As a regular visitor from across the ditch, I spend the summer in New Zealand taking part in as many cycling events and “challenges” as I can and I am occasionally asked which is my favourite. I would like it to be known that I have found a new favourite: A couple weeks ago we found ourselves at Taumarunui, on the Central Plateau of the North Island for the 114 km “Dave Logue Cycling Classic“.
Taumarunui is a small town on the upper reaches of the Whanganui River, in the foothills of Mt Ruapehu, an area of stunning scenery and, of course, bloody big hills (see course and profile on the above website). This event promotes itself as a race but you don’t need a racing licence so all are welcome to take part and, like me, treat it as a personal challenge. However, transponders are fitted to bikes so your time and place are recorded on the website for all to see.
This was only the second year that the event has been held but I can foresee it becoming a prominent date on the cycling calendar, partly because of the countryside we raced through but also because it falls two weeks before the Lake Taupo Challenge, an ideal “tune up” event before the big one. It is held in the memory of Dave Logue, a local cycling identity who originally envisioned the event but succumbed to melanoma in 2003. Proceeds go towards the Melanoma Foundation to assist families with this illness and for research.
It was a crisp, cool morning and a cloudless sky, with temperatures barely into double digits as we warmed up prior to the start. I had a Stephen King moment as one of 76 cyclists lined up in the main street, while standing on the footpath ahead were four men armed with shotguns and (I think) a black powder muzzleloader. I wondered for a moment what I signed up for! With an earsplitting boom the four firearms were discharged into the air simultaneously and we took off down the street through a pall of smoke, the smell of gunpowder in the air and my adrenalin level off the clock.
The first part of the ride was through rolling hills, my specialty, and I had no trouble keeping up with the lead group, however when the road started tilting up for the first real climb at about 25 km the pack split and I rode with the second group for most of the remainder.
The ride follows SH4 alongside the Ongarue River for a while then links to the Forgotten World Highway for the return to Taumarunui. A feature of the landscape are the many small rounded hillocks that protrude out of the ground, no doubt pushed up by forces beneath. I had found myself in a group of about twenty cyclists with, as usual, about half a dozen doing the work on the front. I was cruising nicely, averaging about 33 kmh and planning my strategy for the last km into town when we hit the dreaded “Tunnel Hill” at about 26 kms from the finish. The hill is maybe 4 km long with a gradient of up to 12% showing on my computer. Suddenly the rubber band broke and I was out the back and on my own, slogging it out to the top in the lowest gear I had (34×25) and praying that a third chain ring would miraculously sprout from the bottom bracket. Once over it I regained my composure, jammed down another half banana, washed it down with some electrolyte and settled into the task at hand – getting to the finish line. Unfortunately we have no hills like this to train on over the winter while the local cyclists are riding over them almost every time they take their bike out onto the road. (That’s my excuse anyway. No, age has nothing to do with it).
I overtook a couple of riders on the way into town but finished 10 minutes or so behind the second group and maybe half an hour or so behind the overall winner, Darren Yearsley (3:16).
There is a certain point close to the end when I came around a bend at the top of a hill to see the three snow-covered volcanoes, Tongariro, Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu sharply outlined against the clear blue sky. I don’t think I had ever seen them from this angle before – it was a breath-taking moment and another reminder of why I put my aging body through this nonsense – It takes you into places and up roads that I would never have considered travelling otherwise. The following day my wife and I drove back around the course so that she could see it and, of course, I also saw so much more when not fixated on the wheel in front.
In summary, one of the most enjoyable events I have ever ridden, a genuine country-town community spirit showing through at every stage of the proceedings from registration and racing through to the announcement of place-getters, spot prizes and the wind-up.
Richard and Lana Stewart