Date: Monday, 06 December 2010
Posted by: Cycling Southland

Having been the winner of a weekend for two to attend the festival of cycling through our winter and spring road season here’s what happened.

Day One – Longbays. This would be my first ride around the port hills so I had no idea what lay ahead. An early start was required for the 8.00am briefing. Arriving at the start area at 7.30am there were already more than 100 riders lined up on the start line, I realised later why.

With the elite riders already away the rest of us (about 600 in total) started at 8.15am. Riders were supposed to line up in their expected race finish time but this didn’t happen and it generally became a push shove exercise just to get a reasonable start position. I eventually worked my way up to the middle of the field before the gun went to go. By the time I eventually crossed the start line the front guys would have been 500m ahead so it was a full on chase from the go, along with the hundreds of others all trying to do the same. Over the first 10km I gradually worked my way past about 100 riders many of whom I am sure by the way they rode had never ridden in a large bunch before. At about that 10km point directly in front of me was a huge crash, all I saw were bikes and bodies flying all over the place. Luckily I was on the inside of the road and managed to avoid coming down by jumping up onto the footpath. By the time I got around the carnage going the rest of the field were away in the distance. About eight of us got together and chased eventually catching the front group which must have still been 200 strong. We were now out onto flat country roads with a very fast pace helped by the tail wind. With 200 or more riders of varying abilities all trying to get near the front on one lane of road with oncoming traffic it was chaos. Drink bottles regularly dropped in the middle of the field, hard braking and squeezing up as oncoming cars approached and general erratic riding was the theme. Finally we got to the first climb, Gebbies Pass, which was long enough to make up about 50 places as the field split out. By the time the bottom of the descent arrived a distinct front bunch had formed and were gone into the distance. A few of us made a effort to get across but it was just to far to bridge with only a few of us understanding what lapping in a side wind is about, so it was time to just go into cruise control and enjoy the ride on new terrain.

Into Lyettleton we started the 4km Evans Pass climb. Not that I ever enjoy a climb with my body type this one wasn’t too bad with a very consistent gradient so you could get into a good rhythm in middle range gears. Over Evans Pass and it was a plummet down into Sumner and 5km to the finish, crossing in 92nd place in about 2h 06 min, 5 minutes behind the first riders in this non elite section.

Catching up with some of my fellow master category riders from Christchurch, they said if you weren’t in the first 50 to 100 at the start then you’d be lucky to get near the front as the pace certainly wasn’t recreational. They said they just stayed in the first 20 rolling hard and steady so others couldn’t get up and in the way. They also of course have the advantage with the port hills being on their doorstep making for regular training terrain.

There were $100,000 in spot prizes on offer with 1 in 5 riders getting something; I came away with bicycle roof rack. 

Day Two – Criterium. A hot day dawned and after a few beers and a load of Indian food the night before I hoped the legs would play ball for the criterium.

The circuit was shaped like a bit like a stretched out “D” with two tight corners at each end of the “café strip” and one of them been quite narrow. I lined up in the grade for registered non elite riders most of whom were half my age, there were a few local over 40’s to keep me company at the back which is where I expected to spend my 30 minutes. Forty riders lined up so it was reasonably large for the tightness in some parts of the circuit.

From the start it was full gas and that never let up during the 30 minute race. Each lap had the same pattern – full on speed, brake hard into first corner, full on sprint out of corner, full on up the back straight to try and make up a few positions, hard braking into final corner and gaps which weren’t there, full on sprint out of corner through a small chicane and over the start/finish to repeat again.

The pace was constantly high with no breakaways at all; about 15 riders were shelled during the race and only one crash. It all came down to a sprint at the end but if you weren’t in the first 5 into the last corner you had little hope – I had no hope just making up the numbers.

The Elite men’s race had quite a bit of horsepower lined up and was always going to be a match up between teams and combinations with Pure Black, Subway, Benchmark and the NZ trackies.

An interesting three man break developed halfway through without Subway present forcing them and some individuals to chase. Pure Black basically kept tabs of any move to jump across to the break which looked odds on to stay away. The pace was such that the field almost halved in size with riders regularly dropping off.

With 4 laps remaining Alex Ray (Pure Black) went alone from the break away group gaining a handy lead. Two laps to go Tom Scully charged out of the main field with Pure Black’s Mike Northey glued to his wheel, they bridged the 10 second gap catching all three leaving five riders to contest the finish with a lap to go. On the final home straight Tom looked like he had the race but Northey came around him very late and just piped him on the line.

So that was the festival of cycling. A very well organised event in what were two difficult locations for running a race. Thanks to Cycling Southland for the trip up there and I hope that the same prize can be offered next year. Would even be good to see a Southland team make the trip.                   

Shane Fletcher

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