Brett Grieve and Kees Duyvesteyn share their accounts of the Holden Men’s Classic at the Contact Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge.

The Classic Race attracted a strong field again in 2017 due to an excellent course and one of the best prize pools domestically with $9500 across the top ten finishers.  A number of international professionals including Sam Gaze, Dion Smith, Jason Christie, James Fouche, James Oram, Ryan Christensen, Michael Torckler and Frank Sutton were joined by many of the best NZ based riders which included full squads from Team Skoda Racing, L&M Group and Blindz Direct.  

Taupo can be a challenge for riders to find form for being a month after the Tour of Southland and six weeks prior to Elite Nationals.  It can certainly be achieved, but Southland is so demanding that illness and fatigue are a real challenge, and no doubt affected some riders this year.

The day itself was overcast and comfortably cool at 13 degrees and light winds; perfect conditions for a fast time. Control Gate Hill was ridden like an actual neutral this year with many big names content to cruise up at the back of the peloton.

Upon turning left into Poihipi Road the race was on and the pace set faster than any year prior (Strava KOMs testify to that!).  This nine kilometre section has only 130m of elevation but is quite rolling and perfect for a breakaway to form.  Last year the break went here, and this year a large group of 15 or so riders had formed over the top of the “Poihipi Road Climb” eight kilometres into the race.  

This group included Hamish Bond, Michael Torckler, Frank Sutton, Sam Gaze, James Fouche, Ryan Christensen, Kees Duyvesteyn, and eight other strong riders and established great cohesion, with all riders rolling through to propel the group forward.  The work rate established presented a significant threat to those left in the peloton, and several chase groups splintered off in pursuit.  Only one chase group made it, with approximately ten riders including Dion Smith, which established contact approximately 70km in, prior to the Kuratau climb.

The remainder of the race is as told by Kees Duyvesteyn of L&M Group Ricoh Racing, who was the eventual runner up:

“From 70 to 90 kilometres the race was pretty tough with constant attacking and heaps of people trying to form the break.  This was quite different to the cohesion we had prior to the chase group catching us. At 85 kilometres, just over the Kuratau Climb a group of about seven rolled off the front including Sam Gaze and Michael Torckler.  They stayed at about 20 to 30 seconds gap for the next 5 kilometres so were just within sight.  At approximately 90 kilometres, I was 4th wheel and attacked away from the slow rolling peloton.”  

“Alex West from Skoda came across with me and we bridged really fast, catching the break just before the last feed zone and before the main descent off Waihi Hill.  From there we descended pretty fast into Tokaanu and once on the flat worked really solidly with Ryan Christensen doing the bulk of the work as he was stuck in his 11 tooth sprocket due to a snapped gear cable.  My rear quick release came loose so I had to stop and fix that then chase back on through the convoy of traffic and team cars!  

“We lapped evenly to the bottom of Hatepe Hill at 130km where I rode the front up the climb out the of saddle due to a slipped seat post. Over the top it was only Torckler, Gaze, Sutton, Josh Lane and I with Oliver Young not far off the back.  Young bridged back up to make six of us at the front.  We continued to work evenly until in Taupo township, although I missed a few turns being unable to pedal without cramping due to the slipped seat post.  A few guys tried to sneak off the front once in town, but were shut down by Gaze with the rest of us following him.  Going into the finishing straight, after turning right off the lake, I was at the back of the group and Gaze was 2nd or 3rd wheel.  Gaze started the sprint and everyone responded.  It was a close finish with me 2nd, Frank Sutton 3rd and Oliver Young 4th ahead of Michael Torckler.  Sam Gaze is total class and deserved the win and I’m really happy with my result too.”

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