Five Passes Tour, South Island New Zealand

8th in A Grade GC

12:52:44 ~ 14 mins behind winner

The Five Passes Tour is a 5 day cycle race starting and ending in Christchurch taking in 5 local passes in a big loop over the Southern Alps and back. Everyone races as part of a 4 person team. There are various grades and competitions in each for General Classification (GC – best overall time), King of The Mountains (KOM) and Sprint together with a prize for fastest team – this is worked out by the total of the best 3 times for each stage. Jo and I were lucky enough to get onto the Scotty Browns (a local bike shop) team. It was made even better that we were in the team with David and Richard Lawson who we’d met riding here last year. Like us David had raced in Kona. His son Richard (age 17) was clearly hoping to do quite well and is a regular road racer.

DAY 1 – Evans Pass Individual Time Trial

The tour starts with The Prologue – an individual time trial up Evans Pass in Christchurch. This is  a 2.5km climb probably to a couple of hundred metres. I knew this was going to be painful as it’s really not the sort of efforts I do these days. It did not disappoint. 8:15 of balls out, lung bursting effort. Quite a buzz and made me remember how good 10 mile TTs were ! I was pretty pleased with this as though it put me in the bottom half of A grade it was not way off and certainly climbing isn’t my strength especially on my TT bike. The fastest time was a blistering 7:11. It was clear from some of the B grade times that some of those guys should be in A grade.

I started behind Dave and in front of Richard (both my team mates). Knowing how quick Richard would be as I hoping to hold him off for the 30s he started behind me. I did by 2 seconds and that was only because the last few 100m the gradient eases off and becomes just the sort of hill I’m good at powering up.

Great way to start the event.

DAY 2 – Christchurch to Hamner Springs, 160km over Weka Pass

Each day includes various stages. Some are Neutral (ie the time for these does not contribute to the race), some are Open (ie we’re racing) and others are Team Time Trials. We started day two with a 47km neutral stage to get us out of Christchurch and onto the lovely quiet roads we were to enjoy for the rest of the tour.

We cruised North and the weather worsened to a light drizzle that was to accompany us the whole day. After a brief stop for drinks and snacks the first Open Stage got underway. 20km including a sprint after 15km. Immediately there were attacks, lots of surges in speed and then slowing. Just the sort of thing a triathlete isn’t the best at but it was great fun. I wondered to Richard as we went along why people do this early on when the terrain wouldn’t let them get away. Next minute I’m doing it myself and it’s just because it’s fun to try. Eventually Paulie got away probably because the rest of us just got sick of chasing at that time as did Dave. A single person from two teams meant we didn’t chase. Paulie took the sprint with Dave second. We all came back together to finish as a bunch for lunch.

There was another neutral stage to get us along the small section of state highway 1 before a 40km open stage over Weka Pass. There were again lots of attempts to get away before Andy managed to get off the front to take the KOM points and we all came back together. The attacks continued and eventually Mike Crawford (7:11 on the TT up Evans) got away and everything rather broke up. I got on the TT bars and hammered collecting everyone onto my wheel and pushed like mad all the way home. There was tonnes of thanks from everyone for my effort which limited the losses to Mike though he still gained nearly 2 minutes on us. I got a bought a beer for my troubles at dinner.

Finally it was the individual TT – a 7km blast. Jo, the third member of our team, was wanting to try and hang on for as long as possible. Our tactic was simple – I was going to sit on the front and hit it as hard as I could whilst the others hung on. If I tired I would peel off and Richard would take over then David. Jo started at the back and I think missed clipping her pedal. I looked back saw she was already off and had to make a split second decision which was to get going. From her perspective it looked a little different. I absolutely hammered. We had Team Rolf Prima (all guys I knew and another local team so we were keen to beat them) starting 30s ahead of us. By ~4k Scotty (owner of Scotty Browns) was telling us we were only 10s down on them. We could see them ahead and it was so motivating. I plummelled myself more and after about 5k I knew I had to hand over. I peeled off and Richard came through super strong, upping the pace. For a moment I thought I was going to get dropped which would have been highly embarrassing. I dug deep, had to work harder than when on the front just to get back on. I then sat in and regained my breath. Richard pulled strong for a little over a KM. Then his dad gave it his all before we streamed through the finish just 11s behind Rolf Prima giving us the team TT win. I was very pleased.

We arrived in Hamner Springs in good time. loads of time to relax and get to know the other racers over a BBQ and beers. Really good fun. I even managed to run up Conical Hill before a fantastic dinner and hilarious prize giving courtesy of Daniel McDonald.

DAY 3 – Hamner Springs to Greymouth, 214km over Lewis Pass

The first 19km were neutral before a 74km open stage including heading over Lewis Pass. The first high pass of the race though I’d been told it was a kind of rolling climb and it was very long. There was some serious fun and games early on as people tried to get away. I made a concerted effort on a couple of occasions reasoning that my best bet was to get out on my own and Time Trial. I was having great fun trying and realised how enjoyable bike racing was but I am way off having the power to break away from the group. In fact, it seems really that for someone to get away more or less requires the group to let them go and I had the feeling there was no way they were going to let me go.

We hit the start of the climb and again there were various attacks. I dug in and covered each one. Slowly a few people dropped off. It was killing me these massive surges which then just eased off so on the next one I decided not to follow with a burst but instead to try and steadily ride back. Rookie error – turned out it was the decisive one, we were only 3km from the top and they never eased. I was off the back over the summit with 20k to go to the end of the stage.  This was going to be fun – a massive decent then hammering along the flat to try and catch back on.

The decent was fast, terminal velocity stuff so there was no catching to be had. This left me about 12k along the flat slightly downhill section to try and bridge up. I was pretty sure Andy and Paulie would be doing there utmost to work together and get others helping to stop me catching ( they did) which would make them very difficult to catch. Down on the aero bars I was hammering like my life depended on it. I came up to a guy in our grade that had not made the group, I eased up slightly, then full throttle past at about 60 km/h hopefully ensuring he didn’t jump on. It was great fun but each group I saw ahead was from an earlier grade and by the end I was down over 2 minutes.

We had lunch then a neutral stage with a single KOM which most of us didn’t contest. The final open stage was 45km slightly downhill with some decent “pinches” and a couple of sprints. Right from the off Paulie and Dave got off the front. As Dave is my team I decided not to chase at all. Soon Paulie was out of sight and we realised that he was probably in yellow on the road which put Dave in green. We got the word round and no pushed the pace. At some point Mike Crawford (in yellow) would have to give chase and being by far the strongest rider in the group it would cause some fun.

There started to be a few surges and it was getting hard when up a particularly steep pinch Mike hit the hammer and got a gap, people surged and in that moment I just decided enough was enough and sat up (funny how that happens). Mike sat up, looked round to us and said “only kidding” – it certainly made me laugh. Mike started to push us along to close the gap but after the second sprint Paulie sat up and it all came together. Then the fun really started, loads of attacks each needing chasing down. One I just didn’t have the turn of speed to cover so decided I needed to slowly TT back. 3 others were on my wheel and it took an age to get back on then when we were about 100m off up a rise one of the guys just jumped off the front to bridge the last bit. We got on minutes later but he’d really hacked me off that he didn’t help. The next time a small gap appeared and this guy was behind me I intentionally gave a little longer for the gap to really build. I then jumped away from him and spent 15 minutes bridging back up but I’d at least popped him off the back for the rest of the day (nasty I know ;o)). It was a tough hours riding but I hung on (well kept bridging back when dropped) till the end.

DAY 4 – Greymouth To Arthurs Pass, 100km over Arthurs Pass

The night before I’d spoken with Daniel and established that the top three teams were all B-Grade teams. We realised this was down to the pee stops we’d done as a group on timed stages but that didn’t matter we didn’t want that to be the case at the end so some work had to be done. The first stage today was a 51km very gently rising stage with two sprints. Paulie had green sewn up so it was a chance to work together for time. Initially I thought it wasn’t going to be a group effort so I just got on the front and picked up the pace. Soon Paulie, Andy and Daniel all came and helped with Dave doing some good turns once in a while. We were really shifting and I enjoyed some long pulls on the front. Whilst on the front I was able to look around at the truly astonishing scenery. Jo and I are certainly very lucky that for our first visit to the West Coast we got clear blue skies the whole time. For each sprint we let Paulie go through first and just rode through. Despite being stopped for several minutes by a farmer with a herd of cows we completed the stage in 1:20 some 10 minutes faster than the B Grade guys. For the team event this translated to 30 minutes and ultimately put A grade teams in the top two spots.

The final stage of the day was the climb of Arthurs Pass. A 9km climb to over 900m. Now this is a climb. I’d been told that the road surface changes when it gets steep. i’d though this would be in the final KMs so was a little worried when the surface changed after a couple of KM. This pass is long like an alpine pass yet steep like a UK climb. Thats a bad combination resulting in about 6km of (I would guess) around 20%. My TT bike isn’t the lightest and my gearing isn’t the lowest so for most of that it was all I could do to turn the gear. There wasn’t really a thought of racing just of keeping upright. Jo was amazing – same bike, same gearing as me and she managed to get up. Awesome. I took 30:03. Mike won in an astonishing 24:40 !

Arthurs Pass Village is lovely and the weather continued to be stunning.  We all sat round drinking beer and enjoying the BBQ. It’s such a small place i reckon we must have been occupying more or less all the accommodation. I enjoyed a short run to see the Devils Punchbowl Waterfall before dinner. Yet again dinner was great run chatting with fellow racers. Then Daniel did yet another hilarious awards ceremony. Most people were having a few beers now as we neared the end and had cause for celebration having climbed Arthurs Pass. There were special awards this evening and I got the “Tough As Nuts” award for never giving up the day before and doing some long strong pulls for the group over the course of the three days. I was really chuffed.

Daniel also told the story of how one year he’d been the only guy in A grade so he road the final team TT on his own and (of course) won. He went home and made himself a trophy. He said his kids love this trophy but he’s putting it up now for the fastest team in the TTT tomorrow. He also told us how he’d put together a team that he felt could win it. It certainly motivated everyone. Since our team had the fastest first TTT we felt we had a shot.

DAY 5 – Arthurs Pass to Christchurch, 129km over Porters Pass

First stage was 44km over the Craigieburn cutting. The first bit was not only super fast but freezing cold. We really belted along as a group with it only splitting up on the climb. As soon as the attacks started on the climb I just sat up wanting to save myself for the TT. I’d stuck to my guns and, for once, not sat on the front all stage. The stop for snacks and photos was in the most amazing place. All around were snow capped mountains. Considering we were within 15km of Porters Pass (where I’d been to before) I couldn’t believe how different the scenery felt here. In future I will ride over Porters Pass at least to this point.

The final open stage was those 15km to the top of Porters Pass. Apparently it was not a tough climb. It proved the case and was my sort of terrain. I stuck with the group and was even pushing the pace along with 500km to go then the true climbers took off. Before I knew it the top B Grade guys came by catching us for 3 minutes. Completely confirming that they should have been in our grade. Jo told me later they’d joked about catching A grade at the start of that stage. I felt that was a little off – the A grade competition would have been better with them in it and from what I can gather the B grade would have had a proper competition rather than them dominating GC and KOM.

From Porters Pass I knew the road and knew it was a lot more with your foot down. No one seemed to want to share the work other than the usuals so I just got on the front and didn’t worry about it when I was one my own. I just kept it comfortable and enjoyed the scenery.

A long lunch and then another fast cruise down the Old West Coast Road to the start of the Team TT. Pete rejigged the order so that we started last a minute behind Rolf Prima. We would get that trophy if we caught them or even got them in sight. The Rolf Guys all pulled out aero helmets … they meant business.

Our plan was to make sure Jo got on the group and she would hang as long as she could. We wanted to win so there’d be no holding back. The time is on your third rider so you can drop one. Jo did a great pull out the start and we rotated through with Jo on my wheel. I got on the front gently opened the throttle and picked up the pace. I heard ease, looked under my saddle, no wheel so I eased up a little … before I know there’s a wheel there and off we go. I do a decent pull and peel off to find no Jo. “shit”. Richard is super strong and does some long fast turns on the front. Scott is there giving us splits

“45 seconds down” – I took to mean we’d gained 15



“level but they’re breaking up” – great sign


“great riding guys”

God knows how many were true but the last clearly meant we no longer had a chance. We absolutely gave is our all completing the 21km in 31:30 which was good enough for a clear 2nd place but was 1:39 behind the Rolf Guys. They were clearly very chuffed. It was well deserved because we’d really not left anything out there.

That night was the awards dinner.  Jo won the yellow jersey which was superb. If someone wins two jerseys they take the most prestigious one and the other goes to second place. It shows the spirit of the event that in the womans D grade one girl won all the jerseys. The two girls that came up to take a jersey from second place both insisted the other lady had won them and handed them on. In fact, when “Attitude Matters” came up to take the win for overall team they acknowledged how important Rolf Prima and my efforts the previous day were in their victory and handed over half the beer they’d won !! Yes we did help but boy those guys climbed owesomely. One guy on their team was 63 (I believe) and I didn’t beat him to the top of one climb and I think only once was he dropped. Amazing.

This ranks as one of the best events I’ve done and is well worth the trip to do. I’m already trying to work out whether i could afford to come here straight from Hawaii next year just to do this again.

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