The Cycle for Life Cycle Challenge is Auckland’s longest running road cycling event. The event has been organized and run by the Buckland Beach Lions Club for the past 17 years and in the process has raised tens of thousands of dollars for children’s charities.
My first experience with the event was last year when I helped out with social media and ended up driving the lead car for the elite race. What an experience! I was lucky enough be doing the lead car when Steve Furminger and Brendan McGrath (both well known through AvantiPlus Waitakere) pulled off 1st and 2nd with a 2man breakaway with 60km to go! I had never been so excited in a bike race! I was inspired to race it this year.
In the week leading up to race day discussions about the weather were at the forefront of shop talk. Duane and I had decided to race together, which is rare as we are often working when the other is racing, and we had a big Department of Cycling (DoC) contingent heading down to ride with. It was going to be epic, as long as the rain held off! Sunday 29th March, I open the curtains at 6.45am to see darkness with Auckland glow hitting a ceiling of low lying cloud above, RAIN!
The conversation on the drive to the start line in picturesque Clevedon was dominated by “should we just turn around” (not an option for me) “it will clear” “what are we doing” rain talk! Stopping at a great little store for my regular 4shot flat white we were confronted with stares from the barista and a look that conveyed both pity and ‘are you nuts’ all at once followed by a quick “I hope it gets better for you”. I knew we were in for a tough one.
The rain eased whilst we were filling in race entries and getting changed but it was only to lure us into a false sense of security because as soon as riders huddled near the start line, the heavens opened once again which started a wave of groans followed by chattering teeth! A quick word of “thanks for turning up on a day even the Ducks were hiding” from race director Geoff Barnett and we all made our way to the start line. Thankfully, 5 minutes later and ahead of schedule the elite riders were sent off and shortly followed by the rest of us.
Adam (our Sheppards rep at the shop) and Scott (former marketing manager) sat on the front for the first couple of kilometres keeping the pace respectable and my mind started to ponder the fact that I might be in the lead group all the way to the end, that was until we hit the second tier of the first climb when the pace just got a little rich for my blood. I recon I may have been able to hold their wheel but I would have suffered for a very long time and remember, I had come to race with Duane who was a group back with the rest of the DoC crew! Easing up and beginning to feel human again it wasn’t long before Duanes group caught up and a good bunch of about 29 riders had formed. Another 10km, a few gentle words of encouragement (maybe a couple of shoves in the right direction) and we had the whole bunch lapping out like true professionals and we were humming along at a great pace.
That was until 30km in when we turned into the main road to Whangataphare when we heard the all to familiar (especially to DoC riders lately) crunch of a bike hitting the deck at the back of the bunch. A quick turn of the head revealed Andrew Brown (one of our crew) along with another rider had slid out on the turn and were picking themselves up. Another turn of the head, hoping he would be back on the bike and I would be able to slow the bunch for him, revealed Duane heading back to help whilst Andrew was struggling to get the bike back up and going. I decided to turn and see if I could help. A few minutes later, checking scratches, adjusting brakes, straightening shifters and the 3 of us were back up and rolling until, 500m down the road where we found Brendan Smith (DoC rider) wrestling with his tyre post puncture!
We stopped to help out, after all, 4 chasing the bunch down was going to be far better than 3. 4 minutes later we were back up and rolling, for another 400m anyway when we heard a bunch of expletives and the familiar psst, psst, psst of another puncture. Same tyre, same bike! Closer examination of the thoroughly narrated tyre found a fraction of glass embedded in the casing that only poked the tiniest of holes through but was enough to cause another 8-10 minutes on the side of the road. This time did however give another group of cyclists time to catch up and this crowd hosted another DoC member, Mike O’Kane, a beast on the bike who is coming back from a long hiatus away from riding. Hoorah, another member of our merry band of men chasing down what was now, close to, the rest of the field but now in beautiful Sunshine!
Tyres fixed, bunch of five together, we were off and the pace was on! On like Kong!!
We lapped out, just the 5 of us, for a good 15 to 20km passing riders dropped from their bunches with the intermittent hanger on until we picked up a couple who managed to contribute to the speed we were maintaining. What a buzz that was. I tried to take some slightly longer turns as I was feeling relatively fresh and wanted to utilise the training I had put in for ironman but there was no real need to do so, everyone contributed evenly throughout until we caught up with a bigger group heading down the coastline. Again a few words of encouragement as we rolled, more to stop excited riders flying off the front of the bunch when they took a turn than anything else and we had a great rhythm going. Unfortunately it was along here that we lost one of our merry men when a spoke broke on Duanes rear wheel and with all the power he was putting through it the wheel got more buckled than was manageable and his race was done. We did see him one more time before the finish line, hanging out the window of a Holden commodore “go faster boys” with his bike on the carrier attached!
Just before we headed inland Mike mentioned that he would probably drop off on the climb heading inland and I took this as ‘cool, he will drop off and Cruze on with the bunch around him’ so when the hill came Brendan, Andrew and I found ourselves off the front and holding the gap with 40km to go! We stayed out the front all the way up Snake Hill, a great climb with about 30 to go and it was only on the downhill the other side that a familiar bike came rolling up behind us. Mike Was back! “Thanks for waiting on that last hill boys!!! Grr”
Yeah, oooooops, my bad! Mike wasn’t telling me he was going to hang back, it was more like ‘just letting you know I will fall back and a little help would be appreciated team mate’. What a bad mate I am!
We worked hard together for the next 20km, well to be fair, Mike put in MASSIVE turns to keep our speed up, and with about 7k to go I could stay with them no longer! BOOM my foo foo valve had gone, the elastic band had broken, I went OTA (out the ass) and survival mode kicked in! I was probably running way too hot and the tell-tail sign was wheezing breath on the last 3km home! I finished a couple of minutes behind them still chasing as hard as the legs would go and when I did cross the line it was straight to hands and knees to try stop myself from throwing up or passing out. Definitely the heat thing and thankfully Adam was on hand with ice cold water to through down the back of my neck. A good 10 minutes later and I was good to go again.
What a day! It may have started out a day for the ducks but it ended up a day for the Merry Men of DoC and Avantiplus Waitakere to show their grit, determination and commeradare to finish only a few minutes behind the bunch they had lost 15 minutes to 39km in! We had gone through a lot of emotions through the day but we had conquered and we will be back to fight again next year!!
Oceania Champion Taylor Gunman took 1st ahead of another Merry man Steve “Watts” Furminger (Avantiplus Waitakere colleague) and Cameron Wyniatt in 3rd!
The open Race was won by Scott with Adam leading him out so there was no chance I would have stuck with them until the end. LOL!
The Cycle for Life is a charity event that has been run by the Lions Club for 17 years and all funds raised go to New Zealand Children in our community! If there is one event to keep running in Auckland its this one because they really do give all proceeds to the Charities they support. Please check out their web site and like them on Facebook! Keep an eye out for entries opening up late this year and enter. Early Bird is only $45 for 107km of beautiful scenary around the picturesque Hunua Ranges!