A warm sunny day with a moderate NW wind greeted riders for the first event of the 2019 PNP PAK’nSAVE Summer Road Series, the Ocean Beach Challenge.
The 85km Grand Fondo course would see the riders head south towards Ocean Beach along Western Lake Road from Featherston turning around just short of Ocean Beach Road. After retracing their steps they would turn onto the East West Access Road before turning left onto Kahutara Road that would take them to the finish near the end of Kuhutara road. The Medio Fondo course was slightly shorter at 60km skipping the out and back leg to Ocean Beach Road and turning directly onto the East-West Access Road.
It was great to see the colours of USO Bike Ride represented for the first time. USO is a Polynesian group that promotes health and fitness amongst Polynesian communites. “Brothers united to improving the cycle of life of Polynesian people through cycling". Last year’s team champions, the Onslow Tarbabies, were well represented too.
45 keen riders lined up for the Medio Fondo race. After a short neutralised section there was a series of attacks that were easily chased down by the fresh legs in the peloton in the predominantly cross – tail winds. After about 5km a calm descended on to the bunch until a section of gravel was reached about 15km into the race.
Kerrin Allwood and Bridget Olphert (U19) both took the lead through the gravel sector and on exiting found themselves with a lead of about 10 seconds and decided to press on. The gap initially went out but then stabilised at about 20 - 30 seconds as they rode across the East-West Access road with a tail wind. The pressure of the chase lead to several riders being un-hitched from the bunch. With the prospect of a 30km slog into a headwind Allwood and Olphert decided that discretion was the better part of valour and sat up near the end of the East-West Access road.
The bunch then settled into an easy rhythm until the approaches to Kahutara where a series of attacks were launched, mostly by junior riders Elliot Robertson, Lewis Tompkin, Freddie Dossor and Henry Tompkin. These attacks put many in the bunch under pressure and the bunch size was further reduced. Allwood counter-attacked on the rise leading into Kahutara and set off on another ill-fated adventure. The juniors set off in pursuit and Allwood again sat up after about 5km when it became apparent that he could not get the gap beyond 100m.
The final 5km were ridden at a very slow pace with no one wanting to lead out the bunch. At 200m to go Allwood launched his sprint and was overtaken in the last 50 m by a fast finishing Dossor who took out the win with Tompkin in second and Allwood holding on for third.
Olphert rode strongly all day to finish first woman just behind the bunch. Zoe Perry took second after participating in a hotly contested sprint for the second bunch. Rebecca Owen was a close one second behind to take third.
A strong field of over 60 riders lined for the first Grand Fondo race. Frisky legs saw a fast start with Matt Webb-Smith and Dan Waluszewski prominent on the front. A slight kink in the road about 7km in saw the north-west ‘crossies’ come into play with GP Meo riders putting everyone in the gutter and the bunch being shredded into several echelons. This was the first selection of the day with a group of 20 forming at the front.
The short gravel section at the 15km mark saw the next selection occur with the group split in half. There were also a several puncture related casualties from the gravel. A furious chase followed with shelled riders attempting to regain contact with the front group. Several managed to do so and a group of 15 formed. The race settled down as it wound its way along the Western Lake Road. A second group formed and was soon a good two minutes back.
There were several forays off the front lead by Antony Nalder and Webb-Smith, although the tailwind made it hard to get away. 13 riders crested the climb at the 40km turnaround point. A second group and third group of 30 and 20 riders respectively followed a good way behind.
A strong tailwind along the East-West Access road saw speeds of 60km/h reached with Steve Bale and Webb-Smith lighting it up. The furious pace and constant attacking saw a number of riders shelled with only seven making the turn onto Kahutara Road for the run home. The group was made up of a trio of GP Meo riders – Nalder, Brent Backhouse, and Dave Rowlands along with Webb-Smith, Calvin Standrill, Bale, and Waluszewski.
On the run home into stiff headwind the GP Meo crew attempted to use their numerical superiority to put a rider up the road. The other riders were wise to this and shut down the several attempts made. With 5km to go Nalder got away but was soon joined by Webb-Smith. With the two away the chase went out of the group and the leading pair soon put on a one minute gap. Coming into the last 500m there was a bit of cat and mouse with neither rider wanting to lead out for the sprint. Webb Smith took the lead and managed to hold Nalder off by half a wheel. Backhouse finished alone for third having got away from the remaining group. Waluszewski took the sprint for forth leading in Rowlands, Standrill, and Bale.
After tough wind conditions Aileen Campbell of USO Bike Ride took out well deserved line honours for the women’s race leading in Bex Hutchinson and Kristine Ford.
Great effort by all in what turned out to be quite tough conditions. Congratulations to all the age grade winners. Special mention to the Scots College boys who almost took a clean sweep in the Medio Fondo race placing three in the first four places and to 60 plus men’s grade that saw the first three finish within three seconds of one another. Meo GP has a healthy lead in the Teams competition with 163 points, followed by Onslow Tarbabies (132) and Scots college (98).
Looking forward to see you all at the next event, the Ngawi Classic, on 23 February 2019. The Medio Fondo will be 65 km and the Grand Fondo will be 122km all the way from Martinborough to Ngawi and back. Registration will be at the Village Café in Martinborough from 8.30 to 9.30am with a neutral rollout from the same location.