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Tour of New Zealand, part 1

Stage 1

Me, Kieran, Cam, and Dan

Well, well, well, where do I start! After very short notice I was lining up at the start of the Tour of New Zealand, or TONZ for short. Stage 1 was from Glenorchy to Queenstown. A relatively short stage of 37km. But it was 37km with a group of 3 other riders whom I’d barely ridden with.

The four of us had devised a sound strategy. We wouldn’t ride too hard on day one. That we’d all try and stick together for as long as possible. The timing was on the 3rd rider across the line. So we all wanted the best result. And with me the last minute ring-in, I felt obligated to bury myself so that the others wouldn’t have to, and could get a better result.

So we started with a good tempo. Altogether by the top of the first hill. It was a lot hillier than I’d anticipated, maybe all of us had. But we managed to complete it still all together at the end, in a decent time of 1hr 9 mins. Not bad for 4 riders having barely ridden together.

Warm down riding to Queenstown

Reality hit when we saw a rider with severe gravel rash. Apparently, he’d been on the warm down when suddenly a stone got trapped in the drive train and ripped the rear derailleur and wheel off of his bike. It also snapped the chain. A sore sight on day one. A reminder that cycling can be dangerous.

A warm down ride into Queenstown rid our legs of some unneeded lactic acid. It also offered us the chance to take some pics of the scenery we’d missed whilst chewing a stem.

Stage 2

Stage 2 was, in my mind, to be 75km. It quickly got shortened to 55km. The stage was from Arrowtown to Wanaka. A quiet/neutralised 5km, then balls to the wall up and over the crown range. It’s a category 1 hill 700 metres elevation, 10.8km long, and 6% average gradient. It felt a lot like a true alpine climb.

On the flip side, it was a 44km downhill, with just a few little risers. A fast a furious end to the stage. A great reward for 45 minutes of uphill. I soloed over the top but was soon swallowed up by two teammates and a group of 16 riders. We worked well as a group. Everyone took their turn doing the work. And soon we entered Wanaka. A stunning destination, for a stunning stage. Warm too!

Stage 3

Stage 3 115km long, Wanaka to Omarama. An early, but very chilly start. It’s always difficult to know just what to wear, and I miscalculated. I wore longs, with a merino baselayer and jersey. Oh, how I wish I’d worn bib shorts. For the first half, I was warm enough in tights, but by 10 am I was roasting. This coupled with giving another teammate some water and not having enough food (there were no feed stops) and I was struggling by the 100km mark.

I’d given a water bottle to another rider, he was just about to give me some food, and then the hammer fell. What a brutal shock that was. Full gas up onto the foothills of Lindis pass. Cam and Dan hung on to the group, whilst Kieran and I dropped back. I didn’t want to overdo it. We still had 4 stages left.

We summited and were rewarded by a 30km descent. With a strong headwind! What a doozy it was too. I had a rider just 100 or so metres ahead of me. Instead of sitting up and joining forces, he chose to push on, even though he couldn’t drop me.

Fortunately, I was joined by Kieran and another rider. Together we caught the 4th rider and rode hard until 5km out, when we dropped the guy who wouldn’t sit up. Funny how riding works out. We then sprinted the last 5km, and finished in a respectable 3hrs 44 mins. Not too shabby. Time for some food and drink at the Wrinkley Ram, at Omarama. A cracking little cafĂ©. A must stop!

Stage 4

Stage 4: Mount Cook to Lake Pukaki

After a long drive from Omarama to Mt Cook, where we stayed the night, we gifted a glorious stage 4. Not only was it mild, but absolutely clear. The previous night we were able to see almost every star and planet imaginable. This coupled with the sound of the glaciers moving, it truly was a night to remember. Now if only I was with my wife and not my teammate, it would have been one hell of a romantic night.

The start of the stage was a gentle roll down from Mt Cook lodge. It was full gas from there on in. Not a second was wasted. There were three notable events on stage 4. Firstly, a helicopter hovered above, yeah, 10 metres above. This cause rotorwash on the peloton. The force of which nearly knocked the whole peloton over.

Secondly, we went crashing into the camera car. Picture this, a one-way bridge beckoned just as a breakaway happened. The camera car tried to jump the gap, only the driver got scared. They slammed on their brakes at the entrance to the bridge, narrowing it to half a lane wide. I and other riders hit the car, only just managing to stay upright. That was freaky, and fricking scary going at 50kph.

Lastly, we were once again treated to some rotor wash. Once again the helicopter was only metres above the peloton. Yet again the force almost took us all down. No amount of handwaving did any good. Everyone was petrified when they heard and saw the helicopter again. Unsurprisingly.

The finish was just as furious as it could’ve been. I followed the tail of riders sprinting for the finish. Foolishly, but in the heat of the moment, I crossed the white line. These weren’t closed roads. They should have been, and I should’ve obeyed the rules. My bad.

Another long bus journey awaited us. 4 freaking hours. The flight from Christchurch should have been on our rest day. Instead, we had our stage cut short, and a long drive with a full van. Not good!

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