It was almost the race that never was. Twice postponed because of Covid, it looked like the weather gods had launched their worst, stymying all prospect of finally holding the mitoQ K2 and sister races the Tineli K1 and the Nicholas Browne challenge on Saturday 10 April. Just 24 hours before the start, forecasters were warning of strong winds, 70kph gusts and lashing rain, the combination of which would have rendered Coromandel’s hills somewhat treacherous.
But a window of hope and opportunity opened, with the revelation that the worst of the weather would probably arrive later in the day. After much discussion and agonising, the race organisers felt risks were manageable and the events should go ahead.
Changes had to be made – no marquee (it would have blown away), no large stage scaffolding (ditto), no sun-drenched meadow with food stalls and music to celebrate and no big prize-giving ceremonies (although some prizes were given at informal gatherings). Every effort went into making sure riders understood the conditions and rode appropriately, and a cut-off point at 140k was introduced for the first time.
On its own terms, the day turned out to be nothing short of a triumph. The 192k course record of five hours was well and truly broken by not just one but 12 elite riders; the cut-off was avoided by the slowest rider by an hour, the attrition rate of just 6% was little higher than usual, and the worst injury of the day – a broken collar bone – was inflicted on the woman who has just broken the record for a New Zealand end-to-end, and said she wouldn’t have missed the race for anything.
Most astonishingly, perhaps, the K2’s first ever hand cyclist, Jonno Nelson, who was born with spina bifida, completed the course in 10.37.05; a record unlikely to be beaten (except perhaps by him).
A bigger than normal group of 30 opted to start early; they rolled out from Tairua rugby club at 6am to face the worst conditions in 19 years of running the event, followed by two more groups at 6.15 and 6.30. An hour later, the strongest K2 elite men’s field for 15 years, including the 11-strong Black Spoke Pro Cycling team, were sent on their way. We were not expecting to see Michael Torckler’s course record of 5.00.48 broken in these weather conditions, but this elite field had other ideas.
Just before the Coroglen tavern at 20km into the race James Oram (Auckland), under-23 rider Logan Currie (Christchurch) and Hayden McCormick (Te Awamutu), all from Black Spoke, made a break on the flat, and the field unwittingly let them go, never to see them again.
The trio gradually extended their lead to around four minutes. Hayden was the strongest hill climber, summiting all seven of the King of Mountain hills in first place. The leaders reached Tairua together and their sprint came in the last 200 metres, with James winning by a metre from Logan in second and Hayden in third. Remarkably, they smashed the previous record by eight minutes, with the winning time and new course record of 4:52:08.
Meanwhile, the rest of the field of K2 riders had made their way at four-minute intervals onto the 192km course, taking them through Whitianga, Coromandel, Thames and back to Tairua. They faced showers and plenty of wind, although the heavy rain stayed away until well after lunchtime. A leading group of eight were still together on the final climb, the 420m Kopu-Hikuai Hill, the highest on the course.
By the top there were just three, Cameron Wynniatt (Tauranga), Michael Jones (Thames) and Craig Burke (Manakau), all seasoned K2 riders of many years. All three were hurting and they had to contend with a headwind all the way back to Tairua. It came down to the sprint again with Cameron winning by just under a second from Michael with Craig another second behind in third place. The winning time was 5.41.30, with 4th place Nick Ferigo claiming the King of the Mountains.
Matilda Lawrence (Tauranga) won the women’s K2, crossing the line fractionally ahead of Dunedin’s Helen Beattie. Both finished in 6.43.51. The 106km Tineli K1 started this year in Coromandel, finishing in Tairua. This event often attracts some of the country’s youngest talent and this year was no exception with Auckland brothers Ewart (19) and Lewis Bower (16) battling out another sprint finish with Jack Gilligham of Tauranga (16). Ewart won in a time of 2:52:40. The women’s K1 was won by Jane Carswell in a time of 3.27.24, just pipping Diana Simpson at the post. The elite K1 winner was Kate Mccarthy in dead on three hours.
The third race of the day, the 53k Nicholas Browne Challenge (NBC), started this year in Thames. The event was hosting the Under 17 Cycling NZ National Road Series and this group were the first to finish in Tairua. Elliot Robertson sprinted to a fine win in a time of 1.34.47, one second ahead of Finn Wilson (Auckland) and Carter Guichard (Wanaka), in a photo finish with three other riders on the same time.
The NBC women’s race saw Bonnie Rattray (Auckland) winning convincingly in 1.38.54, six minutes ahead of Seana Gray (Cambridge) and Tiree Robinson (Kerikeri) from the Whangarei Marsden Wheelers cycle team. Joshua Rowe, 14, (Cambridge) won the men’s NBC non-elite race in 1.40.44, just half a minute ahead of 13-year-old Harry Shannon. Daughter and mother Caoilinn (13) and Erin Gray were 1st and 2nd in the women’s event, the youngster winning by nine minutes.
Over to some of our riders for their verdict on a day none of us will forget.
I participated yesterday in the K2 and I just wanted to express my deep gratitude for you and the team putting on such an amazingly organized event, from the communication up front, to the blessings in the beginning all the way to the food at the finish line. I’m always moved by the volunteers who do such an awesome job, making sure we’re fed and safe. Feels like a big family. It must not have been easy with the Covid related delays and then the weather, but it turned out to be a fabulous day and people loved it, me included. A worthwhile challenge! I’ll definitely be back!
Please keep doing what you’re doing for many years to come. Your impact on the cycling community is huge. Giving us a goal to work towards each year and such an amazing experience is invaluable. Bernhard Lamprecht, Auckland
A big thank you for putting on K2 yesterday in what can only be described as testing weather conditions for riders and marshals and organisers. This was my first time doing K2 and I am pleased to say I completed it though I won’t have said it was easy the hills were unrelenting (or seemed to be towards the end which probably reflected how tired I was) – I am sure I will be back for the next one.
Please pass on my thanks to your many volunteers that looked after the race headquarters from dawn to dusk and those that looked after the drink stations greeting us all with a cheery face (and saving the day with the refreshments) and the marshals that made sure we were safe going around the tight downhill corners, and along the one way bridges, and the finish chute. Special thanks also to your motorbike team who checked in with the ‘thumbs up’ to see that the riders were ok, and to the photographers that braved the elements and to St John for being there. Your team did a great a job of making it as safe as possible out there, and making it happen. Ali Feeney, Coromandel.
Well done and thank you for such a well-run event yesterday in testing conditions. A few restless nights prior I imagine! For most of us Black Spoke riders it was our first chance to ride the K2, and if it’s in March again next year, I'll definitely be back. James Oram, Auckland.
The day started so great, as challenging as K2 could be with all the weather. Didn’t quite end as planned though...A huge gust of wind caught the poor guy whilst descending Whangapoa hill taking his wheels from under me, we hit the road hard. So no finish line photo, no podium, but a broken collarbone a few stitches and a good dose of gravel rash. BUT it’s all part of it, I’ll heal, what do you expect when you ride as much as me, it’s gonna happen from them to time eh.
So this time my memory will be “Remember that time (again) we went to Thames hospital in an ambulance” Thanks to everybody who helped me out, massive well done to the ladies who rode so well and @blackspoke.nz who managed to break the course record and not their bones, Epic! A few weeks and I’ll be back. Joanne Sharpe, Coromandel.