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GLCC Tour of Northland

18th – 22nd March 2021

Disclaimer – the following report is based on my experiences of this event. With so many people riding I’m sure to have missed some things and people that should have been mentioned. I apologise for this in advance – Aroha mai, Mark Erikson

The big day finally arrived after months of What’s app banter and varying levels of pre event training 25 riders across five GLCC teams presented at the start line of Whangarei’s McKay stadium for the 2021 edition of the Tour of Northland. Some of us were on last year’s tickets as the 2020 version of the event had been cancelled due to a strange flu like condition that we now know of as COVID-19 had only just appeared on these shores. Myself and Jason  had taken the opportunity to ride the course in 2020 however we did it in two days instead of the four days that the official event takes. It was not without a little nervousness that I completed the registration process as the two day version nearly killed me. Whist milling around at the start we unfortunately learnt that one of our riders David Valance from Team 5 was not able to make the start line due to complications from a crash in the leadup to the event. One of the things that I find most interesting in events such as this one is how people cope with unplanned challenges and it was great to see the team accept the loss of David. They would need to start with only four riders and hopefully he could join in on the later stages. A couple of interesting things happened prior to the start that are noteworthy – Firstly as Tony P and I were registering we got a bit of a shock when in front of us in the queue Benedict Burgess (BB) was reclassifying himself from Group 2 to a group 3A – oh lordy as if it’s not hard enough already!!….more on this later. Secondly the first crash of the event was recorded when in the car park yours truly and another rider managed to not avoid each other. I stayed upright however the other was on the ground and a bit shaken (hopefully he still managed to have a good event after this mishap). After some group photos we were ushered to the start area to begin our tour!

Stage 1 – Whangarei to Russell – 103Km

As we rolled off the start line and began a neutral section of about 3Km we noted that it was quite windy from the North East – not great as it would be a headwind for a good portion of the stage. It wasn’t till we had completed the stage that we noted that Liam Carey managed to score himself a Strava trophy on one of the segments in the neutral zone. The race before the race! We were released onto the stage proper just out of Kamo – two GLCC teams in Group 2 and three teams in Group 3A of which I was in our 4th team in the 3A group. We were into our work early on, the stage was flat to rolling with the wind being the key factor. It was important to stay in the bunch and not get too exposed so as to conserve energy. Early on in the stage our competition became apparent with the Paperboys and Whitianga waterways teams making their presence known. It was a nice feeling to have 15 GLCC jerseys in the group as there was always a friendly face nearby to lend out some support. The wind was obviously not a problem for Benedict Burgess as he proceeded to smash it off the front of our group in search of group 2 who had a three minute head start on us! I’ve not ridden with BB in the past however know of him by reputation – he was living up to it admirably! As we neared SH1 the first casualty of the GLCC teams from group 2 was picked up – Liam Carey had punctured and jammed his chain several times. The luck of the Irish it was not! In the statement of the day Liam is quoted as saying ‘Just not my day!’ actually it might have been ‘Just not my F****ing day! – (said in an Irish accent). I was just happy to have a GLCC group 2 rider join us in our 3A group. As we crossed SH1 and headed towards the Helana bay climb it had begun to rain and we were all getting a little nervous about the long and twisty descent. Luckily as we crested the top the rain stopped and it was completely dry. We entered the downhill section, 4Km of windy tarmac (wind and corners) with loose chip and the odd pothole – a typical high quality Northland road in reality. Looking back at the section I averaged just over 50Km/h with a top speed of 66 into a 25 Knot NE wind – phew all of us got through without incident! We now headed north along the coast which meant a tricky cross wind to deal with. The coast section goes like this – 1st a little bit of straight road at beach level, 2nd steep pinch climb over the headland, 3rd steep descent back down to the next beach. Repeat steps 1 through 3 umpteen times and then when you think it can’t go on for much longer repeat five more times for good measure. This section saw many of our fellow riders struggling with ailments such as cramp and bee stings among the casualties. Finally we made the turn off the coast and back towards Russell and with it the relief of a tailwind – the steepness of the climbs if anything became even greater on the headlands from Elliot’s, Parekura and Orongo bays towards Russell. The pressure was applied in a few places on this section and we noticed that the numbers in the main bunch were dwindling as we counted the kilometres to go to Russell. For the GLCC teams we were pleased that Ward Hope (Team 5 – U19) and Elke Nieschmidt (Team 3) were with us as we were hopeful that they would do well in their age groups. As we completed the final headland climb and crossed the finish line we were then able to debrief over multiple coffees and smoothies at the nearest cafe

Top results after stage 1

  • Ward Hope – Team 5 – 1st Male U19
  • Elke Nieshmidt – Team 3 – 1st Female – 45/49 (3rd Female overall)
  • Timm Weitzel – Team 1 – 1st Male – 40/44
  • Robyn Taylor – Team 4 – 3rd Female – 50/54
Kriss Yoo – GLCC Team 4
Michael HopeGLCC Team 5
Shiva Gounder – GLCC Team 3

Stage 2 – Paihia to Opononi – 89Km

After being well fed and consuming a few beers the night before we emerged from our motels at a leisurely pace. The start wasn’t until 9am so I decided to walk down to the Letz cafe and grab a coffee and something to eat. I was treated to a couple of waiata from the barista and in talking to our motorcycle escorts was informed that we were going to have to deal with a gravel section at Puketona – the junction of SH11 and SH10. Great, I’ll let the others know. After breakfast I headed back to the motel, we grabbed our bags and brought them back to the truck that had been provided to transport our non-cycling gear between stages (worked really well). As a warm up I rode out to Waitangi where I snapped this photo of the famous wharenui ‘Te Tiriti o Waitangi’ on the Te Tii Marae 

We started on time and made our way through Paihia and Waitangi omto the first significant climb of the stage just before Haruru. The pace seemed ok as it was early in the stage however as we came to the top of the climb it became obvious that Benedict Burgess was keen to push the pace. A few followed but the majority of us eased off as it looked like he was going to attempt to catch group 2 again, it wasn’t to be. Just before the Puketona junction BB eased off and came back to the bunch, that’s interesting I thought as we went through the gravel section that the motorcyclists had mentioned. As we turned off SH10 to SH12 towards Kaikohe I heard a conversation between BB and Mike Mead (MM) that it could be a good place to attack on one of the climbs before Kaikohe – I readied myself for some pain! It wasn’t much after this that the aforementioned climb was upon us and the speed started to rise with BB leading – as we neared the top it seemed that we had broken off a small group including BB, MM, Glen Cournelious, Elke, Myself and a couple of other riders from other teams. As we hit the flat to downhill sections through Kaikohe towards Opononi we worked hard as a group to try and put a gap on the main bunch. It seemed to be working but could we hold it? In the last 20km to Oponini there are three very large climbs to negotiate (see the strava segment named ‘Three Sisters’). On the first of these we were caught by two riders from the individual category of group 3A which was good as now we had more riders in our bunch and bad as looking back from the top of the first climb we could see the main bunch was working hard to catch us. Our tactics became to go as hard as we could on the downhills and flats and then stay at a pace manageable for everyone on the remaining two climbs – it was going to be close!  We negotiated the second climb and were still ahead but the gap had closed further still. The final climb seemed to be the toughest of the three but we were nearly home as we crested and put in one final push to the finish. Success!! We had managed to not get caught but the main bunch was only a minute back at the finish. For me personally this was one of the more satisfying days racing I’ve ever had – it was great fun to be working hard in a break and manage to pull it off. 

GLCC Team 3 and 4 + BB working together

As we gathered in the Landing Thai cafe for a coffee and a feed we were able to debrief with the other teams. Some our group 2 riders had been given 10 minute time penalties for crossing the center line on the finishing straight – it seemed very marginal in the videos but on appeal there was no flexibility shown by the race director….Note to self- BE VERY CAREFUL ABOUT THIS FROM NOW ON!

As we prepared to head for our hotel in Omapere my roomy Kriss Yoo discovered that his rear derailleur cable was frayed and needed replacing – time to put my mechanic’s skills and spare parts that I’d bought for just such an occasion to use. We effected a roadside fully internal cable replacement in short order and Kriss was back on the road

On arrival at the Heads Hotel (the old Copthorne renamed it seems) I took the opportunity for a quick swim off the Omapere wharf to freshen up, we then rode back to the Opononi pub for a meal and beers before returning to the hotel with a stunning sunset as the sun dips below the water at the Hokianga harbour heads 

Top results after stage 2

  • Ward Hope – Team 5 – 2nd Male U19
  • Elke Nieshmidt – Team 3 – 1st Female – 45/49 (3rd Female overall)
  • Timm Weitzel – Team 1 – 1st Male – 40/44
  • Roby Taylor – Team 4 – 3rd Female – 50/54
  • Nathan Livingstone – Team 2 – 3rd Male 60/64

Stage 3 – Opononi to Dargaville – 85Km

Beautiful day start of Stage 3 – Opononi, Hokianga harbor

Todays course would see us riding through the Waipoua forest. This is the home of Tane Mahuta (God of the Forest) and Te Matua Ngahere (Father of the forest) the ancient Kauri trees. Reaching Tane Mahuta signals the end of the biggest climb of the tour (approx 10Km long and 400m in elevation). The plan for us in group three was to sit in as much as possible and not get isolated as the second half of the course after the forest would see us on exposed flat terrain there was going to be a head wind. 

We had successfully negotiated the forest without significant incident when on the last descent before the flats an ambulance with lights and siren blaring screamed past us- oh no! what’s happened I thought? As we rounded a corner at 50+ Kph it became apparent- one of our group two riders Andy was down in the ditch! As we passed we could see he was sitting up but didn’t look to be in great shape with a ripped jersey and grazes to the face. Thank goodness the organizers had ambulances following us allowing medics to quickly get on the scene. It wasn’t till after the stage had finished that we found that there were three riders involved and both bodies and bikes were badly damaged – it served as a timely reminder as to how unforgiving cycling can be when things go wrong. This was to be the end of Andy’s tour but he has vowed to be back as soon as he can. All I can say is good luck and speedy recovery Andy – we will see you out there as soon as you are able

Broken Andy
Broken bikes

Stage 4 – Dargaville to Whangarei – 80Km

From Left – Ward Hope, Kriss Yoo, Mike Mead and Michael Hope

The final stage of the event was the flattest of the tour however it was punctuated with a steep climb between the Tangowahine valley and Pakotai. As we set off the pace in group three was noticeably higher than the previous stages with the Paperboys, Whitianga waterways, BDO and our three GLCC teams all having turns on the front. We were thinking we may be able to stage a break on the climb but due to loose chip from new sealing, being watched closely and tiring legs it wasn’t to be.

We entered the Pakotai to Titiko section which is a 20Km gradual descent and saw some of the highest speeds of the event before beginning the final section, a continuous gradual climb to Maungatapere. It was here that Mike Mead and Benedict Burgess almost managed to stage a breakaway but unfortunately the bunch was too organised and we were soon back together.

We turned left onto SH14 at Maungatapere and hit the final climb to the finish. We were all pushing as hard as we could and I for one could feel the effects of my four days in the saddle and couldn’t stick with the leaders in our bunch – it took everything I had towards the end of the final climb to get back on their wheels and cross the finish line for the last time.

As we regrouped and rolled from the finish like back to McKay stadium we were all relieved to be able to take it easy after a tough finish. After showering  and packing up we stuck around for the prize giving. Just as well as Tony P managed to offset the cost of the entry fee by winning a 50 inch TV. As we headed back to Auckland after the prize giving we were able to reflect on what was a challenging and enjoyable event. It would be privilege to be able to have another go some time – here’s hoping!

Top results after stage 4 and overall

  • Ward Hope – Team 5 – 2nd Male U19
  • Elke Nieshmidt – Team 3 – 1st Female – 45/49 (3rd Female overall)
  • Timm Weitzel – Team 1 – 1st Male – 40/44
  • Roby Taylor – Team 4 – 3rd Female – 50/54
  • Paul McIver – Team 2 – 3rd Male – 50/54 
  • Nathan Livingstone – Team 2 – 2nd Male 60/64
Finish line gathering
Tony Pownall and Nathan Livingstone – GLCC Team 2
From left, Shiva Gounder, Timm Wietzel, Robert Douglas Jones, Aziz Bharuchi, Ali Moses, Amit Patel
Liam Carey – GLCC Team 2
Robert Douglas – GLCC Team 1
Timm Wietzel – GLCC Team 1
Mikey McLellan – GLCC Team 4
Glen Cournelius, Paul McIver and Timm Wietzel
Shiva Gounder
Shiva Gounder and Timm Wietzel
Elke Nieschmidt – GLCC Team 4 – 3rd Female overall + 1st 45 – 49 age group
Timm Wietzel – GLCC Team 1 – 1st Male 40-44 age group



By Mark Erikson



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