Bike The Lake, Rotorua – New Zealand Day 20
We had an early start on the campsite today, getting up before dawn so as to get to Rotorua in time for the Bike the Lake race. Once in Rotorua I had to get ready, add race numbers and timing chips to my helmet and bike, sort out drinks etc and congregate for the start. I hadn’t used my bike since the triathlon in Auckland and during that time it had been at the top of the camper sharing a bed with Morgan so I had to put it together and check it over before the start of the race as well.
So, after a quick breakfast we drove to Rotorua where I set up my bike ready to go and then attended the Race Briefing which was supposed to be at 7:30am. It was pretty chilly standing around in just my cycling kit and the race briefing (what there was of it) didn’t start until just before 8am so there was a fair but of hanging around getting cold.
Bike the Lake, Rotorua
In essence there were two races going on, a two lap race which started at 8am and a single lap race which started at 8:05am. I’d already made Anna and Morgan spend a week in Auckland preparing for and supporting me in the Triathlon World Champs so I had opted for the shorter 1 lap race. I’m calling it a race but it is billed as a social ride (as social as it can be when you have a few hundred people riding the same course at the same time – it’s a race!). I was planning on having a nice easy ride around the lake for fun. I wasn’t really racing.
However, the last time I did a road bike event was a sportive in Abergavenny and I made the mistake of starting at the back. This meant that I spent the day overtaking slow riders, but never being able to get onto terms with the faster riders at the front, all of whom had started together at the front and were working together in groups. On that occasion I ended up riding around virtually on my own in the rain all day. I had decided therefore to at least make an attempt to start at the front and then slowly drop back through the groups of riders until I found a group circulating at a comfortable pace for me. So, when the claxon sounded at 8:05 for the start of our ‘race’ I was at the front.
It was a fairly fast and furious start with lots of younger riders at the front but a nice group of about 20 riders had established themselves at the front by the time we left Rotorua and headed out onto the open roads around the lake. I was part of this group and we were soon catching the slower riders from the 2 lap race who had started 5 minutes before us. About 5 of us were working well at the front of the group, including me and there were quite a few others just sitting on the back. The group gradually whittled down to about 12 until we hit the first proper hill.
Once on the hill it was more a case of every man for himself than an organised group . That’s to be expected and I had then envisaged everyone regrouping on the descent. That wasn’t to be the case though and by the time we were over the first hill there was just me and one other guy out at the front. I didn’t know how much of a lead we had but my idea of having a nice easy ride around the lake was now out of the window. There were two of us out in the lead – if we could work together and keep the lead from the main pack then 2nd place was the worst I’d get and I wasn’t going to complain about that.
We started working together well, taking equal turns at the front. The guy with me was only a young lad and there was nothing to him so he was a little stronger than me over the hills but I was stronger than him on the flats and into the wind. We stuck together though and helped each other out the whole way round. About two thirds of the way around a third guy joined us. We weren’t sure where he had come from but he just sat on our wheels getting a nice easy ride. Despite both of us asking him to take a turn at the front a few times he wouldn’t and just sat there in third place. Because of this we both eased up a little as well. We didn’t want to be working too hard and have nothing left for what now looked likely to be a sprint for 1st, 2nd and 3rd, especially if this other guy had been sitting there having an easy ride waiting to jump us at the end.
We were back in Rotorua earlier than I had expected and I still felt pretty fresh. I’d been working well but the pace over the last few miles had been easier so I had plenty left in the tank. I didn’t really know the course, having only driven around it backwards once and we were on different roads anyway. I did however know that there was a little rise just as we came into Rotorua followed by some tricky little turns and a roundabout. I wasn’t sure where the finish line was though.
I was at the front as we entered the town and as expected as we went up the little rise the guy I’d been working with all the way around launched an attack, sprinting off from behind me. I was ready for it though and was immediately on his wheel, following him closely through the turns and around the roundabout before launching an attack of my own. The finish line was closer to the roundabout than I thought though and he just about held me off to cross the line with a 0.03 second lead over me. If the finish line had been a few centimetres further from the roundabout I would have had him but as it was he beat me fair and square by three hundredths of a second. I was pleased with a second place though especially as I hadn’t really expected to be anywhere near the top.
The guy who joined us part way through the race but wouldn’t work at all didn’t contend the sprint, but that was because we discovered, as he crossed the line a little after us, that he was actually doing the 2 lap race. He was quite a way off the pace of the leaders so had used us to keep himself going. I congratulated the winner and had a chat with him. He was only 14 so had done really well and seemed pretty pleased with his win. After chatting to him I was kind of glad I hadn’t beaten him in the end as he was a nice lad, racing a fairly local race where a win meant quite a bit. It would have been a bit harsh if someone on holiday from the UK had beaten him at such a race. 2nd place to him was therefore ideal fo me and he certainly deserved the win having done just as much work as I had.
The prize-giving was due to take place at 2pm and with a total prize fund of over $100,000 it was worth waiting around for. Anna and Morgan were laughing at me as I crossed the line because ‘I’d been beaten by a child’ but also seemed pretty pleased that I had come 2nd. They were also freezing having stood around for an hour or so in the early morning chill. I got changed and put my bike away and we decided to hang around Rotorua until the prize-giving. We weren’t sure what categories got prizes but thought I should get one for either coming 2nd or for being the 1st over 40 year old.
We headed into the shops for a coffee and a cake and had a walk around Rotorua before having a picnic lunch in the camper. We then joined the congretating masses on the lawns in central Rotorua for the prize-giving. There was a fair going on here too so the place was quite busy with stalls, bouncy castles, giant slides and such like. The sun had come out so it was now pretty hot as well. Everyone was relaxing in the sun and there was a bit of a party atmosphere. We sat there with an ice cream and waited for the prizes.
The results came out and I had indeed come 2nd in the 1 lap race by 3 hundredths of a second.
- 1st Cullen Browne 1:10:05.86
- 2nd Alan Cole 1:10:05.89
- 3rd Peter Clark 1:14:30.92
I was quite surprised that the next group down and third place was a full 4 minutes behind us. For some reason it took them ages to get onto the prize-givings though and people were getting agitated by the time they did. There were loads of spot prizes and giveways including some pretty big value items such as 50″ plasma TV’s, Cannondale bikes and Sky-diving vouchers – I’m not sure what I would have done had I won one of those. I don’t think the airline would have thought too kindly of me returning to the UK with my Bike and a 50″ Plasma TV as luggage!
There were male and female prizes for 1st, 2nd and 3rd in every 5 year age-group category for the 2 lap race so it took a while to get through those. There were similar male and female 1st, 2nd and 3rd prizes for both the juniors and the school race in the 1 lap race. There was also supposed to be 1st male and female prizes for the masters in the 1 lap race but for some reason they didn’t give those out on the day as they ran out of time and said they would post them after the event. I’d put my Team GB kit on especially to go and collect it as well!
The official results are now available online and because they break the race up into so many sub-races I’m down as having won the 1 lap race. Cullen Browne who beat me was actually racing in the schools race so won that. In essence although we started together and worked together during the race we were in different races (not that they were races anyway!). I’m assuming however that once they realise where ‘Borth’ is and that I live in the UK not New Zealand that they won’t be sending my prize to me!
It was a good race though and I enjoyed it. The roads weren’t great and the course wasn’t as scenic as I had hoped but the fact that I ended up racing rather than just riding it made it fun. I’ve never done a race like that before so the tactical element and the sprint finish really made it for me. It’s a shame there was such a mix up and delay with the prize-giving and results as people started to get a little annoyed by that but otherwise it was a good event, well-organised and with excellent marshalling. If only I could go back to do it again next year.
After the prize-giving we made our way back to the camper and out of Rotorua, heading north-west towards Matamata and the Opal Springs Campsite. Once settled in at the campsite, which once again had all the facilities we could ask for and more, all for $45 for the night, we cooked risotto and pies for dinner before going for a swim in the pool and a soak in the warmer thermal pools. We then went for our customary dusk stroll before settling down for the night. Our holiday was coming to an end , we only had a couple of days left and we had done most of the things we wanted to along with some extras. The next day would be all about relaxing and getting ready to prepare for the journey home.