Wellington to Auckland Cycle Challenge

16 February 2017

Doug Haines, Advisory Partner, Chair of Standards and Quality Committee |

Ready, set, GO!

Doug Haines from BDO is taking us through a behind-the-scenes honest look at the final edition of the BDO Wellington-Auckland Cycle Challenge, with insights into life on and off the bike with his teammates.

Doug Haines, Senior Partner at global Chartered Accounting firm BDO

Wellington to Auckland Cycle Challenge

Just been out to the Angus Inn Hotel in Lower Hutt for race briefing and to see our BDO team mates. They’ve flown in from all around the country and are buzzing with excitement about the next 7 days.  The logistics of doing a week long stage race event are significant, but the process itself has been a great team building exercise and brought about many a chuckle.

As you would expect from a bunch of accountants we also took the opportunity to crunch the numbers to work out how we could maximise our points for each stage, including when we should use our joker for double points.  Plenty of team tactics discussed – watch out you other corporate teams!

Looking at other competitors it seems Wellington hasn’t been the only region to cop the wind and rain this summer – the tan lines aren’t as prominent as previous years!  But everyone is looking very fit, so here’s hoping all that extra suffering will pay off for us all over the next 7 days.

The BDO Wellington to Auckland Cycle Challenge is split between the corporate teams (a dozen teams with at least 4 riders in each stage), and the individual riders who can elect between one of three grades depending upon ability.  Being the last BDO W2A numbers are definitely up, with many new faces keen to tick this one off the list.

This is BDOs fifth year of sponsorship and we have loved every minute of it.  We wish all the competitors the very best of luck for the week ahead.  Remember that the race isn’t won on the first stage… you’ll still need plenty of gas for later in the week!

Day One

Welcome to Windy Wellington

Well, well Windy Wellington… After teasing us with a beautifully sunny windless summer day on Saturday, we awoke to gusts nearing gale force. Not ideal conditions for the first stage up the Rimutakas as the wind funnels through there would be hitting you from every direction. But to their credit Dynamo Events made the right call and pulled the pin on stage one – justified when we saw two motorcyclists had been knocked over when we crossed the hill in vehicles.

After a great BBQ lunch put on by the Wellington office of BDO, we started the race proper, being stage two from Featherston to Masterton via Martinborough. Not to say the wind had dropped; far from it, so echelons formed early on and position was key.  I’m riding in the corporate section where it’s all about team work and therefore communication is critical, which was made more difficult with the wind. It was a tough 66km requiring full concentration and asserting your presence otherwise you’d drop to the back in seconds.

BDO took line honors through Auckland BDO insolvency partner Andy McKay (we did flog his transponder back at the hotel and have him on suggesting his win wouldn’t count; hopefully he’ll talk to me again sometime soon). In saying that, teams-wise being the first person first over the line counts for nothing until the fourth team member rolls over.

Back at the hotel in Masterton now and people are regaling tales of the day. This is what it’s all about. I’m sitting in a room with a dozen other like minded competitors and the “size of the fish” is getting bigger with each beer (or chocolate milk) drunk.

Prize giving tonight and I will enjoy presenting the yellow jerseys to the various categories. A big congrats to everyone today for their patience and fair play.

Wellington to Auckland Cycle Challenge

Day Two

Cramp. I hate it. Bloody thing gripped my hammy like a vice at 1am. The joys of endurance sports!  Awoke 6am to another day of howling wind, and what’s worse, scattered showers. Today will be a very big test, split between two stages. Staying warm and dry in between will be crucial in terms of ones health for the rest of the week, so I pack a change of cycling kit.

We ride to the start in Masterton, and it’s warm but raining, and gusting 70kph.  Do you wear a gilet?  Arm warmers?  Definitely not a rain jacket.  I decide on a gilet (which ends up being a waste of time) and cap to block some of the rain from my eyes. We wait for starters orders under a tree.

Then we are off, and I’ve decided to try and stay as close to the front as possible to avoid any trouble, so I hang around fourth or fifth wheel.

Now I’ve ridden in some bad conditions living in Wellington but today takes the cake!  Head and cross winds the entire way through the back roads of the Wairarapa. Some of the riders end up blown off the road. The rain doesn’t stop and at one point there’s hail hitting us like paintballs.

But to the riders’ credit everyone looks after each other, and within our peloton everyone stays safe. We hit the final two climbs right at the end of the stage and that’s where it breaks up. We played our team joker today and fortune favours the brave – we place second which we are delighted with.

We get to the community hall in Pahiatua and quickly change out of our wet kit and start reloading calories, mentally preparing for the Pahiatua Track climb. But we get the news that stage 4 has also been cancelled.  Disappointing but once again the right call from Dynamo.

As one of the first to arrive back at the hotel in Palmerston North I’m on laundry duty. I came through ok – kit for 14 of us washed and dried and only one sock missing!

Wellington to Auckland Cycle Challenge

Day Three

Hills, hills, and more hills!

Last night we enjoyed a very humorous prize giving at the Cooks Garden velodrome, and a wholesome meal back at the hotel. It was nice to stay relatively dry yesterday and looks like we might be ok today too.

There are two stages today, roughly 50km each. That doesn’t sound too bad at all but there are some factors that make this day one of the more challenging.  The amount of climbing is one; roughly 1,700m.  The delay between stages of close to two hours another (your legs feel like they’ve been pumped with concrete after sitting down for too long).  Fields Track is almost a climb pulled straight out of the Tour de France and it commences 10 minutes into the start of the second stage.  And finally fatigue starts to set in for most of us around now.

But the good news is the weather is fantastic. Clear skies, warm with just a gentle breeze. Perfect riding conditions.

The two stages are separated by a visit to Kakatahi School.  This is a real highlight.  The school role is usually a dozen or less, but the school has lovely big grounds and even a pool for us to cool off in.  The community put on a fantastic spread for us and we make a cash donation to help them with a specific capital item.  This is what being a Kiwi is all about.

I’m a lover not a fighter, and more of a descender than a climber (!), so it’s a matter of riding my own tempo and survival for me today.  I enjoyed the 20km warm up along the valley out of Wanganui and lapping through with a few others.  This will be my only opportunity to see the front today.

This part of the country is incredibly beautiful.  The road ducks and dives amongst forests, one lane bridges and rivers.  Farmers are busy working on their land, and some of them stand at their gate to wave to us.  In the afternoon we have a clear shot of a snow-capped Ruapehu.

We arrive in Ohakune mid-afternoon with a sprint finish to empty the legs completely.  We stand and watch the teams and individuals cross the line and applaud their hard work.  Our team is absolutely shattered; there are a few that have disappeared for siestas.  The rest of us catch up with work emails and phone messages, and check in with our families.

Wellington to Auckland Cycle Challenge

Day Four

Need for speed.

The central plateau is a spectacular location for scenic viewing, let alone for cycle racing. I always seem to sleep very well in the cooler air and that was certainly the case last night. The 1,800m of climbing yesterday may also have helped!

We load up the Ford Rangers (what fantastic vehicles they are – thanks John Andrew Ford), and ride down to a cafe in Ohakune for breakfast. It’s very chilly; the Garmin reads 8oC, but there’s very little wind, and most importantly despite predictions, no rain.

Stage 8 is a 50km undulating stage from Ohakune to the base of Whakapapa. We climb close to 800m over this distance without any major walls, it’s just false flats pretty much the whole way. The course is perfect for racing, no road works and minimal traffic. Toi Tois guide us to the ski station’s lower car park.

Stage 9 is a time trial of 6.8km straight up to the Chateau. The corporates race it as a TTT whereas the individuals as an ITT.  Any way you do it there’s pain!  We climb 500m in this short distance…It’s very hard to gauge what pace to hit it at.  But some of us don’t have much choice and simply go as fast as we can!  I feel the previous four days of racing as I limp up the ramps of 12-15%, trying to stay with my team as the fourth rider.

Earlier in the year our BDO chairman David O’Connor challenged race organizer Nathan Cox to a race on this stage.  Nathan is a former footy player and built like a brick-you-know-what, but he has a big ticker and of course fresh legs. So instead of racing David, Nathan challenged the whole field; anyone he beats in terms of time, needs to donate $20 to one of our team mate’s charity (Murray Taylor has raised over $7k on Give A Little for Melanoma NZ). I suspect there could be quite a bit of cash raised!  Nathan was powering up the hill in his rugby shorts and jersey – the big man refused to wear lycra! But I am sure he would look very good modeling a BDO kit one night at prize giving…that can be organized!

As I ride back down the mountain I can’t help but be impressed at the incredible performances. Not just the elite riders, but also (and possibly more inspiring) those at the other end of the spectrum (no offense intended to anyone).

We all finish before the rain starts. Thank goodness as the descent would have been quite dangerous in the wet. We enjoy a coffee in the Chateau before convoying to Taupo in our warm and dry vehicles talking about what one should wear tomorrow as it’s going to be very wet by the looks of the forecast – too warm for a rain jacket? Booties? Winter gloves?

Wellington to Auckland Cycle Challenge

Day Five

Raining, pouring, touring.

It’s raining. It’s pouring. The BDO W2A cyclists are touring.  We awake in Taupo to heavy rain, which hasn’t stopped since we arrived yesterday afternoon. There’s no wind, so it seems it’s here to stay. No point wearing wet weather gear as we are going to get soaked irrespective.

We hide under whatever we can find and await Coxy’s usual not so PC briefing. Then we are off, past the control gate bridge and up Poihipi Road, following the Round Lake Taupo course. The pace is on as we head on our 122km journey to Te Awamutu. It’s a lumpy course of circa 1,350 meters of climbing. Yet again full concentration is required as the roads are very wet and greasy, and in some cases there’s surface flooding; you don’t want to hit one of those massive puddles as your bike will stop but you won’t.

The rain abates as we draw within 10km of the finish line, which is great timing as we’ve also put behind us the final climb. There’s the obligatory sprint for the line, which to everyone’s credit is raced safely. Handshakes and back pats follow.

The Hamilton office of BDO put on a very impressive spread for all the riders – thanks Bernard and Michelle. We enjoy our burgers and snags lying in the sun whilst we run through the highlights of the ride. It’s been a tough day with the wet weather soaking our already depleted energy, but we now have just one day left. I’m lucky to have my sister in-law and nephews come to see us all finish, which is a real treat.

One of my team mates and I get a lift to Hamilton with Team Toi Toi via Cambridge. We visit St Peters School where their daughter is based and coincidentally my brother is teaching, and it has me in awe – the opportunities that children now have is incredible. I wish I could turn back the clock…

We also stop at the Avanti Velodrome which is right next to the school, for a coffee before we head to Hamilton. We are in luck as some of New Zealand’s/the world’s finest track athletes are training (the awesome sprint team).  If you haven’t been to the velodrome then make an effort, it’s world class.

As we head back to our car we “bump” into Eddie Dawkins.  He is kind enough to take time to chat to us, and allow us to take photos.  He’s an impressive unit alright, and appears to be right on track (!) for the worlds in Hong Kong in 7 weeks.  Eddie would look great in a set of BDO kit (XXL?), we must organise something!

Two stages and just over 100km to go.  The bike didn’t need too much of a clean tonight as the rain was that heavy, just the drive chain gets a clean and lube up.  Here’s hoping it’s dry tomorrow, but whatever happens I’m going to enjoy the last day with my fellow team mates and other competitors.

Wellington to Auckland Cycle Challenge

Day Six

The final push.

I think most of us woke up in Hamilton wondering how our legs could possibly be even more sore than the day before. But they were. Yesterday’s gruelling 122km stage in the rain was also generally completed by most groups quite a bit faster than last year. This could be because the size of the field is bigger (roughly 100 more riders), and being the very last BDO W2A people may also be giving it everything they’ve got!

Some of the riders have been hit with diarrhoea the past few days but valiantly carried on. Apparently one of the stock trucks that passed us during one of the many wet stages was leaking effluent onto the road which of course was then sprayed upwards by our our tyres – eeeeeew.

Like most competitors in the past two days I’ve given up trying to eat healthily at breakfast. It’s now straight to the cooked buffet section – bacon, poached eggs, hash browns, baked beans and toast piled high. It will be a challenge for us to break this habit next week!

We all congregate at the Hamilton office of BDO, who have once again come to the party with an espresso cart for us all. After huge downpours overnight it’s now a warm morning with no wind, and overcast – perfect conditions!

All 250 riders are led out through Hamilton’s CBD then motorway – the neutral zone is quite a sight. There is a really happy buzz amongst the riders. Friendships through rivalry have formed over the course of the week; the competition has been fierce but sport is a great leveller, and it’s been lovely to share a beer and tales with one another each night.

Today is split into two stages – roughly 73km to Glen Murray and 37km from there to Pukekohe. Neither have any extreme hills to climb, but both have some tough pinches where breaks will form.

The race for first place in our corporate section is well and truly red hot. It will come down to the wire between ASB GoBros and Fit for Farming – interestingly both teams’ roots lie in rural business. They’ve been fantastic advocates and ambassadors for their communities.

The first stage is raced at an electric pace – we average around 39kph. The final 5km is really lumpy and you have to hit the pinches carrying momentum in your big ring: drop to the small ring and spin and you’ll be spat out. It’s a heck of a lot of fun, but we are all saddened to see an individual age group leader lying on the road ahead of us; the unfortunate fellow has broken his leg in a fall and subsequently gets choppered out. Our wishes go out to him for a speedy recovery.

We have a two hour break between stages. This is tough! Getting back on the bike after such a quick first stage will be painful for the posterior. But it’s only 37km, and most of us don’t eat too much, instead relying on caffeine and sugar for the final assault.

The last stage is a beauty – Tour de France drama. The aforementioned corporate teams are locked in a battle for first place. ASB get away four of their team on one of the first climbs and it appears they’ve got it sewn up; then 10km later two of their riders drop back screaming to one of their dropped team mates to sacrifice his bike as they’ve suffered an irreparable mechanical. Game on! The Fit for Farming boys quite rightly up the pace, but miraculously the ASB team break from us, and yet again it appears they’ve got it in the bag… But the leading break aren’t singing from the same hymn sheet and they’ve dropped the hammer. After all that effort the ASB riders are left in no mans land. It comes down to the sprint…

At the finish line there is quite a crowd of supporters. The Auckland office of BDO have put on a sterling BBQ accompanied by chilled beers. The sun is out and it’s warm. At last!

We all then come hoofing into the finish line via a few very tight roundabouts. Position is crucial. The sprint on a slightly downhill gradient is on! It’s an amazing feeling to finish the tour, but also in such dramatic conditions – the huge crowds, and the tension of team racing.

ASB take the corporate team competition by just a single point over Fit for Farming – 200 points vs 199! Well done to both teams!

We all relax and imbibe in the sun. Some of us pack our bikes into our cases and tear off to the airport to catch flights. The rest enjoy an emotional farewell prize giving.

I must say a special thank you to Stephen, Nathan and Ana. They’ve put on the final W2A, and it’s been a rip snorter.

Will we ride tomorrow? We probably shouldn’t but I suspect many of us will!

Wellington to Auckland Cycle Challenge