Road cycling is often referred to as “the new golf” and in the last decade Coromandel’s 200k K2 has become known as the country’s toughest course. With over 40k and 2300 vertical metres of climbing, the K2 combines the rigours of European cycling with New Zealand’s supreme surroundings to produce a challenge that is a favourite amongst elite and recreational cyclists alike.
Past winners have included Kiwi internationals Glenn Mitchell and Fraser McMaster. But king of K2 is former world junior champion Jeremy Yates (Hast), who is looking to mark Saturday’s 10th anniversary of New Zealand’s toughest road cycling race with a record fifth consecutive win.
Every year this unique event starts from a different Coromandel town and does one full 200k lap of the peninsula. This year racing gets underway in Thames, which puts riders straight into K2’s signature hill climb, the 14k long, 425m high Kopu-Hikuai Hill. The reward is stunning views and 40k of mostly downhill to Tairua, before a tough 90k over the short but steep climbs of Pumpkin Hill Kuaotunu and Whangapoua to Coromandel. Then it’s a final 53k, opening up with tough climbs over Manaia Hill and Kereta Hill to the Pohutukawa Coastline for 40k of fast riding to the finish line back in Thames.
Yates, who set the course record of 5hrs 02min 34secs in 2008, is expected to split the race open the tough middle section between Whitianga and Coromandel. But will need to be on top of his game to hold off chase bunches on the 40k of flat coastal riding to the finish.
Riders expected to challenge the defending champion include young Christchurch pro Ryan Wills and a Wellington trio of Andy Hagan, Stu Houltham and Silas Cullen. Houltham, in particular, could be a factor due to the former national mountain bike champion's prowess on the uphills.
Yates, however, will be most concerned with two young riders with considerable internationl experience. Auckland’s 24 year old Michael Torckler, from the Kiwi pro team Pure Black racing, will be looking for a good result following a 10 month rehab from knee surgery last summer. And 22 year old Slovenian national rep Andi Bajc is taking in K2 on a New Zealand visit, and will be looking to impress.
Organisers are expecting around 2000 riders for the annual event. As well as the feature 200k, options include the Orca K1 held over 100k, the 50k Nicholas Browne Quarter K, and a team relay around the full 200k.
The Orca K1 also doubles as the Elite Women’s race, which promises to be a wide open affair. Favourites include national reps Emma Crum (Akld), Jeannie Kuhajek (Nels) and Rachel Doody (Akld) who finished fourth, fifth and 10th last year. Multisporters Melanie Burke (Akld) and Teresa Adam (Akld) will provide dark horse appeal, with Burke fresh from her world duathlon title in Switzerland and Adam a former national champion triathlete.
These established stars, however, will all be watching outstanding teenage riders Ashleigh Neave (Nap) and Georgia Williams (Akld). Neave was a former top 20 placegetter at the 2010 world junior time trial championship, but Williamson is fresh off an outstanding season where she placed sixth in the world junior time trial and second in the world junior individual pursuit on the track.
Organised by Adventure Racing Coromandel, the K2 is an event with something for everyone. Their other events include the Moehau Multisport Race, The Great Kauri Run, and the ARC Adventure Race. Their events benefit the Spirit of Coromandel Trust, which provides opportunities for young people to experience the outdoors.