Riding around one of the most picturesque fresh water lakes in the world is something worth doing, put it on your bucket list...
From its humble beginnings in 1977 with just 26 participants, the BDO Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge has grown into NZ’s premier and largest cycling event, with around 7,000 riders from across New Zealand, and over 20 countries across the globe, taking part each year!
There are multiple distance options to choose from - off road and on road. Off road distances range from 16km to 82km and include an elite division. The on road options range from 40km (quarter lake) to 640km but the most popular option by far is the 160km equating to once around the lake which we've had the luxury of riding on more than one occasion and is the focus of this blog...
Travelling to this event is typically done by car or van. Taupo does have a small airport but if you're travelling from abroad you're likely to land in either Auckland or Wellington and the best option would be to rent a car or van and make your way towards Taupo. Most riders will converge on the small town the Friday before the event to complete the registration formalities. There are also a number of expos to visit showcasing the latest cycling tech. Accomodation can be difficult to obtain so you'd want to secure this a long way out from the event itself. Many who frequent the event year on year will typically secure their accomodation a year in advance. There are plenty of hotels in the township itself which is a good place to be, alternately you may get an airbnb a short distance from the town centre around the north side of the lake. This is common but does mean you need to either ride or drive to the start on the day of the event. There is plenty of free parking within and around the town centre so driving to the start is not a problem, but you'd want to leave early as the roads close and there are thousands of riders warming up or making their way to the start line.
Due to the large volumes of riders their are starting 'waves' based on expected finish times:
|Group 1||Under 4:30 hours|
|Group 2||4:30 - 4:50|
|4:50 - 5:10|
|5:10 - 5:30|
|5:30 - 5:50|
If you're thinking you might just choose to start in Group 1, hang on as long as you can, and get picked up by the next group, that would be a good idea but it's not that simple. In an attempt to ensure riders of similar capabilities are grouped together the event organisers will request evidence of your ability to finish sub 4:30 before allowing you to start in group 1. This typically means you will have ridden the event previously and finished in a time under 4:30 or close to. It's a bit of a chicken and egg scenario as you'll need to be surrounded with strong riders to go sub 4:30 and most of those riders are in groups 1 or 2. If you're a first timer and you want to start in group 1 or 2 and are travelling from abroad not all is lost, you can send through a file or evidence to race organisers demonstrating your riding ability at a similar distance on a similar course profile. If you're riding this event for the first time there's always the option to just enjoy the ride, meet some good people and absorb the scenery, you don't need to get caught up in beating the clock.
The start is normally very cold as it's early morning but you don't want to over dress as the day will warm up. It's a tricky balance and we've had friends who use innovative means to beat the morning cold such as cutting holes in a plastic bin liner and wearing that over top of their cycling jersey to block the wind, once they've warmed up they simply rip it off (literally) and chuck it in their pocket or closest rubbish bin.
The ride itself consists of rolling terrain and the first 40km are normally ridden at a decent pace which may come as a shock to your system if you haven't warmed up. We'd recommend trying to stick with the front of your group through this first section as in our experience it always slows down and settles into a good rhythm. Once things settle down it's important to get some nutrition into you particularly if you've been on the rivet for the past hour which has interrupted your nutrition plan.
The continued rollers will sap your energy but if you ride smart you should be fine to get through these with your new riding companions until you reach the 90km mark where you'll face Kuratau, a 2km hill with an average gradient of 5%. It's not a long climb but it can sometimes be hit at pace which makes it hard. You want to dig deep at this point so as not to get dropped as you've got a good 50km of flat riding ahead where you can get into a good pace and make up some time before hitting the next hill.
You'll find a lot of riders get a bit shy about riding in the front when you get to the 120km mark typically because they know what's ahead which is Hatepe Hill, a 2.34km climb at an average 6% gradient. A bit like Kuratau Hill, Hatepe is hit at pace and large groups inevitably split with the tired riders dropping off the back. This is another one of those times where you want to dig deep and find whatever strength you have left to crest the hill with the strong riders who will help you with the final flat stretch to the finish line
The final 20kms can be exposed to the wind but if you're with a large group of riders who are willing to work together this will make for a reasonably quick final section. When you reach the lake front road you'll be boosted with all the support lining the road giving you some much needed motivation to push through to the end. There can sometimes be young kids riding as part of the event along this section so be mindful and give them space, after all they are the next generation of cyclists and we want them to know how friendly and supportive the cycling community is.
The atmosphere at the finish is fantastic, the Domain is essentially taken over by the event with corp tents, cycling booths with the latest products, food, and even beer! The township itself is buzzing with activity, the cafes have good coffee and food and the festivities continue through the afternoon into the early hours of the evening.
Crossing any finish line provides a sense of achievement and this event is no exception, it can be a tough day in the saddle so take the time to soak up the atmosphere and have a relaxing evening by the lake.
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