Start: Midnight 12:00pm Friday 18th Feb. Cathederal Square, Christchurch. Teams start first and solo riders start 5 mins later.
Finish: Church Steps, Nelson
Duration: 24hr limit for only 430km
Route: Christchurch, Kiapoi, Culverden, Lewis Pass, Springs Jtn, Murchison, St Arnaud, Wakefield, Nelson.
It had been several years since I had last taken part in a Christchurch-Nelson cycle event. I had completed 3 solo rides, the last in 2005 and thought it was time to tackle the ride again. Time seems to dull the memory of the pain…
It is organised by Tim Vincent of Tineli bikewear. He is the son of Les Vincent who started the event years ago. Every alternate year, it changes direction so next year it will be Nelson-Christchurch.
I carried out a trial run of 300km to see how the body fared. I cycled down the Wairarapa, across Haywards and the Paekakariki Hill, back up to the Manawatu and returned over the Track. The body held up well but I felt it was asking a little too much to complete another 130km, the total distance of a Christchurch-Nelson ride. Thus I entered the ride as a relay team of 2 with Gary Johnson from Hastings.
We started off at midnight on Friday 18th from Cathedral Square. I was thinking how well Christchurch had recovered from the earthquake as the Square seemed full of life. 60 hours later, the big one hit…
Gary took the first leg. There were a total of 31 participants made up of 5 solo riders, a team of 3 tandems and the rest were relay teams of 2, 3 or 4 riders. The solo riders left 5 minutes later but a concerted effort saw them catch up to the relay riders before the outskirts of the city. Jenny and I waited north of Kaiapoi for the riders to speed past, then onto Amberley where the first change would take place. The relay teams could change riders whenever they liked. I thought that 50km legs would be best; time enough to warm up fully but not too much time to become weary. It would also give me the Lewis Pass and Kerrs Hill climbs as I was a stronger climber than Gary.
The weather was great for riding – no wind and warm. No need for thermals. I saw the bunch approaching and accelerated to their pace by the time they reached me. Gary swung off and we continued on at a furious pace. The riders had reached Amberley at an average of 35-36kph, a fast pace considering there was 380km still to go. And we didn’t slow down. The tandem team would lag on the rises but would steam past on the downhills or flats, dragging the bunch closely behind. Frequent rider changes brought fresh legs to the bunch and it was with a little relief that I handed over to Gary at Culverden, having reached the town in 2 ¾ hours, a 100km distance. It was time to rest as we leapfrogged ahead of the bunch.
Just past the turnoff to Hanmer Springs, a number of short climbs were encountered along the river. These quickly split up the bunch and left a number of riders riding alone. We drove ahead to where the road crosses the river and waited by the carpark. We must have disturbed the few vans and campers spending the night here. They must have wondered what was going on at 4.30am in the morning!
Several riders came through as I queried their names, seeking Gary. Eventually he arrived and I was on the bike again, trying to catch up to a couple or riders who had passed shortly before. Within 5km, I had caught up the 2 riders, and we eventually formed a group of 4 with another capture. The climb up the Lewis Pass is a series of short climbs, with one longer climb to the summit. Two of us were left at the top as the other two riders dropped away, then the fast descent, aided by my support car close behind providing additional lighting.
It was dawn when we arrived in Springs Junction, ready for a rider change. At least I was. Surprisingly, Gary wasn’t ready on the road. They must have been a little sleepy as they watched the riders ahead of us pass by but failed to remember how close behind I was. We didn’t see much of Gary on this leg as we leagfrogged about 10km at a time before driving to the changeover distance and waiting for him. The next leg I rode headed into Murchison. I teamed up with a rider who had been catching up to Gary and we caught another rider quickly to form a triplet. It was changing from a cool morning to a sunny day. The next rider change occurred just before the Owen River Tavern. As I was arranging my gear in the car, I got stung on the shoulder by a wasp. Rather annoying.
This leg involved a number of short climbs, especially into St Arnaud. This broke apart the group Gary was riding with. And it was getting hot! I waited at the Tophouse turnoff just out of St Arnaud, The other two riders came in a few minutes ahead of Gary.
This leg began with some gentle downhill riding (apart from a few short climbs) and progress was fast. Until Kerrs Hill. This was a 3-4km uphill grind and I could see one of the riders near the top as I began the climb. A very fast descent leads onto a deceptive climb. It appears that the road is level, perhaps even slightly downhill but it is a gradual uphill for a few kilometres. If you don’t realise this, you think you are simply becoming very tired as you slow down. I was prepared for this, having cycled it twice before but it still didn’t make it any easier.
The road joined onto the main road at Belgrave, about 45km from Nelson. The ride had been neutralised at 15km out of Nelson so riders did not take risks racing to the end on Nelson streets. 30 minutes would be added to the time from the start of the neutral zone. I had suggested to Gary that he could join me anytime from Belgrave to assist me to the end but I think he misinterpreted me (deliberately?). He shouted something to me as I passed by and I assumed he was going to join me at the next town so I yelled ‘OK’. Not to be. I battled on against the headwind which had developed, expecting to see him at each town I passed. After a while, it dawned on me he was not going to join me and help so I continued on, trying to keep our time under 14 hours total (13 ½ hours to the neutral zone) without knowing exactly where the start of the zone actually was until I was a few hundred metres from it.
I made it with minutes to spare. Two other relay teams were waiting here, having come in a matter of minutes beforehand. We all rode together for the 15km into Nelson and the finish.
We thought later that a 3 person team may be more preferable and would not need a support driver for the vehicle. It would also allow the relay legs to be better catered for by climbers and enable us to stay with the faster relay teams. So if you are interested, next year it is Nelson-Christchurch, 445km…