Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Taupo Cycle Challenge & the OPI Women's Road Race

Thanks to a chance meeting on a Specialized Dealer ride in Adelaide at the start of 2013, the Specialized Securitor team were encouraged to attend the 2013 Lake Taupo (pron – “Toe Paw”) Cycle Challenge to compete in the OPI Women’s 100k Road race. When the team asked for Volunteers I jumped at the chance, even though it meant missing the NSW GP series this year.  Taupo is a place I’ve heard so much about and always wanted to visit!

Obligatory "didn't see the sign that said don't climb on the statue" pose..

The team for the race consisted of the ‘non sprinters’ as they were otherwise engaged for the crits. Myself, Cassie & JFay crossed the ditch in the hope of being the first Aussie’s to take home the women’s title, a hard task given the race usually comes down to a bunch sprint!

Arriving very late Tuesday night/Early Wednesday morning, our grand plans of riding a lap of the whole lake (160kms) was quickly quashed as we slept in until almost lunch time and were still feeling pretty smashed when we did manage to get up. We met up with the race directors Doug & Raewyn Simmons, and a friend of theirs Dave who was to be our guide for our ride that day. A couple of hours on the bike, checking out the main race hill and it was already nearing the end of the day so we chilled out, made some dinner, and hoped the gloomy weather would pass so we could get in a nice ride the next day.

Dreary day for a ride, but still stunning scenery!

The next day wasn’t too pleasant either, but we headed out – this time with Doug as our ride leader – with the intention of checking out some of the local hills that we could see off in the distance. As the clouds rolled in though, and the rain got heavier, the call was made to head back to shelter. Thankfully the sky cleared as we came in to town and we had the chance to be tourists and get some photo’s at the lookout. Then we headed to catch up with Mark & the crew at Top Gear Cycles in town, where we managed to get the bikes cleaned and tweaked in to tip top shape ahead of the 2 days of racing we had to come! It was there that we found out about the XC Eliminator race that evening, which instantly pricked up the ears of Jenny our MTBer, and got Cassie and I keen to have a play as well.. Despite me never having ridden a MTB before! The boys at the shop were kind enough to lend us a couple of bikes to use, and it was decided! Off to race #1 for the weekend we went..

Finally the rain cleared! Thanks for the ride Doug!

 The Eliminator race is a short track that you race 3 other people down and, in this case, the first 2 across the line go through to the next round. Cass & I entered Novice, and were racing against 1 other girl.  First round went ok, we were super cautious and made it through well. Then they gave us another run, and I got a little too confident and actually went on to the berm.. And promptly exited it half way up.. *Uh OH*. I was running flat pedals and had no way to control the bike and in slow motion I came down.. Cassie was right behind me and had nowhere to go and toppled over me. I hadn’t got the memo that the ‘Eliminator’ name didn’t mean to Eliminate the other competitors for real.. We lay on the ground for what felt like forever pissing ourselves laughing. Cassie’s feet were clipped in and she couldn’t get out, and I just couldn’t get up for laughing.. No harm done thankfully, and a very funny story to tell.. Jenny was up next and managed to burn around the course super fast and put the 2 of us to shame..


The next morning we were feeling like celebrities.. As the only Aussies in the race, we were invited to do an interview on MoreFM with Andy on the breakfast show.. Our first time doing a radio interview.. Ticking off another first! Another easy spin with Dave & Doug, pre race rego where we scored a sweet little pack of OPI Nail Polish (was I in heaven or what?!), and then it was time to put the feet up ahead of race #2 for the weekend - the Bodyfuel Cafe Crit that evening. Held on a tough C shaped hotdog style course, with the wind blowing, it was set to be a tough half hour.
Radio stars!
A small, but strong field lined up for the Crit, and I was stoked to get to see Hannah “big hairy balls” Van Kempen and Pippa “motorbike” Sutton for the first time since the Tour of Wellington almost 2 years ago! Despite a recent big crash, Pippa was true to form and went off the front solo for several laps, picking up some sprint primes, whilst Hannah showed herself to have improved so much since I’d seen her, taking an aggressive approach and winning a sprint prime as well. It was a hard, aggressive race, with the course taking its toll, and with 2 laps to go Reta Trotman launched from the bunch with our team just missing the move. We tried to bring it back, but just didn’t have the firepower, and Reta soloed on to take the win. We finished off the podium, but happy with the hit out ahead of the main event the next day. 

After some of NZ’s finest Hells Pizza, it was off to bed ahead of the early start the next morning for the OPI Women’s Road Race. As the event is run in conjunction with the Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge, where over 8000 people participate in riding around the whole lake, we have to hit the road early to ensure we’re back in time to not cause any issues. Our race runs out the last 50k of the lake, turning and coming back the way we headed out. 

We awoke to a fair amount of wind and gloomy skies. But spirits were high and we were looking forward to seeing what was in store for race #3. Around 30 starters left town, and you could feel that the knowledge of the hill and the wind had the bunch quite placid. Things were quite civil until the first hill out, when a few attacks were launched but were quashed quite quickly by Dee Bell – another Wheelworks 2012 teamie – who set a solid (read – painful) pace up the hill. Things carried on similarly for most of the outward journey, with only 1 real breakaway sticking for a while. Cassie was super domestique and controlled the bunch though, until we were nearing the sprint and the Liv Giant NZ crew took over and dragged the break back and set up for their sprinter to take the prime.

Heading back in to town, the wind was whipping up and dampening any thought of attempting to get away, so a quick chat with the girls and we knew we had to try and establish a break before the hill, otherwise it was likely to come down to a sprint. Coming in to the only other hill before the main climb, I attacked to try and get a gap. With everyone fairly fresh, it was chased down quickly, as was the counter attack that Reta Trotman launched with Jenny in tow. Not long after, Jenny had another go and managed to get a gap with Gayle Brownlee of Liv Giant, and Hannah Van Kempen. The 3 appeared to start working well together straight away, and established a nice little lead, with the rest of the bunch seemingly ok with the situation. Cassie & I were happy with the combo, and when Reta attacked up the climb we let her go across because we knew she was strong enough to help the break survive. As we crested the climb, a group of 8 of us had gone clear from the rest of the peleton, and the girls started working together to bring the break back. Fortunately for us, we picked up Gayle along the way, and the rest of the bunch joined back on just after the descent, which made everyone keen to not work together and the break seemed safe. 

So many bottles of bubbles.. so little time!
Coming in to the finish, the headwind nullified any attacks as soon as they were made, so it was about trying to hold position for the long draggy sprint. Cassie managed to hold a good position and hit out early, drag racing to the line and just getting pipped for 4th. A solid effort given she’d hardly be classified as a sprinter!  We crossed the line to find out JFay had taken 3rd as well as the KOM, with Reta Trotman attacking the break to get away for the win. All in all, we were really happy with how the race went, given it was our first time together and where we’re all currently at, physically & mentally!

Prize giving that evening for the Cycle Challenge was unfortunately a bit damp as the rains rolled in just as it was about to start. The spot prizes, which everyone is eligible for as long as they’re present, were all drawn, and I was all ready to run through the rain and mud to claim the Holden Car.. But my number didn’t get drawn. Damn it. 

A massive thank you to Doug & Raewyn, OPI NZ, Josh, Dave, Kay and everyone else we met who was involved with the running of the race. Everything was so smooth and easy, the race was so well run, and I couldn’t recommend the entire event highly enough to anyone.

They even take the piss out of their own accent!

This isn’t the last you’ve heard about Taupo though.. Still to come is a run down of Sunday.. A day of fun, fear and firsts!

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