Wanaka to Omarama
Today was a day of suffering, the most I’ve ever suffered on the bike for sure. Before I get to that though I need to again talk about this part of the country. It’s like an embarrassment of riches. I’ve never been anywhere so stunning and I don’t know why I’ve not spent that much time here in the past. I have no excuse – my brother lives here for goodness sakes. I’m super keen to get back here and bring my road and mountain bikes with me. I’ve been looking at this and drooling…. https://www.lakewanaka.co.nz/things-to-do/mountain-biking-and-road-cycling/.
In the meantime, I’ll have to settle for riding from Wanaka to the town of Geraldine. 113km that crosses the imposing Lindis Pass. Here’s a fun fact about today: It never got above 10 degrees. It got down to about 4 degrees for a while and the average temperature for the ride was 7 degrees. Also, it was windy and raining for much of it. Actually I don’t mind that so much though – what I hate… truly hate, is long false flats and this stage had that in spades.
For the non-cyclists amongst my small but rapidly declining readership, let me briefly explain. Road cycling performance is all (well, mostly all) about Power to Weight ratio. How much power do you produce, and how much mass does that power need to shift. I’m a reasonably big guy at six-foot three and while I’m leaner than I’ve been in years no-one is worried about me starving to death anytime soon. On the flat it’s not such a problem. I can sit with all but probably a motivated A-grade group. Going downhill I’m quick – a combination of carrying more momentum but also I like to think a little bravery and commitment as well. It’s when the road goes up that I struggle. There’s just no amount of power I could realistically produce that will allow me to compete with someone 20 kilo lighter than me. That’s a heavily packed suitcase worth of weight difference. I can improve – a lot – but genetics are genetics.
So when I climb, if I’m riding with a group I’m likely to be one of the less able climbers. Which means I either get dropped, or I just have to suffer more to stay with them. There are tricks you can play to try to minimise the damage. Hit the bottom of the climb at the front of the group and try to set the pace of the climb, or slip back through the group but still be in touch at the top (called sand-bagging). Look at the stage profile above though – from about 43kms to 80kms it’s all uphill. First it’s shallow, but it kicks up at about 70 kms, and again at about 78. No-one enjoys this but I suffered like I’ve never suffered before.
So all that being said, here’s how today played out:
My team rolled out in the fourth wave of the day. We had a fresh set of legs joining the team by way of Ben Carroll – a heck or a rider who is fit as a fiddle and was frothing at the mouth to put everyone in the hurt box. We pushed hard – very hard – for the first hour or so and caught the wave ahead of us at about the 40km mark. We blew past them and a few managed to jump onto our group but the pace took its toll on plenty of riders and the group was reduced to about 20 riders by the time we hit the approach to Lindis pass. I was struggling by then and knew I was close to blowing up and falling off the back of the group. I managed to hold on but once the elevation kicked in – even just a little – I was done. I lost touch off the back of the group and that was that – or so I thought!
Enter kiwi cycling legend Paul Odlin – taking part in the tour in a sort of ambassadorial / coaching role he just happened to be on the road at the point I got isolated with one other Team Arise rider Hendrick. He jumped on the front of our two-man group and pulled us for what must have been 30kms. I think if he hadn’t I might still be out there.
Paul rode with us all the way up Lindis Pass right to the point where the gradient kicks up. The whole way he kept us in site of the group we’d lost contact with but we could never quite bridge back to them. At the point he broke off Ben Carroll played the tactical game and held up for us. Knowing the team time is determined by when the first three riders in each team finished he knew it was better to drop back to us than continue punishing the poor souls left in his group.
So now there were three of us, and it’s starting to rain, and it’s getting steeper, and this climb is just going on and on and on, and I am suffering with a capital S. Suffering. Hendrick goes ahead – his legs are better than mine today but Ben stays with me. Ben eats hills for breakfast and could have been halfway home by now but his presence and encouragement helps no end. We crest the highest point of the summit and by now the weather has truly closed in. Driving rain and wind and it’s very very cold. From the top it’s 33k’s to the finish and we put our heads down and go. It’ll be roughly 50 minutes to get there and I count every one. We share the work for a while but I’m so cooked from earlier that soon I’m on Ben’s wheel while he does the work up front. The ground flattens out to open exposed country. The wind is against us, we’re freezing and soaked to the bone and all I want is the finish line and to put this stage behind me. 5k’s to go and I’m trying to do the maths in my head – how much time at this speed but I can’t think clearly enough. 1k to go and I’m arguing with myself to keep pushing and not give up and coast. And then we’re home. The finish flag comes and goes and we roll on down the road to the cafe, the vans and a cup of hot chocolate.
That was horrible. I hated every second. Dammit I love cycling.