We drove to Thames. We rode around a big loop of ups and ups and ups. We crossed the line. IT HURT! This is our experience of the MitoQ K2 Cycle Classic.
We arrived in Thames having driven over from Raglan on the morning of with calm, cloudy skies greeting us. Since we took over RoadCycling.co.nz five and a half years ago we’ve long wanted to come and tackle the K2. We’ve been in the car, following the elites on multiple occasions, sampling the pain that car engines are put through as they tackle Whangapoua et al. But there’s always been something in me, and I suspect in many of the 491 starters of this year’s K2 main event, that gets attracted to long distance suffer fests. Sitting through and watching it all unfold makes me all the more hopeful that one day I’ll be the one pinning the number on and doing it.
And now I was.
After watching Michael Torckler lead the elite men’s race off from the front, a position he would proceed to stay in through much of the day on his way to yet another triumph; it was eventually our turn. We left and headed for Kopu-Hikuai and as is pretty typical of my bunch riding experience over the years . . . it all started so well. I actually rather enjoyed Kopu-Hikuai. It’s a long climb and maybe I’d feel differently about it if our race started in Tairua and it was the last of the day’s big challenges, but as the first it was a great warm up for the day. It was steady, it was relatively swift, and there’s something about catching those who started ahead that gets the excitement going. I was ‘on form’ or at least I was for the first 20-30km.
What I was less prepared for, however, was the descent. I love the speed of a descent and being able to hit 85kph is a great feeling, but it was the wind that caught me by surprise. Never have I felt like I was being thrown in all directions by gusts that didn’t really know which way they were heading more than on the descent of Kopu-Hikuai. In spite of everything that I would face over the course I still rate that as possibly the most dangerous element of the day.
Heading into and through Tairua the roads were pretty pleasant, and the group around me were keen to motor along. It’s a bit like the cyclist’s equivalent of blind dating, rocking up to a gran fondo or a fun ride and finding out who you’ll be riding alongside this time; but with less of the awkward conversations and ‘hey let me give you my number’ moments. We were strangers united by purpose and mutually driven by muscle-powered speed that we’d all spent weeks, months, years crafting to this point.
By the time we’d reached Pumpkin Hill and headed up and over I was not a little chuffed with myself at being a self-elected ‘climber’ of the group. We had a couple of riders who seemed to do as I did, saunter forwards in the group as the roads went up; dictating the pace and then allowing the bigger units their turn on the flats as we recuperated for the next effort. This is one of the wonderful things about bike racing, the silent and unforced delegation of roles that in our case just naturally unfolded. It was a process that would work through the slightly headwind-driven roads to Whitianga, up and over the 100km mark as we hit Kuaotunu and Myundermans and carried on going.
At this point things began to turn. I was still feeling comparatively good, and taking on fuel well. My rule with food is to take something on the hour every hour and I came well equipped. There was something that was also rather exciting about still being the one doing the driving at this point; rather than being the one hanging on. I was hurting but hey, so was everyone, only 70km to go.
Then it happened.
I imagine that I’m not alone as I say this, but on that day the climb over Whangapoua totally levelled me. It may as well have been Everest. It was absolutely brutal . . . . and seemingly endless. The wind that 40km earlier had been an irritation that I wanted rid of, now was something I yearned for even just slightly to provide a cool breath of relief on an otherwise merciless upward snake that was punctuated by the sun now being at its highest; with not a cloud to interrupt its punishment of my limbs.
The other major thing that just compounded to me being a bit of a self-pitying mess on Whangapoua was the speed at which a mass of fresh, youthful, focussed figures nipped up to and past me; with barely even a recognition of my presence. These were the K1 fast men, dancing up Whangapoua as if it were a minor slope; not a wall. From here on I would be tormented by their comparative vigour, and the vigour of many of the 200+ K1ers as we all navigated the final half of the course together. I caught myself on a couple of occasions wondering how I would fare if I also had 90km less work already in my legs that day.
Descending Whangapoua to Coromandel Town was a welcome relief, although by that point upper and lower body were in plenty of pain; and my forearms were in constant employment trying to grip the brakes to keep me from going too fast and into the backside of an ambling motorist on four wheels. My arms had never hurt on a descent before. It was a new and unwelcome sensation.
Going onwards through Coromandel I’d reached the stage where you start denying the inevitable. I was trying to convince myself that we’d done six climbs, with my brain trying to remember them amongst the internal cries of ‘stop!’ Of course I was also trying not to remember too hard because I knew that if I did I’d recall that we’d only done five climbs.
Whangapoua had been my mental breaking point. I didn’t like its mates Manaia and Kereta even slightly. Those riders who I’d so confidently dropped earlier as I showed myself to be the master of the gradients now looked to me like Jedis from those movies with the aliens and glow-y swords; too wise to worry about the pace of the young’n on his first outing at K2, letting him wear himself out because after all it would all come back to bite in the final quarter. And it did.
I slowly hauled myself over our last two obstacles, roundly rebuking myself for having been so hasty earlier, but knowing as I’ve known for just about every bike ride since I was 10 years old; you can complain and mope and wine all you like, you will still have to push the pedals until you reach the finish line so you may as well get on with it and get it over with. Sulking gets cyclists absolutely nowhere very quickly.
Once the last of the climbs done it was the first little victory I’d felt since Myundermans; the last climb over which I’d felt strong. I’d done all of the hard work, now on to Thames. There were still 30-40km remaining but it was at this point that the wondrous view took over and I was actually kind of able to enjoy the welcome home parade of inviting ocean blue water on my right.
The scenery did nothing for my speed, I had to wait for a trailing group to catch me for that to change; and just as it was on the road to Tairua, I was amongst a group of well-balanced co-sufferers. We moved onwards together with Thames getting flirting-ly closer with every hamlet and village. Finally it arrived and after 192km, seven big climbs and a whole host of truly great people, I crossed the finish line.
The results read that Ed Wright finished in a time of 6hrs 58mins 03sec, 223rd overall, 30th in the Male 23-34 category. The journey that got me to that line on the results sheet is one I don’t think I’ll forget for a long time.
To find out more about the MitoQ K2 or to enter one of the range of events for the 2020 edition click here.