Thursday, April 15
The road from the Waiau River to Kaikōura is perfect for cycling. The near 90km from Rotherham, our starting point this morning on the Amuri Plain in North Canterbury, runs between the Inland and Seaward Kaikōura mountain ranges down to the coastal township of Kaikōura, our destination today, which is famous for its whale watching. The road undulates gently with only two steepish climbs out of river crossings for a total elevation gain of only 680m, and the last 20km is a gradual descent guaranteeing a fast finish. Along the way, the scenery is glorious with the first glimpse of the Pacific Ocean about 10km from the finish, and the traffic light.
The mood of the peloton was relaxed and happy as we gathered this morning at the start line outside Rotherham’s pub. Perhaps we were just glad to be back in the quiet countryside. Christchurch’s big hotels and crowded restaurants were a bit of a shock yesterday evening after a week enjoying the wonderful array of small places we’ve visited so far on the Tour. Even Queenstown seemed mellow, given the dearth of tourists with the border closed and school holidays beginning next week.
Teams Ākina’s preparations for today’s stage included Katie trying some novelty stretches, while some of her team mates were still sorting themselves out behind her, and Kieran hanging out in front of the pub. In due course, Team Ākina Too, our touring team, got an early start and rolled over the timing mat, around the corner and down the road to the river.
The weather was rather grey and cool early on but got brighter and warmer as the ride progressed. And the pace heated up too, particularly for Team Ākina, our racing team, who were once again jousting with Las Banditas, a vocal, feisty women’s team. After some 460km of racing over five days only 24 seconds separates them. Las Banditas’ elapsed time is 10 hours 5 minutes and 22 seconds; Team Ākina’s three farmers (two men and one women) and a chef are on 10 hours 5 minutes and 46 seconds. It will be fascinating to see how this wheel-to-wheel contest plays out in tomorrow’s short (61km) but twisty and hilly race (855m of climbing) from Blenheim to Picton, which is our last road stage of the Tour. The contest between them might yet go down to the three-lap (barely 2km) race-off between them in front of Parliament on Saturday morning in our grand finale criterium races.
Meanwhile, our touring team enjoyed their more moderate pace back down the field. They have happily cemented their last place in the final rankings. Their nearest competitors among the 18 teams, the Hynds Heart Throbs 2s, would have to blow up spectacularly tomorrow to erase their 39 minute lead over Team Ākina Too and snatch the coveted Lanterne Rouge prize from them, which we last won in the first Tour in 2012. We’ve had to work hard on this Tour to be last but have enjoyed every minute of it.
Our two teams weren’t taking their imminent victories for granted tonight when they went out for an excellent dinner at Cafe Raupo in Blenheim. To prepare for tomorrow’s intense racing they made the ultimate sacrifice – they foreswore dessert.
…and to give you more glimpses of our day, here are some more fabulous photos from Scotty and his team, the offical Tour photographers.