This is an event I have done six or seven times before. Scheduled a little earlier this year due to a timing clash with le Race. I started training in early September for the Abel Tasman Cycle Classic on 6 December 2016 via Ray. A very scenic and superbly organised event I really enjoyed it. There was less climbing than Round Taupo but slightly longer. I managed to get around in just under 5 hours. Instead of putting my feet up for summer I kept the training up as I was asked to join a group mountain biking the Old Ghost Road. The opportunity came up late January to do the Round Mt Taranaki ride which used to always clash with the Wellington Cup. Another very scenic race and although I lost time by starting in the wrong group I was happy to finish under 4:30 hours.
So with those rides under the belt I thought I might as well do the GrapeRide again. This has become a UCI qualifying race. So if you finish in the top 25% of your age group you get an invite to the World Champs. I feel this ride caters for a lot of people not just because it starts and finishes in a winery.
The weather has been very good over the years. The course, 101 kilometres, is not overly challenging and is very scenic. The flat start out of the winery generally with a tailwind means it is a hectic start.
At a UCI race everyone starts in their age group. This year I didn’t have the leg speed to stay with my bunch and dropped off not far out of Blenheim. However it was not too long till the next age group came through and I got a tow to Picton.
I rode the hills into Queen Charlotte Sound by myself and got picked up by another bunch along the flat at Linkwater. I managed to stay with this bunch back to Havelock and only fell off the back with 10 kilometres to go. Everyone was finding the headwind home punishing. I thought the longer distance races would set me up for this, but on the day I was struggling. However I was determined to get home sub 3 hours and just managed it.
It is a lovely place to visit with all the wineries. The farmers market on Sunday is a highlight. There are plenty of different options in this race so everybody is catered for. Book early – accommodation can be hard to get at this popular event.
>- Marcus Hull