Queen’s Birthday weekend, Saturday 2nd to Monday 4th June 2018, I went to Taranaki to compete for the 2nd time in the Tour of Taranaki in D Grade.
The ‘tour’ is a 5-stage race over the 3 days of the weekend (holiday Monday).
Last year I did OK and finished 8th of 13 finishers in D Grade.
This year I’d had a good start to the Club racing season and noted a great improvement in fitness and performance, placing in the top 5 for most races.
I went into the Tour of Taranaki this year feeling confident I could be in contention and with a different mindset to suit.
Stage 1 was an ITT and sets the rankings for stage 2. I came 2nd. Stage 2 followed that afternoon; I was going well but missed a breakaway up one of the climbs by Chris Pinkney. He got away from the bunch and soloed to the stage win and into the yellow jersey. I held 2nd but was 1:13 down on Chris. The next day and Stage 3, I had to hold onto 2nd and if possible get into a break and steal back time on ‘yellow’. I didn’t manage to get into a break but crossed the line with ‘yellow’. He got 5 bonus seconds for the stage win, I got 3 for 2nd, and so lost 2 further seconds on him. I was still 2nd, but now 1:15 back. Stage 4 was that same day in the afternoon. By now I was wearing the White Sprinter’s Jersey. I did have sprint points though it was Chris Pinkney who held the jersey. Since he was in ‘yellow’ I got to wear the white jersey being next on points.
I had the same strategy as for the morning stage, don’t let Chris or another guy Craig only 26 seconds down on me get away — cover every attack — and if possible, get a breakaway and take yellow off Chris. It was a big ask, but going well. Chris, Craig, another guy named Simon Pepper and I got into a break after 7km of the 48km stage, We left the bunch behind and built a significant lead of 1:30 as we approached a short, sharp pinch of a climb. We were all sticking together, and I was determined not to get dropped by Chris in particular.
Then fate smiled upon me, and Chris punctured! The rest of us kept moving and kept ahead of the chasing bunch and Chris who tried to catch us. Craig took the stage and with Chris losing his advantage on me I moved into the yellow jersey for the final stage 5.
Monday, stage 5, and I donned the yellow jersey.
My job today was to retain my place, watching for attacks, and not letting anyone get away up the road — particularly Craig only 24 secs behind. Everyone else was 2:40 behind, though I did need to keep an eye on Chris as he may try and regain yellow.
The course was 2 laps of a 30km circuit laid out on the lower grassy slopes of Mt. Taranaki as it runs towards the Tasman Sea. It consisted of a few kilometres largely flat, then a 10km drag uphill with a short pinch of a climb at the start. At the top a few undulating kilometres across, before a very fast descent to the start/finish. Twice.
Everything was going smoothly until the pinch climb when Chris made his move. Similarly to stage 2, he attacked on a climb. I chased, but he had gapped me, and as I crested the short wall, he was looking back to see me while he recovered. As I moved towards him and tried to close-in, he sprinted off and the gap increased. No-one else had any incentive to chase and so it would be me or no-one. This was lap 1 and I didn’t want to chase him solo only to blow-up and lose yellow and any chance of a podium finish. I decided to stay with the bunch, protect 2nd, and look for an opportunity to break away, perhaps towards the top of the climb on lap 2.
Having completed lap one I was wary of expending too much energy before having to face the sharp pinch climb again on lap 2. I successfully avoided over-exertion and made it up the wall 2nd. Craig thankfully did not take the opportunity to attack, though I don’t think he’s a climber and I could probably have reeled him in. As we continued the 10km to the top I began to shadow Craig with the intention of trying to get the jump on him near the top. I rounded the corner first and accelerated — unfortunately I didn’t create a gap and Craig and the bunch were right on my tail. As we started to descend my focus was to go fast and watch for attacks from Craig which were sure to come. What did he have to lose but a 24-second deficit on me? To my surprise and joy a couple of local Hawera RCC riders took up the pace, and I stuck like glue to their wheels, still watchful in the corner of my eye for an attack by Craig from behind but knowing the downhill speed would make it all-the-more difficult. At 3km it came, I saw it and jumped after him quickly gaining his wheel and dashing his hopes visibly. The pace slackened momentarily and then the Hawera riders got back on the front. I followed. Into the final kilometre and the Women’s leader came to the front, and so did Craig. Craig went past me and I was unable to out-sprint him. I got past the women’s leader and was just pipped at the line for 3rd by Simon Pepper who had been in the breakaway on stage 4. Chris was 1st, Craig 2nd, Simon 3rd, and me 4th. Mostly that didn’t matter for overall rankings as they were too far behind to make up sufficient time to overtake me on overall standings. The one unknown was Chris who had gotten away on lap 1. If he had clawed back 2:48 he would win the tour. After a nervous wait, it was confirmed he had gained less than 2 minutes, and I still held the lead and the yellow jersey.
Podium time and I was awarded prize money for the overall win of D Grade, 2nd stage 1, 3rd stage 2, 2nd stage 3, 2nd stage 4, 3rd in the Sprint competition, and 2nd in the King of the Mountain (KOM) competition. All up $405. And I got to keep the yellow jersey too.
Looks like I’ll move to C Grade next season.