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Tales from the Taupo Cycle Challenge

Nine riders from the Wednesday morning ride, which leaves from the bus shelter opposite the BP in Fitzherbert Avenue, entered the 2011 Taupo Cycle Challenge. These are some of their stories gleaned from conversation during last Wednesday’s 87km recovery ride. I have used aliases to protect their identities and some poetic license to add entertainment value to their tales.

All agreed that the 85km/hr winds recorded at Taupo airport on race day by the Metservice were gale force! I know that I struggled to ride above 17km/hr going along the lakefront to the start line and the white caps on Lake Taupo were monstrous!

Although I had full-length tights over my bib shorts, 3 layers of clothes on my torso and a double-skin cap under my helmet, my thighs were shivering involuntary behind the start line and goose bumps were visible on all those shaved legs around me. No wonder it was rumoured that about 2000 of the 5000 entrants in the solo 160km event withdrew! Apparently this was the worst weather that Taupo had experienced in the last 50 years!! Also lots more riders quit part way round the course too, either due to crashes or fatigue. I saw some of them loading their bikes into the sag wagons and thought that would be really disappointing. I said to myself, won’t be doing that today unless it’s a necessary pick-up by an ambulance. The cross winds were fierce and I was alarmed when they moved me across the centre line on Poihipi Rd. But some rapid corrective action soon sorted that out.

Mr Postman was attempting the Extreme Enduro, a mere 8 laps or 1280km! This event had started at 12 noon on the previous Wednesday, at the start of the gale! Unfortunately by his own admission, Mr Postman neglected to get enough sleep, “a rookie mistake”, he said. The consequence was he lost his mental focus during Lap 7, which he completed. (One participant said they remembered nothing after 4 laps). During Lap 7, Mr Postman sought sanctuary, first in a children’s bus shelter but the seat broke apparently. Then he found the answer up the road- he posted himself into a large farmer’s letterbox, just like a parcel! He even managed to close the letterbox door! Luckily the farmer wasn’t collecting his mail at that ungodly hour, 3am. He realized he was now invisible to his entourage of supporters and so he texted his wife (at 3am) and told her there was a Xmas surprise in the large letterbox down the road! But full credit to the iconic Mr Postman, he rode his eighth lap on that most beautiful of calm days on the Sunday, the day after race day. Meanwhile, Mr Spud had started the 2 lap Enduro at 1.30am on Saturday morning. He reported the birds came out of the trees, with some branches and leaves too, on to the road because of the wind. Unfortunately, he had to withdraw at 140km for medical reasons.

Among the others from our Wednesday group, there was Tomo who started in Group 1c, rode with a group of 60 riders and finished well under 5 hours (4:37 actually – ed). He said he didn’t even notice any wind! DB and Bwell rode together, both took over 7 hours but then DB did get 3 punctures and being a mate, Bwell stopped twice to help him. However, by the 3rd puncture, Bwell was understandably getting a little bit exasperated! He suggested DB ride up Hatepe Hill on his partial flat tyre and get the experts from Pedal Pushers to sort it out. This they kindly did. On the other hand, Farmgurl was having her own problems. The headset bolt on her bike kept “rising up” she said. The headset connects your front forks to the head tube of your frame and includes two sets of ball bearings, which allows your bike to turn corners efficiently. Being made of stern stuff, Farmgurl was anxious not to lose her bearings, or any time either, and so she spent a large period of her ride, screwing the headset bolt down again, whilst riding in the wind with one hand on the handlebars! By Motuoapa she had had enough however and stopped to find an Allen key to tightened the headset properly.

Then there was Mr Rawdeal. He had borrowed a wheel and was puzzled why he got 2 flat tyres during the 160km without running over anything sharp. It turned out that the rim tape was not covering the spoke heads correctly. On a subsequent 100km ride Mr Rawdeal had the bad fortune to run over a dead hedgehog and a spine deflated his tube! What are the chances of that happening? As for Mr V8, he rode passed me in Whangamata Rd, muttering about how bad the wind was. Of course I agreed! The next time I saw him he was having a beer in the Massey tent at prize giving.

Congratulations to all my Wednesday riding buddies – they are a tough-minded lot, overcame most obstacles and achieved some big targets.

By time I got to Turangi, I was overheating and had to stop to strip off my jacket, tights and cap. I stuffed them in my 3 pockets behind my shirt. I then picked up the pace, found a group, managed to stay with it for a change and enjoyed the tail wind. Or had the wind shifted from a SW to NW direction? Its strength has certainly dropped. So Hatepe Hill came and I ground it out in low gear to observe my “no-walking” rule. I did appreciate the support and copious dousing of cold water from the Pedal Pushers crew, about ¾ of the way up. I shed my excess gear there too. Over the top of Hatepe, some of us actually managed to work together to keep the pace up all the way to the finish. Amazing! I noticed too that my speed along the waterfront had improved to 27km/hr, now that the wind had eased. My time was about an hour slower than last year and about 70 minutes off my personal best. However, my sense of achievement at overcoming this particular Taupo Cycle Challenge, my eighth, was as special and as real as ever.