Andy Hagan’s race report after 7th place in the Elite field around Taupo
The team strategy was simple. Work hard to get at least one, and hopefully more, of the team off the front and into the break. You have to make the race at Taupo. The course and the field – a combination of elite racers out to win, and others less motivated, or just looking to go sub 4 hours – lend themselves to a race that is usually defined by a shitfight to get a group off the front followed by the bunch shutting down and those lucky or good enough to make the front fighting out the win. We knew this. Confidence was high that this task would be completed by following the moves until the break went. If we missed it we would just shut it down – we thought. The team was feeling good.
Arriving at the start at 6.15am on a beautiful Taupo Saturday the first cracks in the aura of confidence began to appear. There’s Julian; Gordy just rode past; Pure Black have heaps of guys; Bevin’s here; were thoughts going through my head. The field was stacked with quality guys. The significant prize pool no doubt motivating many.
Taupo has a bitch of a start. The first 40km is basically a constant barrage of short steep power climbs – not my forte – and the early start means it’s hard to get a proper warm up in. Down the hill and up the other side out of Taupo and I could already feel the lactate building, with not only the hitters, but the lesser lights, climbing past me. Confidence hit number two. We had agreed that we had to be vigilant and at the front from the start, and here I was 3/4s of the way down the field already. This is hurting.
Still I persevered, the fact that I could see Greg and Mike where they should be further up motivated me to move up too. As the race went on I warmed into it and did indeed move up. Executing the plan was next on the agenda. The guys, Greg in particular, were doing a great job following the early moves allowing me to take it (relatively) easy and watch the action from a good position. Constant attacks up the hills were followed by others shutting it down and another going. The pace was high, so high that it was hard just to follow the peloton let alone the moves. We covered 41km in the first hour over very hilly terrain. So much for “Well just get someone in the break and that’ll be it”. Still we were executing close to what we planned, with a Wheelworks rider in most of the moves.
After 40 odd minutes, and a long section of climbing, it became apparent that people were getting tired. Gaps that normally would have be shut quickly were lingering. Time to be vigilant. Sure enough, up one of the tougher pinch climbs a Pure Black rider attacked, a few followed. Next thing I knew a couple of Subway’s, Yates and some other big names were going across. Time to go. NOW. As we crested the top of the climb I managed to bridge across using maximal effort. I hung on down the other side and braced myself for another full on sprint to hold the group. At the top of the next pinch I looked back to see that the 14 or so of us had opened a significant gap. This was THE move.
The next 10-15km was full on, max effort to sustain the lead. Around me were pro riders, Olympic medallists, and world champions. With it being threshold effort just to hold the group, and all the big names around, it was pretty daunting. The confidence slipped a touch more. I can’t hang here, although never did my determination to try slip, and never did I miss a turn (in fact I probably did more than was fair). If I get dropped at least I made the break I thought.
Soon though, the gap was confirmed, and the intensity eased. I began to feel more comfortable. Even on the climbs where Michael Vink in particular was pushing the pace. Still, my belief in myself wasn’t what it normally is, even though I had begun to realise I’m good enough to be here. I began to second guess things that are second nature for me normally – lapping through, following wheels and the like suddenly seemed more complicated. “If I get dropped on Kuratau it will still have been a good day” was the thought rather than “how can I win this”.
The hills around Taupo are incessant. You climb 1,700m plus without ever going higher than 600m above sea level or below 350m. Each one saps a bit of strength. We reached Kuratau quickly though. That climb was good for me. I went up second wheel behind the aptly named Aaron Strong without too much difficulty, grabbing a bottle and appreciating the support of Tristan and Jules on the side of the road.
Hatepe was the next obstacle after the long flat section after Kuratau. We got no time checks during this period which told me we had a good gap. I found out later it was 10 minutes plus. Everyone knew this would be the place that it would go, being the last major obstacle on the course. After a nervous approach, with people jettisoning water, bottles and even food to cut the weight, Jeremy Yates launched the first major attack taking five others with him. I hesitated a moment too long, with hindsight my lack of confidence in the presence of these others probably caused this. The normal go they’re hurting was replaced by hold on. I found myself in a chase group of five. Upfront were Yates, Mike Northey, Tim Gudsell, Joe Cooper, Aaron Strong and Patrick Bevin. Behind I was chasing with Roman Van Uden, Glen Chadwick, Justin Kerr and Michael Vink. Greg Marfell, Peter Latham and Sam Bewley had fallen further behind on the climb.
Over the top and along the flat approach to Taupo the five of us chased hard to closed the gap, succeeding just before the airport climb after taking advantage of the convoy at the very end. I’m in at the kill, stay calm, use the teams, you have a chance.
Pure Black were keen to shut it down, with 3 versus 8 much better odds than 1 versus 5. Roman attacked with Justin Kerr as soon as we bridged. I thought about going but recalled that there were still 9km to go. Subway will shut down the move. When your solo in a group with teams represented you have to gamble a touch as it is too hard to follow everything. There were still 3 Pure Blacks and 2 Subways.
A few moves followed, with lulls and sprints and the looking at each other that comes with a flat run in at the end of a long race. Roman and Justin stayed tantalisingly close but still ahead as the line moved closer and closer. It’s not up to me to chase it down. Unfortunately for me, there was too much looking and not enough sprinting and it became clear the lead two would take the major silverware.
Round the final bend and we lined up for the sprint for third. I rolled in mid group for seventh, with Roman winning a few seconds ahead. Justin Kerr and Patrick Bevin rounded out the podium. All in all I was really happy with the result, perhaps rueing my slight lack of confidence at some key moments, although in the end it didn’t matter too much. Both first and second places were filled by riders that, like me, were caught on the wrong side of the split over Hatepe.
The main bunch rolled in a few minutes after us with Greg, Mike and Dan there. Chris came in in the next bunch, having been shelled after following a move early in the race. This to me is the very essence of teamwork, as his effort (as with the others’) allowed me to rest early on knowing Wheelworks was represent in the move.
In the Woman’s race Janine performed brilliantly, meeting her pre race goals and finishing 17th in another quality field. I’ll leave her to tell that story.
The rest of the day was very enjoyable. The prize giving was held in beautiful weather and was very entertaining. No car though. A special “shout out” to the guy hyping up the BMX guys. What a legend. Although I’m not sure that the crowd knew what to make of his obvious talents. A team barbeque rounded out the day.
John-Joe Fraser deserves a special mention also, completing the solo as a tribute to his wife Patricia who was killed training for the event. He received a deserved standing ovation when collecting his award and spoke with unbelievable composure during what was an obviously emotional moment. The guts and courage he showed makes completing a bike race look trivial.
CHECK OUT THE STATS: