Tour Aotearoa 2016

by Scott Emmens

On Sunday 21 February, along with 300 other masochists, I started my pedal south from Cape Reinga on the inaugural Tour Aotearoa (TA). Next stop, or at least last stop, Bluff - with 3000 luxuriously hard kilometres in between. In fact, due to the immense popularity of the Tour, we 300 are split into three waves. Ground Effect 'Rev' Ollie Whalley who tends to sit at the pointy end of the field - came by Ground Effect for scones on Monday en route home - he was at Bluff in just under 10 days. I was back at the desk on Thursday the 10th, making Bluff in just under 15 days. Check out Facebook and Instagram for the news feed, plus I'll be penning a debrief soon.

A love-child of the irrepressible Kennett Brothers, the Tour takes its lead from the rapidly evolving NZ Cycle Trails network and the burgeoning success of the Kiwi and Great Southern Brevets. These 'competitive' (the brevet tongue-in-cheek mantra is "this is not a race") cycle touring events have lured a bunch of nutters like me into the pain and reward of travelling far and fast by bike.

We take a similar route to that described in the latest edition of the Classic Cycle Trail guide book - following gravel roads, cycle trails, quiet backroads and ferries. Day one includes 90 mile beach - which is actually only 55 miles long and is curiously officially designated as a public highway.

The ride is self-supported with sparse rules… you must complete the route under your own steam; carry all of your own gear; not accept any outside assistance and you need to stop and rest for at least 6 hours a day.

Just like on brevets and multi-sport adventure races, competitors, whoops, participants carry a spot tracker so the tifosi at home can track and suffer vicariously through the toil of others.

Brevets seem to incubate an obsession with gear. Although the forums can quickly become exhausting, right behind fitness, well-considered equipment selection has a huge impact on your ability to enjoy a very long ride at pace. After much too-ing and fro-ing I arrived at a gear list which I am happy with. Everything is carried on my bike (no backpack) using a handlebar harness and dry bag, an under-seat bag, plus a couple of quick access feedbags attached to my frame and bars - all made by Revelate Designs. The system is light and flexible.

  • Carver Ti 29er. Fully rigid with aerobars.
  • Maxxis Ikon tyres - a nice blend of on-road speed and off-road stability. Also plenty of volume to knock the sharp edges off my no-suspension ride.
On My Body (Ground Effect clothing as you’d expect)
In Reserve
  • antiCyclone rain jacket.
  • Helter Skelters rain shorts.
  • Allsorts arm warmers for sun protection.
  • Merino boxers.
  • Long sleeve merino top.
  • Skimpy ( = lightweight and low bulk) running shorts.
  • Shindigs merino compression socks.
  • Subway sandwich bags (to keep dry socks dry in wet cycling shoes).
  • Baked Beanie.
  • Buff.
  • Polypro gloves.
  • Windproof over-gloves.
  • Single skin tent.
  • Sleeping mat.
  • Sleeping bag/silk liner.
  • Pillow.
  • 1st Aid Kit.
  • Tools/pump/spares.
  • 3 x water bottles.
  • Son dynamo hub/light/USB charger.
  • 2 x rear lights.
  • Cache battery.
  • Garmin eTrex 30 GPS.
  • Wired cycle computer.
  • Cue Sheets.
  • Phone.
  • SPOT tracker.
  • Spare batteries/USB charger and cables.
  • Happy thoughts.
  • Tough bum.

My buildup for the TA has involved plenty of riding around Christchurch's Port Hills and the Banks Peninsula, plus a number of overnighters further afield. I have ventured as far north as Palmerston North and as far South as Invercargill… and much in-between. I've taken in four of the New Zealand Cycle Trials and plenty of awesome Kiwi backcountry. As an unapologetic promo for the NZ Cycle Trail, below is a rave about my pre-TA sorties on the network.

In early September I flew to Palmerston North where I hooked up with my brother. We followed the TA route through to Martinborough, with a side trip to visit our mother in Greytown. My brother then returned to his home while I rejoined the TA route in Featherston, heading over the famous Rimatuka Incline, then down the valley to Temarua and on to the Hutt Valley and Wellington. A pleasant trip on the ferry dropped me at Picton where I met Guy from work for food and seaside banter. The next morning it was back on the bike for an 'easy spin' to St Arnaud. I must have been a bad boy because a strong and persistent headwind confronted me for the entire Wairau Valley. All was forgiven as I enjoyed an enormous meal and a couple of beverages at the Alpine Lodge before collapsing in my tent.

I awoke to the sound of rain. Err, actually the tent was being pelted by infamous St Arnaud sandflies looking for breakfast. A speedy retreat and beautiful ride through the Rainbow Valley under moody skies ensued, followed by a grovel over Island Saddle. Finally I was blessed with a tailwind, assisting me to fly over the corrugations to Jacks Pass and into Hanmer. A quick refuel got me to an early finish in Culverdon. From there it was just a hop, skip and a jump home to my wife and dinner out.

Later in September, my wife Jo (who is also riding the TA) and I rode the Westcoast Wilderness Trail from Greymouth to Lake Mahinapua. It’s a fantastic easily graded fun ride, especially the section between Kumara and Hokitika. It will be even better now the final section through to Ross is completed.

Over the Christmas break, Jo and I, along with a couple of mates, rode from Temuka to Oamaru - taking in the new Alps to Ocean (A2O) alternative start section between Tekapo and Lake Pukaki. The route from Twizel to Omarama is both scenic and fun. There is still a lot of busy road between Omarama and Duntroon but an off-road alternative is taking shape nicely. We sampled the brand new section between Kurow and Duntroon which got us off the main road but was tough going on the still-new soft surface.

In late January, I attempted the Great Southern Brevet (GSB). "Attempted" as I didn’t finish the course. It was tough, really tough but I made it even tougher on myself by getting all excited and trying to keep up with the fast boys. I don’t know what I was thinking. I didn’t eat enough in the first few hours (by "enough" I mean I didn’t eat anything). When I finally stopped, my stomach was tied in knots. I lost my appetite, not be be found again for another four days. I pulled the pin in Cromwell. After bonking on the first climb of the day I knew I was toast. I returned to Cromwell and forced down a cooked breakfast. Reassuringly I was joined by another five riders who had also pulled the pin. We all had to return to Tekapo, so we rode another three days on the Otago Central Rail Trail and the GSB route from Ranfully back to Tekapo. I can confirm the section of the A2O between Duntroon and Kurow has been compacted a bit, but is still soft in places.

Wiser and greyer, Jo and I are really looking forward to the Tour Aotearoa. I rode hard, but don’t expect to find me at the pointy end of the field (that was Ollie). Have fun watching our progress