Hayden McCormick has won the inaugural Ruapehu Gran Fondo.  The Team BridgeLane rider took the win ahead of Antony Nalder and Reuben Thompson; while RoadCycling’s Ed Wright took on the very same course (just not as quickly).  Here’s how a race report is written when the reporter is riding.

The aim of the first edition of the Ruapehu Gran Fondo was to provide one of the hardest races on the New Zealand cycling calendar.  For the 70 riders who lined up for the 164km Gran Fondo event the day began at the finish line, riding down from Mount Ruapehu to Turangi before hanging a left to head over to Taumarunui and then turning again to tackle the long road toward the biggest challenge of the day, the climb back up Bruce Road up Mount Ruapehu.

There’s something so beautiful and barren about Mount Ruapehu, a bit Ventoux-like, photo provided

At 8.50am on Sunday 70 of us lined up to plummet down the mountain . . . the fun part.  The only problem being the cold that I hadn’t anticipated.  It’s been high 20s, low 30s stuff for the last several weeks up in Raglan, but not on Ruapehu where we departed in temperatures nudging just 6 degrees celsius.  

Now before you say anything I can certainly chip in with reports on what happened at the front of the race . . . . at the start anyway.  We were all on a level playing field for a very brief moment in time whether myself, Hayden McCormick, Josh Aldridge, Jim McMurray . . . all of us were very, very cold.  But on the road to Turangi we parted company with the elites as they first nudged away from our lot, then galloped their way away to take on the win; while the rest of us rode to take on the time cut!

Maybe it was my over-enthusiasm but the first hour of racing was just great as far as I was concerned.  I felt . . . fast!  This is not something I say often, as much of my training in the not-so-thriving road cycling community of Raglan is done solo and somewhat slow-lo.  I knew it couldn’t last but being able to pull the group along at speeds occasionally touching 50kph and then hit 80+kph downhill is a good feeling.  Hey, I’m an ordinary cyclist, I get satisfaction out of the small things.

Meanwhile, up ahead the elites’ race was taking shape.  A group of eight riders formed at the front of the race that included Josh Kench, Reuben Thompson, Antony Nalder, Hayden McCormick, Glenn Haden, Charles Smart, Josh Aldridge.  

Hayden Mccormick took an impressive overall win by almost 14 minutes, photo provided

The first climb of the day brought me back to reality with a bump.  My purpose in the race was less to win, more to film and finish, but I can but wonder what would have happened if I’d timed my first trip to the back of the peloton to provide a video diary update a little bit earlier than just before the first decent climb of the day.  Caught in the wrong place in the lower half of my group the gaps opened up and I simply couldn’t quite cover them and after picking off probably around 12 riders ahead of me I realised that my fun at the front of my group was over and I found myself caught in no man’s land as I dragged my 80kg frame on the undulating but mostly uphill 29km from Turangi in the company of a small group of 6 new allies.

The unspoken code of utilising one another’s strengths kicked in between Tokaanu and Manunui but steadily those strengths gradually fragmented the group until after the drink station just outside Taumarunui I found myself alone; a state in which I would remain for approximately 90% of the remaining 52km.  State Highway 4 was more of an ordeal than I had anticipated, but after going through the National Park village and hanging a left the pain in the legs was offset quite effectively by the truly spectacular scenery.  The Tongariro National Park is incredible, a weird combination of stunning and desolate with a mountain looming large.  It did a great job of taking my mind off the suffering until the final right hander and the road up Mount Ruapehu.

I’m honestly not 100% on whether I’m smiling or grimacing here! The end is sort of in sight, photo provided

I’ve never ridden up Mont Ventoux, but there’s something about the New Zealand ‘equivalent’ and its wide open roads, nowhere to hide from the elements plus the biting gradient that made me feel a little more in France than three hours from home.  By the time I’d made the turn to the final climb Hayden McCormick had long since claimed a brilliant solo win.  McCormick had attacked and put nearly 14 minutes into his nearest challenger Antony Nalder, with Reuben Thompson completing the podium a further 53 seconds back.

Trying to keep somewhere close to 10kph made my brief companion on the climb, Joanna Sharpe, make the observation that one doesn’t really feel like one’s racing at that speed.  The mountain was a fine way to finish off just about everyone, myself included; and by the time I finally crossed the finish line I could honestly say that I was unsure that I’ve ever felt more spent on a bike (short of the first time I rode a cyclocross race).  It was the longest 164km I’d ever ridden, 6 hours 3 minutes and 33 seconds in all, but I’m probably not alone in saying that it was this weird collision of hurting like hell but having the best time.

For full results from the Ruapehu Gran Fondo click here.

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