On the first weekend of December every year the Armstrong Motor Group Festival of Cycling confirms Christchurch as the epicentre of New Zealand cycling. But in 2011 the annual event finds itself with the same earthquake woes shared by the rest of the region.
Following the February quake, the traditional Festival of Cycling venues and routes have been unusable. But to ensure the longevity and safety of the event, the north Canterbury town of Waipara has put its hand up to host
the2011 Armstrong Motor Group Festival of Cycling.
Held for the first time in 2005, this innovative event launched a new concept for cycling enthusiasts nationwide. Scheduled this year for December 3rd and 4th, the Armstrong Motor Group Festival of Cycling brings together the many sides of cycling for a weekend long celebration that sees Olympic champions rubbing shoulders with recreational riders, kids and keen club cyclists across every cycling option from road to mountain bikes and BMX.
Waipara is well versed in hosting successful festivals. Surrounded by sheltered valleys, rolling ranges and the Pacific Ocean, the region has become an epicentre for fine wine and food, with more than 80 vineyards as well as olives, truffles and figs mixed with traditional specialties such as sheep, cattle, crayfish, crabs, clams and blue cod. An annual wine and food festival showcases everything that Waipara has to offer, and in December it will offer it all alongside some of the country's most spectacular cycling.
Festivities kick-off on Saturday December 3rd with the 90k Waipara Challenge. The challenging but achievable figure-8 route includes the satellite towns of Greta Valley, Scargill, Waikari and Harwarden, and the historic Weka Pass.
Race organiser, Simon Hollander, says this scenic ride is a chance for cycling enthusiasts to test themselves somewhere new. As well as the full 90k, there is also a two-person relay option that includes a trip for both teammates on the Historic Weka Pass Railway.
Past winners of the traditional Long Bays Classic back in Christchurch have included Tour de France rider Hayden Roulston, world champions Greg Henderson and Katie MacTier and women's Tour de France champion Linda Villumsen. In 2010 double Olympic medalist, Roulston, and American number one Cath Cheatley dominated proceeding, and Hollander says the reputation that the Armstrong Motor Group Festival of Cycling has built up in its seven years will ensure another world class turn out, with Olympian Cath Cheatley already signed up.
The Waipara replacement will provide some great racing too. "This ride is pretty much an unknown to every rider from Olympic medallists to weekend warriors," says Hollander. "With four key climbs and the long gradual descent down Weka Pass to the finish line, the racing up front will reward aggressive riders with tactical nouse."
There is much to look forward to in Waipara. This year's mountain bike event will combine with the local Frog Rock Ride, which offers off road junkies a once a year chance to challenge themselves over private high country farm stations. Options will include 15k and 25k, with both taking in the spectacular limestone ridge lines of the Shellrock escarpment overlooking historic Frog Rock and Weka Pass.
The opening day also includes the Benchmark Homes Junior Challenge, where hundreds of kids aged eight to 13 will take in a fun 12k on safe and scenic roads behind Waipara Township, with Olympians and New Zealand champions for company.
On Sunday December 4th the action moves back to Christchurch. In past years a highlight of the weekend has been the City Criterium, where thousands of spectators get an exciting taste of cycling Euro-style around the Oxford Terrace café strip. But with much of the central city still cordoned off following the earthquake, this year's Criterium venue is yet to be confirmed.
"Oxford Terrace was perfect for Criterium racing," says Hollander. "We had several thousand spectators watching world class racing as well as events for kids and recreational riders and even BMX and penny farthing bikes. It was a great way take cycling to the people, so we want to keep it in Christchurch at a venue that produces the same showcase."