It was the closest finish in the history of any of the Round the Mountain events, including the classic that’s held in October. The difference between the first two riders, according to the time chip, was an unbelievable 1-300th of a second at the 2012 Egmont Seafoods Round the Mountain Ride
It was impossible to separate us two riders as we lunged for the finish line after 153kms of hard racing in atrocious weather conditions; heavy rain and gusts of winds. Even when you enlarge the high resolution photo, its hard to tell. Most people, given my bike throw, think I might have nabbed it at the line despite the timing chip. On the day, two weeks ago now, I did not worry about protesting it (nor had the inclination to). It was a fun ride and a good race by the front runners. The fact we finished so close together provided some good entertainment for the audience and a good story in the local Taranaki Daily. American takes out Mountain Race with myself as the first kiwi home. The full results can be viewed online at the official race website.
How the racing unfolded
I had only been in New Zealand for a couple of days and gotten two rides in before the 153km event, including a nice ride in Christchurch and my first exploratory ride in Taranaki out on the Coastal Cycle Way and out Lepperton way. For this month in January my goal was to put in some good base miles for the upcoming season. So the Taranaki event was a perfect long ride with a slight race focus.
The race start was only five minutes bike ride from the Devon Hotel where I was staying and after consuming bananas, cereal, yoghurt as my pre-race meal I turned up with 450 others at the start line. It was threatening to rain as we took off. It was a neutral start to begin with and I was content to just follow wheels and wait for the action to unfold. The 450 rider peloton rode through the city of New Plymouth at a controlled pace. When the racing did begin, it was not hard and fast as I expected it to be. It was quite windy with a constant drizzle coming down. There were the occasional riders going off the front trying their luck in either forming a breakaway or escaping solo. However the peloton was not keen to let them escape from their clutches. Before Okura, I had my first dig jumping across to a young triathlete rider in green that was going pretty strong. He did not last long on my wheel as I pumped hard through the small village of Okura. However, the peloton were steadily pulling me back so I just cruised along at a good steady pace till I was caught.
I rolled along with the bunch quite comfortably up and down the numerous rolling hills in the lead up to Okato. The young guy in green took off again and was putting some good time on the main group with no one reacting. It was not till the final steep climb prior Okato when several riders at the front of the peloton put in a big surge and a gap opened up immediately. I saw this happening and accelerated quickly to the front and spent a few moments to make the bridge across to the five riders up the road. As I connected, I saw that we had a gap and yelled out that we had one. Immediately the six of us start rotating like a well oiled machine and the gap just grew bigger and bigger. Several minutes later, pro rider Michael Torckler comes across with eight riders in tow. The front group become a 15-man breakaway.
I was doing my fair share of the work, pulling hard into the wind and driving rain but then missed a couple of turns when I noticed half the group were just sitting on. I guess they were already on their limit as eventually most of those riders dropped away after the Opunake turn off. The pace was poured on for a brief section on this road section towards Stratford and this succeeded in reducing the breakaway group to just 10 riders. All of a sudden, we just cruised along and chatted. It was kind’ve fortunate this happened, as my legs were starting to feel it and could have cramped. The easy riding lasted for about 40 minutes before we increased the pace in the push for the finish line back in New Plymouth. Just before Eltham, Torckler’s father punctured and his son stopped to help out. They never caught back on. Once on highway 4 heading into some very strong winds, the group further split up and it was now only seven riders. Riding through Stratford and up through to Midhurst on the way to Inglewood, the pace was reduced to a snails pace.
Right before Midhurst, the first real attack of the day came from Vaughn Obrien, the American (& eventual winner), this was quickly snuffed out by myself and then I went on the counter-attack that immediately got a decent sized gap. Local strong rider, and last year’s winner, Gregory Marfell put out a powerful attack that launched him up the road. However I saw it coming and was accelerating up to speed as he came past and it took a couple of minutes hard riding to bring him back. The American was interested in keeping it animated but I was keen on rotating hard and fatiguing riders this way.
After passing through Midhurst, I found myself on the front and drifting away. I took the opportunity to ride hard at this point and opened up a sizable gap. I went into time trial mode and hummed along at a decent 45-48km/h for a good couple of minutes. At the point I was about to be caught again, I saw Greg Marfell launching yet another one of his power attacks with the rest of the group scrambling to latch onto his wheel. I responded by accelerating hard to snuff out any forward momentum before he caught me. When the group was about to catch up, I noticed they eased up a bit so I seized another opportunity to try and get away. The attacks I put in were to no avail as I was reeled back in each time.
Going through Egmont Village, it was absolutely belting down with rain and Gregory Marfell made another big attack with one other rider. This forced me to close the gap as the others were just following my wheel. It was a hard effort but it was back together again as we passed by the old rusty spider cobwebbed covered bikes outside the camping ground. It was game on for the last five kilometers as each rider sought to bid for victory.
Coming into New Plymouth, there are two climbs that keep you honest. On the first of the climbs, Marfell smoked it hard over the top and gapped myself and the American. This climb also served to blow up the seven rider group. Going down the descent on the other side, after hard chasing by myself and Obrien we reconnected with the front two riders. Coming to the final climb into the city, Marfell again attacked hard but the group still came back together coming into the city outskirts. From there it was cat and mouse games. I was on the front leading the way, waiting for any moves by the others. With about 1km remaining, Obrien hit it out hard and immediately got a substantial gap before I reacted. I was waiting for Marfell to make his move and it was a little late. I clawed back to Obrien’s wheel just after the final turn. It was there that I should have attacked immediately, but I just sat on his wheel and this allowed him to recover somewhat. I was also not clear where the finish line was and going into the last bend about 400m from the finish line, I hit the front with Obrien on my wheel. It was there that I had no choice but to open my sprint 400m out. I was hoping that I would have dropped the American, but somehow he clung to my wheel and then came at me again and got past me with less than 50m remaining. I had another late surge for the line ending with a desperate bike throw that I thought I had gotten the win. However, the timing chip said otherwise…
Stay tuned for more reports about my Taranaki cycling adventures!