Monday, April 12
This part of the country lived up to its reputation today. Soon after we’d ridden over the Otago / Westland boundary at the top of the Haast Pass, the skies blackened and the rain poured, giving us a sodden second half of today’s 80 km stage. Still the native rain forest was magnificent, the mountains and Haast River glorious and the riding easy. From the summit we gradually shed 560m as we swept down a delightful road to the coast at Haast Junction.
There was one alarming moment. As Team Akina Too sped down a step section to cross the Gates of Haast bridge over the river, we spotted our team member Mike standing on the verge of the sharp left hand turn just past the bridge…in the company of Di of the St John’s Ambulance, who was holding his bike minus its rear wheel. Oh no! Mike’s over-cooked the corner! Hope he’s OK! Shame about the bike!
Turned out he had a puncture, and the Di was helping him fix it. We had no idea St John’s had diversified into the nice little earner of emergency roadside bike repairs. Would 180/90 be about right pressure for your tyres, sir? Actually, this is the sixth Tour that Di and her husband Tony, St John’s paramedics, have take time off work up in the Top of the South and volunteered their medical services to us. We’re very grateful to them…so much so, we try to make it as restful a holiday as we can for them.
Our day started dry with an informal ‘team tactics talk’ outside our Wanaka motel rooms (…any excuse for the first flat white of the day) before we jumped in our bus and headed up to Hawea. Our stage was meant to start there. But with extensive roadworks up the road, the start was shifted to Makarora where the rain forest begins at the bottom of the pass. That reduced our stage from 120km to 80km but we enjoyed the views on our drive to the new start more fully than we would have from our bike seats. Andy, our excellent driver, helper and live-wire, kept his eyes on the road, tho.
Today, slower teams were given a head start to give them a chance of cresting the summit of the pass, 25km up the road, before the fast riders. So, with the entire roll of some dozen Makarora school children watching, our touring team set off at 10.30am and our racing team 20 minutes later. This isn’t handicapping, tho. Each individual rider is timed from crossing the start line to crossing the finishing line.
Sure enough, we were zooming down the far side by the time the race leaders, the Oxford Edge team of young guns, shot past us with Cathal and his mates giving a big shout out to his aunt Leonie on our team. When our racing team overhauled us some time later, Leonie, emboldened by her nephew, jumped on the back of their bunch for a faster ride for much of the last half of the stage.
The descent through the rain forest was fabulous, although the heavy rain persisted to the finish line. Apart from the steep section where Mike had his puncture, the last 55km of the stage was gently downhill alongside the Haast river down to the West coast. We riders in Akina Too, enjoying the indefatigable David of the Unicorn team at the front of our little bunch for the last 25km or so, clocked 2h 52m. Meanwhile, Akina One came in at 2h 27m, making them the third mixed team home, which kept them in that slot in the race-to-date standings.
At our comfortable hotel at Haast Junction, we turned one of our rooms into an impromptu spot for a late picnic lunch as the rain kept pelting down.
This evening at the peloton dinner it was our turn to pitch our charity to the Tour riders. It was a great privilege to tell them how effectively the Bikes in Schools programme teaches kids the pleasure of riding. We hope this will be a thrill for life for them. However old we get, hopefully we always enjoy the simple things…whether its puddle jumping or rain riding.
And here are some photos from Scottie and his team, our offical Tour photographers: