What is the best thing about November? Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge of course! This is New Zealands biggest cycling event, with close to 10,000 people taking part every year. I remember my first in 2003, and if memory serves me right, I have only ever missed one LTCC since then, which would make 2015 my 12th LTCC, and the 10th on a unicycle (I have ridden the two-lap 320km enduro twice, on a bike). The best thing about Taupo is atmosphere- with so many people out there riding and enjoying the views around the Lake, there is always someone to chat to.
My partner Anna was doing her 2nd LTCC, but this time she would be doing the 80km solo challenge. Last year she had ridden the first 2 legs of last years LTCC as part of a relay team, but this was the first time the LTCC organisers have had a 80km category, comprising the second half of the circuit. She was super excited about being able to cross the finish line,especially with another year of riding experience. Her friend Martha was visiting from Italy and also doing the 80km challenge on a mountainbike.
We arrived in Taupo on Friday a bit later than expected, but thankfully still in time to get registered and drop the bike off (it has to be placed on a truck to be taken to the 80km start). Anna would carry her unicycle onto the bus in the morning- the advantage of a compact unicycle. We were staying at Warren Ellery’s place- Taupo unicyclist and upholsteror extraordinaire.. Anna was drooling over Warrens collection of sewing machines. Unfortunately he was away this weekend, but generously donated the use of his house for our LTCC base.
After stocking up on some last minute supplies, Anna and Martha cooked up pasta to load up with carbs, whilst I settled for meat pies (hey- you can eat anything you like if you’re going to ride 160km the next day!).
We got up early to get Anna and Martha to the start line. Chocolate nutty porridge for breakfast is a perfect way to fuel up!
No 6am start like last year- Anna and Martha would be bused to the the 80km transition to ride from there. I dropped them off then came back to set up my unicycle. This would be the first time in many years that I had gone back to the 36″ ungeared unicycle- the original wheel I set my 2004 record on.
The setup was:
KH 36 Frame
36″ Airfoil rim laced to UDC hub
Wheel TA tyre (an oldie but a goodie!)
Regular 36″ tube
Wellgo MG1 pedals
Flatfish saddle with KH T-Bar
114mm quax cranks
It was nice to be on a solid, ungeared 36″ again, although I had originally planned to build a lighter 36″ using updated components. Unfortunately there is a limited supply of 36″ rims in the country so it will have to wait till next year!
Anna was riding her 26″/110mm unicycle with very large Maxxis Hookworm tyre- one of my favourites. She hadn’t had any experience on bigger wheels so elected to take her trusty 26″.
I got to the start line to line up with the Group 8’s (7-8.30hr groups) for the 9am start. It was a smaller field than I expected- which I put down to the earlier start for slower group 9s (6am), which allows them plenty of time to arrive at the finish line.
I set off down the hill in light drizzle. It’s a familiar start and something I always look forward to, because after a short downhill, it is a long climb with a slope perfect for a unicycle. By the time I reached the top of the hill, I’d passed all the riders in my start group. We yo-yo’ed back and forth for the next 160km with riders passing me on the downhills and me catching them on the climbs. My legs felt good but I don’t do humidity well- it was drizzling but also very warm. I managed to keep a 20km/hr average, so on track for an 8hr round taupo.
The rain cleared and it was a beautiful day. The supporters were out in force, with lots of people on the side of the roads cheering people on. By the time I hit the 80km mark, I knew Anna and Martha would have gotten off to a good start. I had several almond gold slabs to munch on, but I was wishing I had brought a few more savoury snacks. I got over Kuratau Hill- one of my favourite climbs, and it was mostly downhill from there.
According to my calculations- if Anna was doing struggling I would catch her as we rounded the lake, or after Hatepe Hill if she was doing great! In fact, I didn’t see her at all as I made the final turn into Taupo. At that point I bonked and had to down 3 almond slabs in succession, just to get through the final 10km.
I rolled into Taupo in 8hrs 11min 21s, quite a bit slower than my 2004 record, but still respectable (I did 8hrs 20min in 2003). Anna had gone under 7hrs, with a time of 6hrs 58min 15s. An astounding effort, considering she rode a 26″/110mm unicycle a whole 80km! Martha finished in just over 5hrs, wishing she had done the full 160km race.
It was a great weekend of riding and we are looking forward to next years (40th anniversary) event!