Special: Contact Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge in NZ

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  • Published: 25 January 2011

10,000 Cyclists descended on Lake Taupo in New Zealand to ride the Contact Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge in November. A host of different events make up this festival of cycling, RC takes a look at what was on offer, on and off the bike, plus gives an account of his own 160km cycle challenge ride.

The Cycle Challenge has an event for every rider. In 2010, the ages of competitors ranged from 11 to 82. Children could compete in the 5km accompanied by their parents while for serious riders there was the highlight event, the 160km solo race around Lake Taupo. If you’re not up to riding 160kms solo, then teams of two, three or four could race in the relay team event.

Lake Taupo also boasts great mountain biking. Mountain bikers could take on half of the 80km track as part of a two man team or tackle it solo.

Lets take a look at some of the highlights of the 2010 Contact Lake Taupo Challenge and then you can join me as I recount my own 160km solo ride around the Lake.

Static Enduro Cycling World Record
The build up for the Contact Cycle Challenge began on Friday as a six women attempted a new Static Enduro Cycling World Record. This meant cycling for 24 hours in 30 minutes shifts, with one rider always pedaling and one rider warming up. The previous record of 761 kilometres was set by the same group of women last year. I asked one of the girls about their target, they wanted to reach 1.100 kilometers. The Static team finished on Saturday at 8:30am Saturday morning with a distance of 779 kilometres. Official confirmation of the world record is pending.

Taupo Street Racing: Criterium
Friday night saw the men’s and women’s criterium around the streets of Taupo with more than 2000 people watching from cafes and restaurants as the riders raced around the narrow course. In the men’s event (30min + 2 laps), Roman van Uden of Team Pure Black Racing took out the Criterium for the second year in a row. Mike Northey finished a very close second and 3rd place went to Fraser Gough another U19 rider who joined with the Pure Black team in 2011.

In the womens event (20min + 2 laps) NZ Olympic cyclist Cath Cheatley won the race followed by Aussie cyclists Jenny McPherson and Nicole Whitburn.

Women's Criterium in Taupo
Through the narrow course, 2000 spectators watched the racing

Women's Criterium in Taupo Jenny McPherson
Aussie Jenny McPherson finished second behind NZ cyclists Cath Cheatley

Cath Cheatley sprint finish
NZ Olympic cyclist Cath Cheatley has enough distance on the two Aussie riders.

The Sport and Lifestyle Expo
In conjunction with the Contact Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge, the Sport and Lifestyle Expo at the Great Lake Centre opened on Saturday morning. There were stands from bike manufactures including Trek and Avanti along with several clothing and parts distributors which gave cycling enthusiasts a chance to look at new 2011 bikes and gear plus purchase tires, tubes, bottles and a range of accessories. You could also buy a limited edition Vittoria Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge tyre to commemorate the event.

Why do you love cycling in Taupo
Why do you love cycling in Taupo?

Taupo Cycle Challenge Bike Expo
Eyecandy galore through the eyes of deep profile carbon fibre wheels

Avanti New Zealand
Avanti (with HQ in New Zealand) had their 2011 offerings on show

Enduro Events
19 riders participated in the Extreme Enduro event, some starting over a week before the official start of the Cycle Challenge. Their task was to cycle 8 laps of the 160km course around Lake Taupo, 1280 kilometres riding through the night and day to finish with the main bunch of riders on the 160km race on Saturday. The Contact Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge has three Enduro options; The Enduro is two full circuits around Lake Taupo (320km); the Maxi Enduro is four full circuits around Lake Taupo (640km) and; the Extreme Enduro is eight laps of 160km circuits over 1280km of sealed road. With 1308 metres climbing on each circuit, we think you would have to be more than a little crazy to enter ,and very determined to get you to the finish line.

Josh Kench finished the Extreme Enduro event with 1280km cycled in just over 55 hours on Friday. He took only 10 minutes sleep on the side of the road. Kench used the Contact Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge Extreme Enduro event as training for the Race Across America.

Contact Huka Challenge Mountain Biking
In the Contact Huka Challenge Mountain Biking event, riders faced a tough start with numerous challenging climbs over a predominately single trail track making it difficult to overtake. As the trail gets very windy, it made riders work hard to keep up their speed, the short sharp climbs were the best opportunity for riders to attack and overtake. The last section of the course was really challenging for competitors who didn’t know what was up ahead. The riders had to dig deep as their legs suffered with a series of short sharp hills before they could finally roll across the finish.

Auckland Mountain Biker, Carl Evans, finished the 80km ride in 4 hours and 8 minutes followed closely by Hamish Lane and a few minutes later, Ian Burgess.

Avanti Elite Men’s Classic 160km Road Race
The Avanti Men’s Classic is the Elite version of the Cycle Challenge with cyclists requiring a racing licence and best time of 4 hours 15 minutes or less to be eligible to enter. 88 riders participated in the race which was won in 3 hours 45 minutes by Roman Van Uden (Pure Black Racing) who had plenty of time to celebrate has he crossed the line eight seconds ahead of Justin Kerr and defending champion Patrick Bevin.

Avanti Elite Men's Road Race
Hardly time to enjoy the spectacular scenary

Avanti Elite Men's Road Race
The lead group thinks tactics

Avanti Elite Men's Road Race
Tough climbs and headwind were no excuse not to try and break away

Avanti Elite Men's Road Race
Roman Van Uden had a comfortable lead into the finish and time to celebrate

WorkoutZone Elite Women’s 100km Road Race
The Women’s event saw 39 competitors keeping together as a bunch for most of the ride with the head wind and tough climbs preventing attacks or break aways from gaining too much distance. The race came down to a sprint finish which was won by Kate Chilcott (Auckland) in a time of 2:55.25 with Sonya Waddell (Hamilton) coming in second and Cath Cheatley (Wanganui) in third.

We interviewed the Jenny McPherson from the Australian Prime Estate Cycling Team who provide an exciting account of the race… right down to the bitter end.

Workout Zone Elite Women's Road Race
On open roads, the peloton enjoyed a support convoy though still had passing traffic on the right

Workout Zone Elite Women's Road Race
The Women’s peloton remained largely together with breakways quickly absorbs in the tough conditions.

My 160km Cycle Challenge
The event was superbly organized with all cyclists required to enter their target time in which they want to finish, riders were then allocated into the appropriate start group. All cyclists were issued with electronic timing tags and given a hydration backpack, this was included as part of the Cycle Challenge entry kit which also included the racing numbers for the bike and helmet.

The night before the big event I was ready. I ate and slept well, all went to plan. My aim was to finish the course in 6hrs 30mins, while others simply wanted to finish. I got to the start line early and in amongst 9.500 other cyclists, found my starting group. What a sight to behold as we all crammed into the main street

RC Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge
RC with his sights on 6 hours 30 minutes for the 160km solo ride around Lake Taupo.

The day had already started to warm up which was a reminder to keep hydrated. This means drinking 1 bottle per hour or more, and I knew I had to keep drinking and eating. I brought protein bars, gels and bananas with me to keep my energy levels up. There were 4 drink stations and I didn’t want to miss any of them.

Right after the race was started by the announcer, the 9.500 strong peloton started to string out. There was a lot of chatter amongst the riders and a lot of overtaking.

Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge 160km
9.500 cyclists descend on the starting gates for their own 160km challenge

The course begins with an uphill and some cyclists were already walking?it was going to be a very long day for them. Only 159kms to go! Over the first 38kms the road was undulating with 350 meters in climbing. Once I passed over the first few undulations I found a strong group that I was comfortable riding with as we cycled past the first drink station, our drinks still quite full.

Waihaha Hill
At 58kms the first major hill, Waihaha Hill approached. A 100 meter ascent over 2.9kms really put everyone to the test, either you have been training on hills, or your haven’t. Riders have to tackle this hill at their own pace.

I continued riding with the same bunch, minus a few that had been dropped and plus a few that had joined us. Our average speed was sitting steadily at 33-34kmh/r. After 86kms you there is another ascent, Kuratau Hill has a 110 meters rise over 2.8kms. More undulations follow and at this point it was easy to recognise which cyclists had been training. I felt comfortable riding the undulations and climbs after training in Tasmania for 12 weeks leading up this ride.

Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge 160km
Finding your own pace and a group was not easy on this ride

Something I didn’t expect were the hundreds of water bottles littering the side of the road, had they bounced out or been flung out or dropped? There was even the odd bicycle pump – a warning to be very aware when travelling at speed. The odd tandem bike came flying past on the downhill’s, they really got up to speed!

The Shores of Lake Taupo
At the 98km mark there is a long fast downhill section with signs every 50 meters reminding you to slow down. Sitting on 70kmh/r on this section was a fantastic feeling, all the way to the shores of Lake Taupo.

I knew from my planning that there was then a 40km stretch which was relatively flat. I found this hard after pushing up the climbs and I couldn’t get into a group. For most of this section, I was battling into a slight headwind alone.

Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge 160km
Don’t look up, don’t think about the top

Hatepe Hill
With encouraging signs on the side of the road, I kept on riding and pushing. There was time to take a drink and look at the scenery which was spectacular; snow covered mountains hovering over the blue waters of Lake Taupo. The next sign read “Don’t think about Hatepe Hill”. I hadn’t been thinking about it but now I was! “Hatepe ahead” reads the next sign. Hatepe Hill is a 140 meter ascent over 2.9kms and at the bottom there is a sign telling you to select a low gear, keep pedaling and don’t look at the top.

Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge 160km
Another hill, another champion

In front of me were hundreds of riders, or maybe half the entire peloton struggling up Hatepe. I followed the wheel of the guy in front, waited till he died then caught another wheel, and another wheel until I was on my own. Pushing until I was finally over the top, in 32 degree heat and with only 20kms to go. This climb after 140kms was as tough as I expected. Most of the peloton was still struggling up Hatepe as I headed down trying to catch the riders in front. I wanted to cross the finish line strong.

Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge 160km
Without the same time pressures at the Elite Men, it was possible to enjoy the ride and the day as a solo contender

The Finish
With 10kms to go there is still one small climb to come, I pushed h
rd, sprinting up the last section while passing more riders who had bonked. I tried to work with a few others but their legs couldn’t take it and I left them behind. I was on top of my game. During the last few kms I really pushed to keep the dial at 34 km/h. After already riding 155km already my legs couldn’t give much more.

I crossed the line in 6 hours and 1 second, an achievement that was well within my allotted time. The volunteers took my transponder as I made my way through the gates to get some much needed pineapple and a massage.

The Race in Review
I was very impressed with how smoothly this massive event is run with over 1000 volunteers, race marshals, rest stops, water stations, everything was well arranged and fabulous.

After the ride, it is a carnival-like atmosphere. You can mingle with the other competitors, get some food and drink, and watch the BMX guys do their insane jumps.

As you ride around the lake you get to talk in short breaths to other riders and hear some amazing stories how important this event is to many of the riders. One story in particular was how a husband had lost his wife in an accident whilst she was out training for this ride. He continued to train and rode the solo 160km Cycle Challenge in memory of her. After the ride he told us how she was still with him supporting him through the ride.

Rob’s Taupo Riding Tips
After being in the saddle for 6 hours I highly recommend that you have some very good knicks or your derriere may suffer. Pacing yourself is important, know what your limits are and try and find a group which is riding at your pace. If you can work together, it breaks the monotony and also gives each rider a rest.

Carry plenty of water with you, at least two bottles and remember to fill up. Make sure you keep eating throughout the entire ride. Take in protein and carbohydrates for the first 3-4 hours and then gels in the last couple of hours. A rough guide is 1 gram of carbohydrates for every kilo you weigh per hour.

To get to Lake Taupo, Air New Zealand fly twice weekly from Sydney directly to Rotorua, which is just under an hour away from Lake Taupo by car. Check in was easy and hassle free. The flight was smooth and the hostesses were friendly and helpful. The seating was 3 abreast but very comfortable and there was enough room to relax into the seat and enjoy the in-flight entertainment which is available from the moment you board.

If you are planning to ride in this event, you need to book accommodation early as Taupo and surrounding towns are filled to capacity during the event. To get an overview of the area and get help in finding accommodation, the Taupo Visitor Website is a good place to start: www.laketauponz.com. You can also read up on some of the other great activities there are in this region in our “Out and About Special

So would I do it again?
You bet! I want to come back again next year, get some more of my riding group over to NZ and ride this race as a group. The dates are already announced for 2011, the 160km cycle challenge is on November 26. Information and registration online: www.cyclechallenge.com



About The Author

has contributed this article to Bicycles Network Australia.

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