Team Ākina Bike Tour – Day 7: Above and Beyond

Business journalist and ex-director, Rod Oram, is heading up Team Ākina as part of the 2017 Tour of New Zealand Bike Race. For 8 days, riders cycle the length of either the North or South Island, covering around 100km per stage and meeting in Wellington for the finish. Check back every day to read about the day’s adventure, as Rod guest blogs on behalf of Team Ākina.

Day 7, Friday, April 7th , 2017

Thirty kilometres into today’s ride we suddenly heard the sound we all dread – the clatter of bike and rider going down, to staccato shouts from riders trying to avoid turning a solo accident into a pile-up.

Myles was leading the pace-line, followed by Rod. We glanced quickly back…and saw Nick was the victim. We stopped sharply and ran back to help him.

Here’s what had happened: We were climbing a moderate hill at about 20 kph; Nick pulled to the right to turn the lead over to Myles; moments later, he stood up from his saddle to power up the hill…and his left pedal broke clean out of its crank; Nick hit the road hard to his left…in front of Mike Pollok. Unable to avoid him, Mike rode over Nick, then fell. Thankfully all nearby riders managed to skitter around them.

Nick was shaken but quickly recovered, ‘tho his scrapes and bruises will take some weeks to heal. Once the others could see he was OK, they took off again, including Mike, who was surprised rather than hurt.

Nick needs to replace the crank set…so he’ll be out of our criterium races tomorrow in Wellington.

Once Rod organised one of the Tour vehicles to take Nick and his bike 1km into Havelock, and for Andy to come out from Picton with our minibus and trailer to pick him up, he and Myles resumed the race.

They had a very brisk 35km ride along the Queen Charlotte Scenic Drive with spectacular water views to their left. The last 5km was a quick descent, swinging left and right through successive sharp corners, all the way down to the outskirts of Picton.

With 500m to go, Rod spotted Mike ahead powering to the line. Having wiped the 10-minute headstart Mike had post-crash, Rod turned on an uncharacteristic sprint to beat him by half a wheel. Revenge for over-riding a teammate? No, just friendly rivalry!

We had planned a less exciting stage. We seven Ākiners were going to ride together, enjoying the camaraderie of the team and the beauty of the route. To set the tone, Rod ensured he was the last rider over the start line on the last day of the Tour.

 

The Lanterne Rouge has a certain cache. This is the last rider, on accumulated time, at the back of each Tour de France peloton. Some rides consider this ignominious. Others accept their fate and revel in the notoriety, as Aussie Robbie McEwen did playing to the crowds in 1997 before finishing 117th , thus “losing” the title to Philippe Gaumont of France.

Meters after the start, the Pink Jandal, a new Tour of NZ tradition, had its last outing for 2017. To cut a convoluted story short, on Day 1 of the Tour a pink jandal was found in a paddock near a rider receiving medical treatment after a minor mishap. A race official turned it into a prize awarded each night to a rider who’d had a notable day, good or bad.

Then Clara, the delightful young Frenchwoman on the Tour staff, decided the Pink Jandal had greater powers. On Day 3, near the top of the Lindis Pass, she ran alongside Julian Dean, whacking his backside several times to spur him over the summit. She beat him over the top. “Bloody French. Always have to be first,” Julian muttered.

Today, Clara was waiting just past the start to give the same encouragement to as many riders as she could. As you can see in this photo, Rod was really leaning in for his.

A couple of kilometers later, Nick, Myles and Rod took charge at the front of a bunch of 30 or so to set a steady 35 kph on the flat road to Havelock. Graeme, Katie, Amanda and Roger were further back. When Amanda punctured at 10km, our trio of pacemakers, oblivious to the their plight, powered on so our quartet lost the bunch. With puncture fixed, a Tour vehicle let them draft behind it at 40 kph to claw back time.

So, one way or another we all got to the finish line, then rolled down to the Picton waterfront to bask in the sun, revel in the 700km we’d ridden in seven days, and swap stories of our time on the road.

Then things got complicated. The whole Tour was supposed to be on the 2pm Bluebridge ferry to Wellington. But recent horrible weather was going to delay it ‘til 7pm. Our entourage of some 250 people plus vehicles wouldn’t get to our Wellington hotel until 11pm or so.

Team Ākina thought it was smart to shoot over to the Interislander to get on its on-time 2.15pm sailing. Yes, we have tickets. No, you can’t wheel on your bikes. We’ve got so many from the Tour, the ticket lady said.

We’ll solve that, we said. We went begging down the line of camper vans queuing for the sailing. Cheerfully, Werner from Bavaria took two bikes and a bike box in his, a lovely family from the UK took three, and a Kiwi couple took one on their bike rack. We thanked them with Bikes in Schools T-shirts and caps.

Later we learnt our initiative was unnecessary. Bluebridge, one of the Tour sponsors, transferred the whole Tour to its rival the Interislander, an extraordinarily generous gesture. Later still, some of us would have gladly swapped the 5m swells in the Cook Strait for another cold, wet day on a bike.

We had one last problem to solve. How to get our rented minibus and bike trailer 560km back to their Christchurch base? A miscommunication meant we didn’t get a driver we’d expected from among the Christchurch-based Tour staff. By noon we’d figured two choices:

Andy, our driver, could miss going to Wellington for the grand finale and prize- giving, drive the bus back and fly home to Auckland.

Or Rod had to be in Christchurch for work Sunday afternoon. From Wellington, he could come back to Picton Saturday evening and deliver the vehicle by noon on Sunday, a day later than booked.

Then Nick said, well, my bike’s broken so I can’t race tomorrow. Why don’t I set off now? We asked if he was up for it, given his morning adventure. He was sure he was. The bonus was, he added, he might get the last plane home to Auckland.
So, off he went.

At 8.30pm, as four of us from Team Ākina finally sat down for dinner in an Indian restaurant in Wellington, Nick texted to say he was in the Koru lounge in Christchurch, with a red in hand. The drive had taken him seven and a half hours. A team star, on the bike and off!

Rod Oram Rod Oram
Rod Oram is a New Zealand journalist writing on corporate, economic and political issues. He is a columnist for The Sunday Star-Times, a regular broadcaster on radio and television and a frequent public speaker.

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