The Taupo Challenge

The Taupo Challenge
By Bruce Swales

In November each year the Taupo Challenge is run at Lake Taupo in New Zealand.  Located in the central North Island of New Zealand, Lake Taupo is in a caldera created by a supervolcanic eruption which occurred approximately 26,500 years ago, and is the largest lake in Oceania.  To put the size of the lake in perspective, Singapore would fit within.

The Taupo challenge is a one day cycling event, which comprises several bike races – both road and mtb. The major event is a road race right around Lake Taupo, but there is also an 80km and 40km road race and also an ‘ultra’ road race that covers four laps of the lake.  For mountain bikers there are also several mountain bike races, including an 85km race.

25th November 2017 saw the 41st running of this event and ANZA’s Bruce Swales and Iain Clarke travelled down to compete.  There were also 7 other competitors from Singapore, and competitors from 22 other countries making up some of the 6,000 competitors across all races.  Ex ANZA Singapore rider Dean Cooper was there wearing ANZA kit, and Kent McCallum (Cycosports) was also there and was spied wearing ANZA bib shorts.  More than 2,300 riders competed in the main race around the lake.  This was Iain’s third time competing and Bruce’s first.

As can be seen in the map and elevation diagram, the course is 153km long, with 1,736 metres of climbing.  Most of the climbing is over rolling hills but there are a couple of very significant hills.  The first is Poihipi Hill, that riders hit only 600 metres from the start line, which averages 4% gradient over 2km’s.  While not that substantial, riders hit this cold, usually having been waiting for an hour or so at the start line.  The second hill, called Hatepe Hill, is a little more nasty and is at the 132km point, some 21km from the finish, with a gradient that averages around 8% over 3km. However, once you are over the top of Hatepe it’s basically downhill to the finish 20km away in the town of Taupo, with one last small bumps along the way.

November in New Zealand is Spring, which means the weather can be unpredictable – it could be windy, wet, cold or warm.  The days leading up to this race were warm (22 – 24 °C) with very little or no wind, so everyone was hoping for a dry, windless race.  Our wishes were granted with the day of the race being an overcast dry day, with morning temperatures below 18 °C and no wind at all – perfect racing conditions. Those hours of training put in by Iain and I in the Singapore heat would certainly pay off in these conditions.

Racing actually started the night before, with several crit races around the town, including a NZ armed forces race (Army, Navy and Air force teams), and elite Men’s and Women’s races.  I met up with Kent McCallum to watch these and compare to the Singapore CFS crits.  Good racing and great commentary by Robbie McEwan.

Come 6.45am on the 25th and the main race commenced, with the elite racers starting first, followed by the other riders starting in waves of a hundred or so riders, based on anticipate finish times.  Iain was in the third wave and was hoping to complete the race inside 4½ hours.  I started in the wave behind Iain’s with a goal of completing the race in under 5 hours.  As predicted, Poihipi Hill started the splitting of waves, with my wave splitting into two by the top (turn left at the giant bicycle), then came the one hundred kilometres of rolling hills.  While some of these ‘rolling’ hills are significant in their own right, there were several long descents to recover on so the race is not as arduous as it may sound.  This certainly worked to my advantage as while I am not a fast ascender I am a quick descender and was able to regain places I was losing on the ascents.  My downfall was, however, having never ridden the course before I took it a little too easy during the first half of the race, in order to conserve myself for the second half, and by the time Hatepe Hill arrived I was fresher than I expected to be but by then it was too late to pull back much of the time that I lost during the first part.  Nevertheless I finished well inside my goal, at 4:49:40.  Iain had a great race and despite puncturing at the bottom of Hatepe Hill still finished inside his goal, in 4:29:37.

Being in ANZA kit was a novelty for some riders, with several comments along the lines of ‘Oh you are from Singapore, aren’t you a long way from home?’ I was also asked by a woman rider ‘Do you know my friend Megan Kinder?’ (Megan, Kath sends her regards).

I met up with Iain at the finish, where we each consumed a free beer (a mark of a well organised race must be a free beer for every rider that finishes!).  Overall this was an excellent event and one that I would highly recommend – great course, beautiful scenery, well organised and a wonderful weekend atmosphere.  I will be back next year!  For those who may be interested next year’s race is on 24th November 2018.

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