Sunday, 27 November 2011

It’s just a Little Pond - The Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge Extreme Enduro



Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge

1280km Extreme Enduro 2011

Place Rider Time
1st 9907 Ron Skelton 69h39m37s
2nd 9902 Craig McGregor 90h45m
3rd 9904 Arthur Schwencke 92 hours
4th 9905 Colin-Wal Anderson 102 hours
  9903 Neville Mercer DNF

I approached the Extreme Enduro with two simple purposes:

1. To prove that this is only a little pond to cycle around.

2. To complete 1200km in less time that I took to complete the Paris-Brest-Paris in August.


I had convinced myself riding eight laps would prove that it was only a little pond and that without the plentiful supply of pastries and crepes to distract me, I could surely complete this 1280km ride in less than 85h32m. Ultimately I proved this to only be a little pond, however four days of gale force winds was a much greater hindrance than the plentiful supply of pastries, flans and crepes in France.



The Startline

Keith Crate starts us off (Photo from Tim Neal via Facebook)At the start-line for the eight lap Extreme Enduro was a small field of RAAM finisher, Ron “iRONman” Skelton; Cape Reinga to Bluff record holder Colin Anderson, Arthur Schwencke, Neville Mercer, myself and Bill Lane who was about to start his third lap of ten. Nick Dunne was already well into his third lap of ten. Ron appeared focussed and determined to win at the start-line and four days later it wasn’t so much as daylight between Ron and the rest of the field - it was almost an entire planetary rotation with a 21 hour gap between 1st and 2nd place.


With five others, we rode together until turning-off from Control Gates Hill into Pohipi Road. Colin At the start, Ron to my right with Colin looking on (photo by Tim Neal via Facebook)Anderson wisely advised me it would be a lonely ride from here. He wasn’t wrong. I did briefly see Colin later in the lap but I certainly was mostly riding solo aside from the regular swapping places between Arthur and myself for the next eight laps. We certainly were similarly paced with the ebb and flow of proceedings having one of us the stronger than the other at different times over four days. It was mostly riding in solitude, although I had the company of endurance cycling fan and future NZ Outdoor Track 24hr record aspirant Stu Downs for about the first 40k of lap five (or was it six?). By lap seven, the main event had begun with the elite races, 160km solo and relay events all underway. I had been planning on being on my final lap at this time, but not to be with a brutal slow ride of battling the breeze. I rode amongst a number of different riders during lap seven, most of whom thought was crazy, insane or just plains stupid for riding eight laps. I felt obliged to point out it was excellent value at only $12 per lap compared to their  $99 per lap Open-mouthed smile.



The Wind


The 2011 Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge is destined to be remembered as the year of the wind. In the case of the Extreme Enduro it was a case of an entire four days of gale force wind - making the Extreme Enduro far more extreme than I had anticipated in advance. Friday night was by far the worst. With the wind gusting beyond 85km/h there were branches flying past me, and the road became a slalom course of broken branches to avoid. There was a point of almost stopping during these conditions. After brief reflection, I was simply too stubborn to quit with only one and half laps remaining. In the light of Saturday, the Huka XL mountain biking event was cut short due to trees falling. I assure you by that time the wind whilst strong, was not as fierce as it was in the early hours of the morning! Given the branches flying past me on the road in the night, I can assure any disappointed competitors from the Huka XL,  that it would have been incredibly dodgy in the forest and I suspect impossible to run the event safely.





Accessories - Unbelievably after thousands of kilometres of riding in New Zealand and France with an identical bicycle and lighting setup I had nothing but trouble with my lights on this ride. I think this was large the result of a chip-seal roads that had a lot of trucks peeling some of  chip-seal from the road making it a reasonably rough ride for a sealed road.  I had a few issues with the bumps bouncing the battery cables out of my Ayup lights and a few similar instances reset my Garmin 705 bike computer to zero (possibly related to my auxiliary Duracell power supply). I also lost my backup light overboard, never to be found again when descending Kuratau Hill in the middle of the night. The Busch & Mueller Ixon IQ was an excellent light powered by Nimh AA rechargeable batteries with both a good range and spread of light emitted. Unfortunately, the mounting system was not as good as the light unit itself Sad smile.


Worn out tyre induced puncture - I suffered one puncture on this ride. This was caused by wear. I should really have put new tyres on before the event began, but I was hesitant to add to my array of half worn tyres. Early during lap seven I had to replace the tyre and inner tube after puncturing with the tyre worn through to the canvas around its entire circumference. I continue to be pleased with the performance and relative lack of punctures that I am experiencing when using 700x25C Continental Grand Prix 4 Season tyres. In over 10,000km ridden on these tyres, while I have worn through two rear tyres I have only suffered two punctures, this being the second.


Gear cable - On my final lap I assumed I had a severely frayed the rear derailleur cable. Following the post-mortem, it turned out to be gunk preventing cable moment within the cable casing. The original casing has since been replaced by some higher quality shimano cable outers. Thankfully with a support crew in-tow I was able to swap from my Trek Madone “Black Beauty” onto my Specialized Roubaix “Blue Angel” for the remaining 100km.


Night Riding


One of the lessons I learned when riding the Paris Brest Paris was how much less tiring a little moon was, than the pure darkness that zero moon and zero sun represent. I should have checked the moon phase before entering the event. During the rain of the first night, the moon rose before the sun. From that point on, the moon was rising at or after sunrise, thus providing no assistance for night riding during this event.


I have climbed Waihaha Hill many times, but when ascending at night it is far more ominous than it is during daylight. Without being able to see the top, climbing a hill without corners or changes in gradient the climb to the top of Waihaha Hill seemed like it was never going to end!


As I am more of a randonneur than a racer I am not accustomed to having a support crew. It may have been hard work for me into the wind but I noted that this type of event is even more tiring for the crew than it is for the rider. I was thankful to have a support crew provided by Mum and Dad (thank you). It was much more comfortable riding at night with a support crew behind me – much more room given by other traffic. Having a support crew was particularly useful during a couple of particularly cold moments in the middle of the night, jumping in the car with all the heaters on was very useful!





I had my first sleep a lap sooner than anticipated. With accommodation in Turangi, my plan was 2 3/4 laps, but a combination of darkness in collaboration with rain and strengthening head winds left me tired and exhausted after only 1 & 3/4 laps to Turangi. I successfully set the alarm on with my phone  - in silent mode :) and got a healthy 4-5 hrs sleep before departing for Taupo to complete lap 2 . I was now well entrenched into last place. On Thursday and Friday nights I got through two laps a day plus a 2-3 hour sleep and then rode through Saturday night. All up, this would have to be considered a luxurious amount of sleep during an ultra-cycling ride. Typically in these events, those who approach it as a ride get a lot more sleep than those who approach it as a race.



The Finish

The finish was part personal glory, part anti-climax and a few hours later complete surprise. Before the event I had envisaged finishing in 75-80 hours which would have had be arriving shortly before or during the prize-giving festivities. After battling the wind, and sleeping far more than intended I did not finish until 6:45am on Sunday morning. I rode as hard as possible from Turangi trying to finish in under 90 hours, but with no tailwind and nearly 1280km in my legs, the first 20-30km went well but it was a slow crawl into Taupo in exhaustion. Whilst I received some encouraging toots from early departing traffic carrying Taupo riders and their bicycles south, it was no grand arrival. There was no-one there and the timing equipment had all been disconnected and packed up. I recorded my time in paper at the BP station and made my way to shower.


Dad and I at the finish - on the BP forecourt. Not sure who is most tired?


I hadn’t realised how well I had placed until my belated arrival at the Enduro Breakfast when talking to other Extreme Enduro riders. While 21 hours behind Ron, 90h45m in the wind was good enough for 2nd place this year.  Randonneuring is not well in New Zealand and I had hoped to introduce randonneuring and the Paris-Brest-Paris to the riders that we there from the 2 lap Enduro and 4 lap Maxi-Enduro events. At the time I was so exhausted that I could barely keep my head above my shoulders and as a consequence may not have expressed this as well as intended.




  • Lake Taupo may have a surface area of 616 square kilometres, but on bicycle it is merely a little pond.
  • There is much, much more solo riding in the Extreme Enduro event than in the ‘Solo’ category.
  • I continue to love riding my bicycles. Even in the adversity of riding in the wind, without the benefit of drafting for 1280km I still had a smile on my face the whole way.
  • In trying conditions attributes of determination and stubbornness more than made up for my lack of speed or natural cycling talent.
  • Ultra-cycling events are just as brutal in the form of exhaustion for the support crew as they are for the rider.
  • Stopping for numerous pastries en-route is not as time consuming as riding into a headwind for four days Smile with tongue out. Yummmmmmm!!!