A warm calm day greeted riders as they lined up for the iconic Mainfreight Rice Mountain Classic, the third event of the PNP Pak'nSave Summer Road Series. With over 1800m of climbing in the 90km Grand Fondo course, this was going to test the hardiest of legs. The 60km Medio Fondo isn’t that much easier with over 1200m of climbing. Both courses would finish atop the iconic Admirals hill, a 10km (440m) climb in pain management.
45 riders rolled out in the neutral zone along Gladstone road before the race proper began on Te Whiti Road. The race started much the same way the previous race had finished, with Jason Gestro on the front providing the pace and the rest following wheels. All thoughts were on the climbs to come. At the bottom of Limeworks, Tom Finlay moved to the front and set a solid pace that reduced the bunch to about 25 and as he eased off at the top Steve Chapman lifted the pace to shake loose a few more stragglers and be sure none of those dropped were motivated to return.
Patrick Drysdale and three other riders chased from the first hill, eventually getting on after the second climb. 5km after Limeworks there were about 20 riders at the front of the race as they climbed up on to the plateau. It was on this climb that Bex Hutchinson put the hurt on, driving the pace from the front and succeeded to detach a few more from the lead group. At about the 30km mark Gestro put in one of his trademark attacks and was able to create a break with Drysdale and Richard Henderson for company. This left a chase group of about 10 including the fit young Scots College crew who didn’t appreciate that the race was getting away from them having failed to commit to a chase.
About 1 km before the right hander to the start of the Te Korarau climb the lead three were splitting up with Henderson in front followed by Drysdale and a gap back to Gestro. It was here that Chapman and another attacked and made it across to Gestro while the chase intensified behind. Onto the Te Korarau climb Gestro paid the price for his earlier attack and before long Chapman was joined by Finlay and Scots College riders George Tompkin and Eliot Robertson. Once again Finlay set the pace on the climb and the gap to Drysdale came down to 200m by the summit. This was a super climb by Drysdale, a big guy shouldn’t be able to move so fast up one of the steepest climbs in the local road racing.
Henderson and Drysdale put the hammer down on the descent but there was no cooperation in the chasing four as Tom Finlay wasn’t going to chase his team mate Patrick, and Chapman wasn’t going to tow the other two riders up. The Scots riders were still waiting for the final climb so the front two gained time. At the bottom Henderson had 40 seconds on Drysdale with another 20 seconds back to Finlay, Tompkin, Robertson and Chapman, then a further 20 seconds back to Gestro who was not giving up the fight.
The situation was pretty similar when the race hit the final climb up Admirals. It was cool to see Gestro reconnect after a 5km chase but he had burnt too many matches in doing so and was soon disconnected again. Predictably, size was not an advantage for Drysdale on the final climb and he was passed by Finlay, Tompkin, Robertson and Chapman. Finlay was now setting the pace for the chase group with Henderson holding a 1 minute lead on the climb. The pace here may have been too much for Eliot Robertson and he started to slip back, or perhaps he was simply distracted by the local bees who seemed intent on stinging him repeatedly. With his team mate out of the picture Tompkin made his move with an attack on the ‘wall’ (4km onto the climb) that could not be matched by Finlay and which broke the resolve of Chapman. Tompkin then set off in pursuit of Henderson.
However the lead was too great with Henderson holding on for an excellent win. He committed to an attack at the perfect moment and staying at the front for the final 25km. Despite his efforts to catch Henderson, Tompkin finished in second place a minute behind. Finlay maintained his strong pace to claim third place a further minute back.
The women’s race had a drama filled ending with Hutchinson, who had demonstrated strong climbing skills and was well on the way to be a top ten finisher, puncturing with 2km to go and having to walk to the finish. It was during the walk that U19 rider Bridget Olphert was able to come through for the win. Only a minute separated the first two. Karin Van Der Walt took a well-deserved third.
It was great to see Trevor Rice racing in retro kit, on his 10 speed classic steel bike with 21 – 11 cassette on the back. Trevor is the son of Alan Rice after whom this race is named and is himself a former champion rider. Also the Speaker of the House, the Rt Hon Trevor Mallard, fronted for his first Rice Mountain Classic.
Over 50 riders, including defending champion Antony Nalder, lined up for Grand Fondo that would take riders over the well-known Limeworks, Te Kurarau, and Admirals Hills. The peloton rolled out at a steady pace towards the first climb of the day at Limeworks. The pressure went on as the climb began and the bunch began to splinter. A group of 25 riders crested Limeworks with dribs and drabs following.
At the 20km mark where the unlabelled drag up to the plateau began, Wouter Peeters and Calvin Standrill attacked and got away. Sooner after, Standrill, who was looking sharp, had an unfortunate altercation with a hedgehog that left him with a puncture (and the hedgehog worse for wear). This left Peeters all alone out the front where he would remain until the race hit the final climb up Admirals. After a valiant chase back on Standrill made contact but was unable to stay with the lead group.
Peeters had a good minute gap as the lead group headed onto the out and back leg on Tupurupuru Te Wharau Road. Matt Webb-Smith ensured the peleton kept the sole leader in check and Peeters was unable to extend his lead as he turned onto the penultimate climb, the super steep Te Koraru monster. The lead group of 22 soon followed onto the climb. It rapidly detonated as Josh Coutis drove the pace uphill. A much reduced bunch of Coutis, Antony Nalder, Dave Rowlands, Callum Kennedy, James Ashley, Camden Feint (U19) and Steve Bale went over the top together. They were soon joined by Luke McDermott, Dave Weaver, Boston Bright (U19), and Steve McKinstry on the descent. Peeters gap was cut in half.
A group of 12 hit the bottom of Admirals together. Peeters valiant effort out front came to an end as he was caught 1km into the climb. Once again Coutis ramped up the pace that saw a number of riders fall off the back of the group. At the ‘wall’ , a short steep pitch 4km into the climb, Nalder attacked hard. Only Rowlands and Ashley were able to follow. The remains of the group imploded. Once Nalder eased, Rowlands counter attacked. Ashley hesitated and Nalder was able to get back to Rowlands. Rowlands continued to drive the pace to make the split stick. Further up the climb Nalder dropped off and Rowlands was able to pull away and take a well-deserved victory 42 seconds up on his rivals. Second to forth was a close run thing with only four seconds separating Nalder in second, Ashley in third and Courtis in fourth.
Bethan Stubbs in a gusty effort, having ridden most of the race alone, took the RMC women’s trophy. She was followed by Ronda Gardner, Emily Dinsdale and Holly Barclay in second, third and fourth respectively.
Congratulations to all participants on an extremely tough course. Special mention to the U19 riders who rode beyond their years and all placed extremely well - Bright (7th) and Feint (19th) in the Grand Fondo , and Olphert (1st), George (2nd) and Henry Tompkin (11th), and Eliot Robertson (10th) in the Medio Fondo. In the teams competition the Onslow Tarbabies (386) have overtaken GP Meo (380) with Scots College in third (238).
Next event is the Village Café Millars Road circuit in Martinborough on the 23 March. Sign on at the Village Café between 8.30 and 9.30am with event start from 10am. See you there.