellington. I turned up thinking I was in fairly good shape and even though I was the oldest rider there at 40yrs old I fully expected to finish. Things didn't go quite to plan. I DNF'd on day 3 and went home with my tail between my legs feeling somewhat depressed and also somewhat amazed at just how hard racing at that level was. I'd not DNF'd a race before that and it niggled away at me for a long time.
Then last November, I had time on my hands when I got made redundant. My job is kind of specialised and there wasn't any work for me in the leadup to Christmas. The obvious thing to do was to ride my bike, 5hrs a day as many days a week as I could. Brilliant! And of course while I was out on a long ride one day, thoughts turned to having another crack at the NZCC. Which in turn bought out a lot, I mean, A LOT, of doubts like, you were the oldest last time and you couldn't keep up, what if I DNF again, you couldn't hold the wheel, you got pushed out of position all the time, and so on...
But there was only one way to find out, and with a little encouragement from my very understanding partner, I entered. Because I'm not in a team as such, I entered as an individual and was placed in a composite team, with a bunch of other individuals.
Our team was Capital Cycles, a Wellington bike shop and contained 3 Aucklanders and a young guy from Wellington. We started out on the back foot when one guy didn't turn up and were down to 4 from the outset.
The race is 5 stages and Day 1 was a 7.1km prologue. No TT bikes or gear allowed to keep things simple. I thought I'd lose between 2 and 3 minutes on this stage alone. Which proved to be pretty close to the mark. I went around in 11.07 and Joe Cooper (our newly crowned national TT champ) scorched around in 9.10, which took about 20 seconds off last years time in much windier conditions. Morgan Smith was our best placed rider at 52s down. I was happy not to finish last as that was a very definate possibilty in my mind. Strava says - http://app.strava.com/activities/38397909
Day 2 there was a bit of wind around and I was a very nervous punter. After a 7km neautral it was straight into about 40km of false flat with a crosswind blowing. Probably my least favourite kind of riding as I don't have a big engine. There was a sprint 28km in so nothing was allowed away before that but it was full gas with constant attacks going one after the other. The whole race was strung out and splitting up within 10km and I was in full survival mode, following anything and anyone that went past just to keep moving up. It was brutal but despite my suffering I was actually riding really well, keeping fairly close to the front and I was right up there when it blew to bits and a big break of 25 went up the road after 40km. All the good Aussie guys were in it along with the good kiwi's like Paddy Bevan, Mike Torckler. Two of the 4 guys in front of me bridged 50m over to it and I thought might be able to make it over with them but there is no way I'm even going to try as there were way too many hitters for my liking.
The gap quickly opened up and things settled down while everyone got their heart rates back from outer space and then the chase was on, not hard just nice and steady, about 90km the winning break of the day went from the front group and we caught back on to the group in front of us and it was a tempo ride home, which was still hard yacka. Nathan Earle won the day solo after attacking with 28km to go and took over yellow from his Genesys team mate Cooper. I finished in the bunch which I was over the moon about, with another 20 or so behind us.
Strava - http://app.strava.com/activities/38491026
Photo http://adrianrumney.zenfolio.com/p552568739/h53344086#h533446a4 (I'm back left in black top)
Day 3, 154km and the wind had picked up. Not good. Sure enough we were only 20km in and there was a crosswind section and I was out the rear, along with half the peleton. Luckily the next rider I picked up was my team mate so we had a two man echelon going until we picked up one more, thn after 5 minutes of stem chewing chasing we picked up 5 more which allowed us to get back onto the main bunch another 5 mins after that. Thankfully it was a very controlled racing after the break went at the 50k mark but I sufferred the whole time. Even when I was out of the wind as much as possible I felt like I was riding solo in a headwind. If I'd felt good the previous day I felt terrible today. I messed up a crosswind section towards the end and rode 20k to the finish solo which after finishing with the bunch yesterday was a bit frustrating.
Strava - http://app.strava.com/activities/38584635
Day 4 - 128km with hilltop finish
This was the stage I was worried most about making it through. 30km in we went onto a 10km circuit which was done 5 times. The wind was up again but fortunately it was mostly a head or a tail wind. I very nearly got dropped while we were rolling out of neutral at 45kmh in a crosswind, much stress but fortunately the lead vehicle slowed down just as I was about to blow up and start drafting team cars. Same old story for the first hour or so, flat knacker out, much grovelling to hang on and I was wondering if these guys ever planned on letting up. On the last lap I was off the back with 5 others when I blew up and drifted back into the convoy, ohoh I thought but managed to sit in behind one, recover and work my way back upto the 5 that were still chasing, another 5 mins of rolling and we were back on the bunch. Stoked. I was pretty smashed and lingering at the back which isn't the place to be and 3km before the hill. Of course a gap opened and it was byebye to the bunch. Didn't matter as I was happy to just ride to the finish on Saddle road which is home to several hundred wind generators. I rode up with one of the New Zealand team guys and after asking several people for a push we came around a corner to see Santa Claus and Michelin Man in a bunch of people. My partner in crime yelled out - SANTA CLAUS I WANT A PUSH FROM YOU! Santa duly obliged and I got one from Michelin man. Oh it felt so good! We voiced our appreciation with loud whoops of joy. 3km later we were at the finish, 7.5mins down on the winner (Nathan Earle)but there was a serious feeling of jubilation as we went over the line hand in hand.
Strava - http://app.strava.com/activities/38666217
Photo of me off the back with Clinton Avery http://adrianrumney.zenfolio.com/p210580361/h536128b2#h53619bf4 (he's a good man to draft behind!)
Which left us with stage 5 to finish. 112km and pretty much pan flat. Fortunately for me the wind had died right away and we finally had a calm day. I didn't feel great for the first hour but then the legs came good and I followed wheels to the front and was strong enough to run with the attacks and make some others chase, nothing I got in stuck, but it was really fun to be rolling around at the front and having the legs to tear off up the road for a change. A break went without me in it and we rolled along nicely until the 20km run to the finish line when the pace came back on a bit. One of my team mates was keen to have a crack at winning the stage so I moved up to help him out. Then with 15km to go someone got pushed off the side of the road about 4 riders in front of me, he lost it in the loose gravel on the side of the road and started somersaulting through the air. All this happened in slow motion which just isn't a good sign. Somehow he came back back towards us and next thing I had nowhere to go, and even though I was hard on the brakes I hit him at speed. I was already screaming FAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRRRKKKKKKKKKKKK but it was pointless, I went straight over the bars and landed on my head and shoulder and knew immediately it wasn't good. The ambo guys were there in a flash and said I'd busted my collarbone and needed to get into the ambulance. But my bike was ok and I advised them I'd be riding to the finish. This was my last chance to finish this race and there was no way in hell I was having - DNF, printed next to my name on the results sheet despite their best advice.
It wasn't much fun riding that 15k and it certainly didn't break any records but I got there in the end, and the pain didn't actually get any worse, so once over the initial shock it was just a matter of gritting the teeth. Strava shows pretty clearly where it all came to a grinding halt http://app.strava.com/activities/38789292
I crossed the line last and was bundled straight into the ambo and off to hospital. Not quite the jubilation of finishing with everyone else I'd imagined. I missed out on all the podium ceremonies and didn't even get to say goodbye to my team mates or a number of great people I'd met during the week which was a real shame.
But that's the way the cookie crumbles sometimes and at the end of the day I achieved both my goals, to finish, and not to finish last. I ended up 57th of 70 finishers (80 starters) and 37min45 down. Best of all I proved to myself that I'd learned to ride position in a bunch of riders way above my level and that I could hang tight when I needed to, which put some demons to rest from two years ago.
As far as the real riders goes, Nathan Earle took yellow from his Huon Genesys teammate Joe Cooper on day two and never looked like losing it. Genesys were without doubt the strongest team there taking 1st and 2nd on GC and won 4 out of 5 stages.