To the wider world K2 is one of the world’s toughest mountains. But in cycling circles, “K2” is renowned as New Zealand’s toughest road race. On Saturday more than 1200 riders from all ends of New Zealand, Australia, China and the United Kingdom will take on the gruelling 200k lap of the Coromandel Peninsula.
Saturday marks the 14th Cranleigh K2. Combining superb surroundings and a festival-style atmosphere, this Euro-style cycling challenge has become a favourite amongst elite and recreational riders alike.
That’s certainly the case for eight hardy souls. Rob McLeod (Orewa), John Cottingham (Morrinsville), Darren Donnelly (Thames), Dennis Magness (Milford), Alastair Borwick (Akld), Crunchie Donaldson (Taupo), John Badger and David Blanchett (Ham) have all finished every K2 since it was founded and are back again in 2015.
A big part of the K2 attraction is the ever-changing challenge. Every year this unique event starts from a different Coromandel town. 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.
With more than 2000m of climbing over the 200k, this is certainly New Zealand’s toughest cycle race. But it is also one of the most scenic. Following the opening climb up Kopu-Hikuai Hill, riders are rewarded with stunning views and 40k of mostly downhill to Tairua, before a tough 90k over the triple peaks 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.
Past winners have included Kiwi internationals Glenn Mitchell, Fraser McMaster and Jeremy Yates, who won K2 a record five times and still holds the course record of 5hrs 02min 34secs set in 2008. This year will see defending champion Josh Aldridge (Akld) facing 2011 winner Michael Torckler (New Plym).
Aldridge won with a late break last year, but he’ll have to far harder to tumble Torckler, who rides professionally for Australian-based Team Budget Forklifts. Torckler is a tough cookie, having come back from a near-death accident in 2012 when he was hit by a car while training in the USA. He lines up at K2 after a season on the tough American and Australian circuits and will be looking to close the season with another K2 win.
Among women, Auckland’s Ruby Livingstone will be looking to go one better than her second place in 2014. The elite women’s race is contested as part of the associated Schwalbe K1 over 100k. Livingstone has spent the year racing professionally in Europe for Team Bepink Laclassica. But she will need to watch for a talented group of teens in national junior rep Hannah Gumbley (Akld), who was third last year, and secondary school standouts Grace Anderson (Akld) and Amanda Jamieson (Waipukurau).
As well as the feature Cranleigh K2, the Schwalbe K1, the Focus K150 and Nicholas Browne 50k offer options for all age and ability. The K1 this year rides from Whitianga to Thames, the K150 from Tairua to Thames and the Nicholas Browne Challenge from Coromandel to Thames.
Another interesting battle in the Schwalbe K1 will be New Zealand’s top Paralympic hand cyclists, Jono Nelson and Brendon Stratton. Both have are ranked in the world’s top 30, but rarely get to race each other at home. With Nelson hailing from Timaru and Stratton from Auckland it also sets up an intriguing North/South grudge match to be the first paracyclist to conquer New Zealand’s toughest cycle race.
Entries for all events are still open at www.arcevents.co.nz. Organised by Adventure Racing Coromandel, the Cranleigh K2 is the first of three events they organise for the Spirit of Coromandel Charitable Trust which provides opportunities for young people to experience the outdoors. Their other events include the ARC Adventure Race (March 5-6, 2016) and the Great Kauri Run (April 23, 2016).