New Zealand is one of the most picturesque, clean & green countries in the world. The BDO Tour of Northland makes its way through the top of the North Island and some of the most beautiful landscape the country has to offer.
The Tour starts in Whangarei, a 2 hour drive from New Zealand's largest city, Auckland. This makes it accessible to riders; international riders can make use of Aucklands’ International Airport, and local riders can either drive or take a domestic flight to Auckland or direct to Whangarei.
The Tour spans four days and four stages, with distances ranging from 83km to 104km. This winds its way from Whangarei up to Russell in the Bay of Islands, then West to Hokianga before heading South to Dargaville and back on to Whangarei.
If you want to see some of New Zealand’s best landscape or coastline and you have a passion for riding bikes this Tour is made for you. We had the opportunity to speak with Doug Haines from BDO who rode the 2019 edition of the Tour and who shared some first-hand information with us to help our readers get a taste for what is a truly unique event...
Above: View from Whangarei Heads, Start of the BDO Tour of Northland
SPOKEN: Given you are part of the organisation behind the sponsorship for BDO Tour of Northland, can you tell us what makes this event worth sponsoring e.g. is there something unique or special about Tour of Northland?
DH: There is something distinctly New Zealand and magical about this four-day event. For example, in 2019, stage one finished in the very quaint early settlement town of Russell, and you then ferry across the sea to the start in Paihia for day two, which takes you to the Hokianga harbour and all its majestic sand dunes, then the next day you climb through the Kauri forests, before wrapping up the tour on day four back where you started in Whangarei.
Part of BDO’s strategy has been to support our local communities and back many of New Zealand’s iconic cycling events. The BDO Tour of Northland is a really good example of this, as within the Northland region we have offices in Whangarei and Keri Keri. Our sponsorship criteria also require that the health and safety of riders is paramount, and Stephen and Nathan Cox of Dynamo operate and manage events with the riders’ wellbeing at the forefront of their minds. The BDO Tour of Northland also caters for riders of all abilities, ages and genders, which fits with our family and inclusive orientated culture.
Above; View from the foreshore at Russell, nestled within the Bay of Islands.
SPOKEN: From a logistical perspective, what’s the best way to get to the tour given the closest major international airport (Auckland) is almost 200km away, e.g. would you recommend riders fly into Auckland then drive or do a domestic transfer to another airport closer to the start?
DH: Historically the BDO Tour of Northland has started and finished in Whangarei, which has an airport that is serviced by Air New Zealand. I live in Wellington which is at the bottom of the North Island, and I fly to Whangarei. This generally means a quick stop over in Auckland to catch a second flight, but it is very seamless. A significant number of participants live in Auckland and therefore drive up to Whangarei.
SPOKEN: What kind on-road support is required for riders, do they need to organise their own on-road support vehicles, food/drink and mechanics?
DH: Logistically a multi-day event is always better with your own support. However, this cannot always be achieved and so Dynamo can assist riders by transporting luggage each day, providing a wholesome buffet meal each night, and organise massages at finish area each day along with a bike mechanic. They also provide recommendations for accommodation. The stages tend to finish at a town where cafes, restaurants and supermarkets are readily accessible by foot or by bike.
Above; BDO Tour of Northland Lead Car
SPOKEN: In terms of the field, how would you describe the types of riders; pro riders, serious amateur racers, weekend warriors…?
DH: I think you have summed it up – it caters for all abilities. There are three groups, with group 1 essentially A grade/Elite riders. Group 2 is still very competitive and generally includes very solid B grade riders. Group 3 is the largest, and is split between 3A, 3B and 3C. I suggest that 3A includes B grade riders, 3B would include C grade, and 3B all others. All ages and genders race together, but category placings are distinguished and the winners of each gender/age category are announced each night at prize giving, with yellow jerseys handed to the overall leaders.
SPOKEN: In terms of diversity, were there many women at the tour riding or racing?
DH: Yes, approximately 15% of the riders were female, spanning all ages, including the 65-69 age group category.
Above: Riders preparing for the start of another day in the saddle
SPOKEN: What was your personal motivation for doing the tour this year?
DH: Another of our sponsorship criteria is ensuring that the partners and staff of BDO can actively participate and engage. We don’t just write a cheque for sponsorship, we want to ride and suffer in the events, and get involved along the way. For example, we always present at prize giving each night, and give away some of our lovely BDO kit, and share humorous anecdotes that we have heard about during the day’s racing.
BDOs Chairman is a very keen cyclist, as am I, the Deputy Chairman. So, we try to make sure that we participate in our events, whether that be the BDO Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge, the BDO Round the Mountain race in Taranaki, or the Elite road nationals recently held in Napier.
Above: BDO riders well represented at the Tour
SPOKEN: How would you describe the atmosphere or vibe at the beginning of stage 1?
DH: As always there is a mixture of nerves and humour. We were fortunate to have a beautifully clear and windless day this year, which relaxed us somewhat. There is always trepidation irrespective of the number of times you have ridden the race before; that’s because you are never sure who will turn up in your grade, and how people riders will approach the first stage with such fresh legs. In saying that, the organisers make everyone feel very comfortable and there is a sense of community amongst the riders, with people looking out for each other.
Above: Riders rolling through quiet roads in quaint countryside
SPOKEN: What was the weather and temperature like during the tour?
DH: The BDO Tour of Northland is in March each year (the next edition is scheduled for 19 to 22 March 2020), which is late summer in New Zealand. Northland is one of our warmer areas. My Garmin statistics tells me the temperatures ranged from 18oC to 25oC. We were fortunate to have no rain and lots of sunshine. In years gone by we have had some rain, but it has typically been warm enough to manage with arm warmers as opposed to jackets.
In terms of the riding or racing (depending on what the motivation was) can riders pick and choose a group which suits their own strengths and stick with them throughout the tour or is it just full gas from the start with riders hanging on for as long as possible?
You select your group based upon your ability. Which means the racing could go full gas from the gun based on your own ability of course! The organisers are very understanding if you are not comfortable within the group you have chosen, and may allow you to drop down.
SPOKEN: Can you tell us a bit about the stage profiles and how they were ridden e.g. tactically, full noise all the way, or steady tempo?
DH: Northland is quite a hilly part of New Zealand. For example, on day one this year, the 100km route climbed more than 1,300m. This is indicative of the other three days of racing. Days one and three have typically been the tougher days in terms of the proportionate amount of climbing to distance. In all the years I have ridden the BDO Tour of Northland, there has never been a stage where riders sit up and ease for the climbs – I think that is because the course is very undulating and although there are a few long steep climbs, you have to be careful at all times for any breaks as the rolling course can mean that attacks can happen at any time.
This year I rode for one of the BDO teams in a points race all based on your fourth rider over the line, which brings into play a lot more tactics. I thoroughly enjoy this aspect of racing and brings a different dimension to a standard individual race.
Above; Riders descend one of the many climbs scattered throughout the Tour
SPOKEN: Are the roads well managed in terms of traffic management?
DH: From my experience, yes, as Dynamo engage well with the local community and the Police, and have many motorbike officials ensuring that riders stay on the correct side of the road, as well as drawing backed-up traffic through if necessary.
Above; Riders chaperoned during the start of another stage.
SPOKEN: Taking into account all logistics involved in running the tour, on a scale of 1 – 10 with 1 being rubbish and 10 being the best you’ve ever experienced, how would you rate overall organisation of the tour?
DH: Without question a 10. Communication is exceptional. Bad racing behaviour is not tolerated. Every stage is closely monitored by Dynamo and any hazards are clearly identified. Every evening is a fun filled prize giving, where more information is provided if required.
SPOKEN: How did you go personally throughout the tour in terms of what you hoped to achieve and what you actually achieved?
DH: My personal goal was to try to facilitate the enjoyment of our large BDO team which included partners, staff, clients and key contacts. From a racing perspective, I wanted to have fun with the tactical side of the teams’ race. Both objectives were achieved – probably one of the most memorable tours I have completed.
Above: Out for another day in the saddle, the calm before the storm...
SPOKEN: What was the weirdest or funniest moment of the tour that you experienced or heard about?
DH: Our Chairman is a funny guy, and always makes friends within his bunch. He told a great story at a prize giving one night about how a fellow competitor praised his riding and in particular the lines he was taking… except when he rode through a cow pat which ended up being redistributed amongst the riders behind him! He did the right thing that night by finding out who he had accidentally soiled, and presented them with a new set of BDO kit to wear the next day.
SPOKEN: I hope all the riders around him had their mouths closed.... What advice would you give our readers who maybe thinking of doing this tour in terms of training, logistics/travel, and other useful tips.
DH: One of the key aspects of the BDO Tour of Northland is that it is over four days, with just a single stage each morning, meaning you have plenty of time in the afternoon to recover and also have a look around the beautiful Bay of Islands. In terms of training, if you wish to race this hard, then race experience is crucial, especially Gran Fondo/fun ride style events. This is a hilly course so training on similar terrain goes without saying. Descents can be technical so ensure you are adequately prepared. Aside from your puncture repair kit and hydration bottles, you don’t need to carry a huge amount of food while you race – 2 to 3 gels (and maybe a bar) will get you through if you have had a decent breakfast. However eat as much as you can off the bike. Strategically as soon as I finish each day we all meet at a café and have a reasonable and early lunch, then a generous afternoon tea, and large dinner. This sets you up for the next day. The road chip is very coarse so do be prepared to rattle a bit, and perhaps run slightly less PSI than usual. And if you ever need assistance, look out for one of the friendly BDO crew who will only be too happy to help.
SPOKEN: Thanks for the insights Doug, they've been really helpful
We can personally attest to this part of New Zealand being one of the most beautiful places in the world. If you're thinking of riding this tour and you've not yet been to New Zealand we'd recommend taking an extra week to do some sightseeing with friends or family and take in the culture of the country and its history.
If you are after sustainable custom kit for your team or club, please get in touch, we'd love to help.
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