Stage 4: Haast to Makarora – 80km, 850m of climbing.
Stage 5: Makarora to Hawea – 47km, 600m of climbing.
Our two racing stages today from Haast to Hawea have to be the greatest tarmac route in the country. They have it all – mighty rivers and waterfalls, huge lakes, lush rainforests, magnificent mountains, lots of flat and gently rolling road plus very demanding sections on the Westland side of the Haast Pass that rear up as much as 16% (1-in-6).
Knowing the demands ahead, our Team Ākina tourers (Katie, Donna, Rod plus Nick from the racers and Amber, a new friend) opted for an early start 45 minutes before the main peloton, which included our Team Ākina racers (Geoff, Corrie and Russell). For all the joys above, we should add one not-so-desirable feature of the day: brisk head winds all the way.
The route winds gently up the Haast river valley for almost 50 km. Along the way, we tourers watched Russell flash past at the back of the lead bunch, then Geoff in the 2nd bunch close behind and Corrie further back.
Then the route takes a sharp left turn over the river to start the ascent. As you can see in the profile below, we then gained some 500m of elevation over the next 10km (starting at The Gates of Haast where the road crosses the river), most of that is in the very tough first 3 or 4 km.
Rod had a particular treat near the summit. Julian Dean had paused by the side of the road watching out for riders to encourage. In a moment Julian was alongside Rod, offering him the chance to draft behind him up the next steep stretch.
How awesome it was to have one of the Tour de France’s greatest lead out riders of all time ease Rod’s way to the top. The beauty and power of a pro rider was something to behold. (They never lose that effortless style, even in retirement). Rod was cranking earnestly away in his lowest gear. Julian was spinning effortlessly on his big chain ring, with another six or so cogs to spare.
After 1.5km or so, he doubled back to give some more riders, including his wife Carole, a boost…and Rod cranked on happier.
From the summit, we all swooped some 18 km down the Otago side of the pass to the tiny community of Makarora West to the finishing line of our first stage of the day. There, the café had laid on lunch for all us riders…a very welcome break.
The second stage took us down the valley from Makarora to the top end of Lake Wanaka. We followed the east shore to The Neck, the promontory separating lakes Wanaka and Hawea. Climbed over that, then followed the shore of Lake Hawea to the finish line in Hawea township.
The ride down the lake shores was undulating, with some sizeable but not steep climbs along the way. The headwind was still with us, and the afternoon had turned cool. But it was still a glorious ride.
Once again, Russell was the first of our team over the line, and Rod clocked up another last of the team over the line. Overall, our racers rank 10th in the team standing, which is a decent placing considering the younger power-in-depth on many of the other teams.
And this evening, we’re staying at the Oakridge Resort in Wanaka and indulging in one of our favourite Tour activities. Geoff-the-Chef organised a number of team members to cook a delicious and jolly dinner in one of our overnight apartments. And Russell offered us a delicious dessert – macarons from Lady Yum in Seattle, which is his wife’s business passion. Terrific taste treats to reward us for our hard, but very satisfying, work on the road today.
Buried lead: Rod wins the third stage of the Tour of NZ 2023!
Yes, that indeed was the news when yesterday’s stage results were posted last night on Facebook. He clocked 3 hours 12 minutes for the 118km, an average speed of almost 37 kph.
“I knew it was my day to pull something unexpected out of the bag,” Rod said.
“With all due respect to far more talented riders than me on the Tour, I just decided to do my own thing. I just chugged along like a finely tuned diesel.”
Asked what the key of his success was, he revealed his secret: “A big thumbs up to the very talented engineers at Mercedes-Benz. We at Team Ākina have been working secretly with them on a radical new power system for bikes…and yesterday was our big test day.
“Yesterday, we proved the technology worked at large scale. Our team van hummed down the course on MB’s new V6 diesel engine. But we’re still facing some challenges to downsize the engine for bikes.
“Rest assured we will; and we will guarantee that all the fuel we use is totally sustainable synthetic diesel, made from carbon sucked out of the atmosphere. We will be one of the big solutions, at least in road transport, to the climate crisis.
“But this delay in downsizing necessitated strapping my bike into the team trailer, pulled by van, powered by the revolutionary new diesel engine. Yes, 37 kph is not a flash speed – leg-powered Tour de France riders can hit 70 kph in their winning sprints. But yesterday, Andy, our driver, Lynn, our soigneur, and I stopped a lot to cheer on my fellow riders in the Tour of New Zealand.”
Rod’s explanation did nothing to quell the anger of other riders who’d slogged their guts out on the stage.
“Look, we did all the right things,” was Rod’s excuse. “Before the start, I signed in as DNS (Did Not Start in racing parlance). Our intentions were crystal clear. Though we must admit down in the MB skunk works our secret project’s name is DNS (Diesel Next Stage).
However, Rod’s moment of fame was very short-lived. The race committee quickly clarified that legs are the only legitimate power source on the Tour, and declared Theo Gilbertson, one of the most talented young riders in the country, the winner – even though he crossed the finish line more than 7 minutes after Rod’s bike and its transponder triggered his ‘winning’ time .