It’s one of New Zealand’s biggest cycling events, bringing together cyclists of all abilities; from lycra-clad whippets to weekend warriors to the “I’ll give it a crack even though I’ll be sore for the next month” type.
Competing in the Contact Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge has been on my radar since I first took up cycling and even though the stars weren’t really aligning for this year’s event (held on 30 November), I did it anyway!
This year, over 8000 people took up the challenge, competing in solo road races, relays, mountain bike challenges and children’s races. Now, as you’ve probably noticed, my heart lies in the rough back country hills but Logan, my faithful riding companion and Auckland Natural High manager, was adamant that I should start with the classic challenge: the 160km road race that takes you anti-clockwise around the lake. Logan completed this race a couple of years ago and after starting in a slow group, did a tough solo ride of six hours and five minutes. This year he had something to prove.
Logan only started training a month out from the race and had put in a total of six long rides (between 60-80km) plus his regular commute to work and quick spins throughout the day testing out our bike fleet. Perks of the job.
My training consisted of daily bike rides to work and a 10-day cycle tour of Myanmar (Burma) with Red Spokes. Not the speed race training I was hoping for, although constantly having to navigate around ox carts and basket-balancing locals gave my hand signals plenty of practice.
What to carry on the day
Getting the nutrition right on a 160km race is tricky. Although I’ve ridden plenty of long-distance days, they’ve always featured lots of stops along the way to smell the roses and refuel.
Before the race, Logan presented me with a small food bag to attach to the top tube of the bike, which I filled with a small bag of jet planes and nuts, a tube of gel and a power bar. This proved to be perfect. I scoffed between 80 and 120km, guzzled down the gel to stave off cramp and nibbled on the power bar, although I found the dry crumble hard to swallow and a small mouthful from about 40km was the best I could do.
Our game plan was simple
A slow start to ride our legs into a good cadence, then hammer it from Turangi. By the 40km mark Logan and I had starting working in with a couple of others and were making excellent time. But then disaster struck. My right cleat broke while powering up a small incline. Considering I’d had problems with these the week before, I was cursing my lack of preparation and being reduced to three-quarter power while raring to go at race speed proved frustrating and energy sapping.
The straw that broke the camel’s back
Anyone that has cycle toured from Turangi to Taupo will recall the long, taxing incline of Hatepe Hill. It was here while struggling to get my legs going, that an Aussie bloke in the 320km/twice around Lake Taupo category, flew past as if we were standing still. And he wasn’t young! 13km from the finish, a fella from Rotorua nursed me home, drafting me from the windy conditions that had been the bane of the day’s ride. Our time: five hours 22 minutes. We were stoked!
Over the weekend I talked to cyclists from all over the world and heard many inspiring stories. Like our Japanese client who, four years ago, suffered a tyre blowout in this event and has felt compelled to settle the score ever since. A father and son team from the UK and Australia respectively, who share a love of cycling and decided to meet up in New Zealand for this race. And Kristen from Switzerland, who’s currently here on a MTB touring holiday. Last year she travelled around New Zealand by bus and regretted every minute she wasn’t on her bike.
Regardless of our reasons for entering, the challenge is the same for all of us. We ride for passion, the thrill of being a part of something special…and the feeling of satisfaction when we finally cross the finish line.
I expect to see you joining me next year!