Saturday, April 17
Tradition reigns on the last stage of the Tour de France into Paris each year. Fierce competitors have a very friendly, chatty bunch ride into Paris. Only when they hit the Champs Elysée for the eight laps around the Arc de Triomphe do they turn on the adrenalin for a final, intense burst of wheel-to-wheel racing.
And we have our tradition too on the Tour of New Zealand, even tho this year’s is only the sixth. From the tour hotel, the very hospitable Brentwood out by the airport, teams and individuals cruise slowly – in their own time, rather than an organised bunch — around 8km of Wellington’s serpentine waterfront to the manicured grounds of Parliament.
Only there does competition resume in the criterium races on the 600m course. It runs from the steps of Parliament, past the Beehive, left down the paved, zig-zag drive, sharp left on to Lambton Quay, left again on to Molesworth Street and up the hill, sharp left back into Parliament and a wide left in front of spectators back to the start-finish line.
Our cruise into town today was particularly delightful – quiet streets at 7.30am and early morning sun, tho we got blasts of a cool, light sou’wester as we rounded various promontories.
Because the course was still damp from overnight rain, riders in the early races were encouraged to treat them like victory laps to mark the end of the Tour rather than hard-out races. So we eight Ākina riders had a race to ourselves. We decided to look good on the first two laps by riding more or less together. Then we would each give the last lap our best. We were sad to miss Kaye, our ninth team member. But she cheered us on from the sidelines nursing her broken wrist.
Katie led us for the first lap or so, Rod and others took over during the second lap and early stretch of the third lap before Geoff let loose his inner sprinter. He powered up the Molesworth Street hill to open up a long lead over the rest of the team, then swept round to the finish to the cheers of the crowd, which included his sister Sue and brother-in-law Nick, Rod’s wife Lynn and Paul McArdle, founder and CEO of Bikes in Schools, the charity we raise funds for.
The two hours of criterium races featured some very fast and skilful riding from the likes of Bernard Vercoe, the Tour winner, Leslie Doughty, the female winner, and the quartet of talented young Oxford Edge riders who won the Tour’s team prize. And some unlikely matchups, such as a three-person race between Mike, the Ricoh team leader, Andy, the Mayor of Wellington riding in jeans and dress shirt on a borrowed bike, and Trevor, Speaker of the House…with Mike the winner.
Gary and Simon, the Tour director and deputy, gave a lively commentary on the racing, while drumming up some sizable prize money, with the money going to the winners’ chosen charities.
With the racing done, we whiled away an hour or so catching up with friends, and having coffees and food nearby at the Saturday Market in the Cathedral carpark. Then we returned to Parliament for our prize giving in its Grand Hall. It was a very lively affair with race prizes, spot prizes (including some bikes generously donated by Avanti), and auctions — including of the lead car of the Tour, a new vehicle donated by Honda. Robyn of Las Banditas bought it for her Mum with the proceeds going to the charity her team was raising funds for…which was Bikes in Schools.
With funds from The Bandits (their male counterparts), Team Ākina and some other riders, we raised some $50,000 for Paul’s programme, tho the final total might be a bit higher – $50,000 is enough for 2,500 helmets…which some 7,500 children will use in BiS programmes around the country.
Thanks hugely for your support! If you haven’t contributed yet, or want to contribute more, our Givealittle page for the Tour is open until May 31.
When it came to race prizes, in our mixed team category, Team Ākina, our racers, were third, and Team Ākina Too, our tourers, were fifth (and last, making them the Lanterne Rouge, to borrow from the Tour de France.)
The absolute highlight of the prize-giving was a great act of generosity by one of the Tearfund riders. He bought the exquisite mere pounamu which the Child Cancer Foundation was auctioning and immediately gave it to Pete and Jilly Yarrell, as a thank you for their huge efforts founding and running the Tour over the past decade. Spontaneously, every person in the Grand Hall rose to give Pete and Jilly a standing ovation. The six Tours have been a source of great adventure, camaraderie and pleasure for all us riders, and a very effective way for us to raise well over $2m for our charities. On both counts, this year’s Tour was the best yet.
…and some more photos from the morning’s racing: