Date(s) - 30/07/2017
Raglan is one of the surfing gems of New Zealand. Globally it is recognised and renowned, but growing in popularity over the last few years has been its local cycle race. Held at the end of July with the winter chill nearing its peak, the Karioi Classic in 2017 will embark on its seventh edition. The race takes place around Raglan’s mountain, Mount Karioi and combines a mixture of gravel and tar sealed roads.
Of all the events on the calendar this is by far the most ‘mountain biking-est’ of them all. The vast majority of the race is on gravel roads, the 43km event features just 9km of tar sealed roads, while the enduro 85km race takes on roughly 15km of non-gravel. However, having said that this is the most ‘mountain biking-est’ of the races on our calendar, we should mention that gravel roads is the hardest thing you will find on the Karioi Classic. There are no off-track sections, jumps to contend with, anything of the sort. It is a challenge, but a very manageable one to a road rider with an interest to try out something a little less of a solid, even surface under the wheels.
It is the brain child of Dirk De Ruysscher of the Cyclery Raglan. The man behind the race originally wanted to do something to encourage local participation, but he was surprised by the results. “The goal of the first Karioi Classic was to get locals on the bike, but on the day we had a rush of mainly competitors of Hamilton. It was a beautiful winter day and that inspired lots of people to enter at the last moment. We were hoping for 100 entries and ended with 200,” Dirk recalled. In 2010, following inspiration provided by the local mountain biking club’s weekly rides the first Karioi Classic was held. Well it was not exclusively the weekly rides that inspired the idea. Dirk acknowledged that the race in part is inspired by the classic gravel rides in Europe; and indeed there is something just a little Strade Bianche-ish about the race.
“We also wanted to promote and grow cycling in the region,” Dirk said. And since then the team have certainly done that. In recent years the race has boasted a host of top names including a certain Sam Gaze. Gaze won in 2015, ahead of a field that included former world track champion and Rio Olympian Dylan Kennett. In 2016, Ryan Christensen took out the enduro race ahead of the likes of Stuart Holder – winner of the Around the Mountain race in Taranaki and Nicholas Magill who would later win the K2 elite men’s race.
2015 winner of the 43km category, Nathan Johnston, has high praise for the event. “The course was really cool and I loved the race. It starts off outside the fire station in Raglan town and climbs out of the town winding up the back roads till you reach the first gravel section from there it is constantly changing between the tar road and gravel, with some really awesome scenery,” Nathan said. “Points where the race could be won or lost in my opinion would be through the first gravel section as it has some fast descents on the gravel. This is where I noticed it started to split into small groups.”
As Nathan discovered on the day, despite the fact that he would go on to win the Classic, there is caution that needs to be used as one adapts to the gravel sections. “The gravel sections add a really cool aspect to the race as it involves some interesting moments. They can be a bit sketchy when taking corners at speed. The hardest part is probably in the first few sections where you have to get used to how fast you can comfortably take a corner. I definitely scared myself a few times throughout the race,” he said.
The event regularly draws upwards of 250 riders to the day that now sees three distances available for riders to tackle. And it is the returning riders who keep on coming back over and over, that is among one of the things that satisfies Dirk the most about the event. “We are proud that people keep coming back for our race. Everyone seems to enjoy the personal touch. More and more people know about the event. Also, we are very proud to be a small organisation and survived much longer than we would ever have expected. That is pretty special.”
For Nathan Johnston, who used the race as preparation before he headed away to the world mountain biking championships in Andorra later that year, the race was an ideal excuse for a ‘fun hard day out’. “To anyone lining up to race for the first time I would probably say give it a go and have a fun day, the Karioi Classic is an iconic and really well run event with cool little touches to make it different to the usual race. It’s really a great race for anyone that likes bikes and has a little bit of everything, it’s a really fun family day out and a great weekend away. I really look forward to the event in future years.”
For more information about the Karioi Classic or to enter click here.