More than 1200 riders from five countries and all ends of New Zealand lined up for the 14th Cranleigh K2 cycle classic. The gruelling 200k lap of the Coromandel Peninsula is unique in cycling circles in that it starts from a different Coromandel township every year.
This year racing got underway in Thames, which put 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 enjoyed 40k of mostly downhill and flats to Tairua, before a tough 90k over the triple peaks of Pumpkin Hill, Kuaotunu and Whangapoua to Coromandel. That softened them up for the final 53k over the tough Manaia Hill and Kereta Hill before a fast final 40k along the Pohutukawa Coast to the finish line back in Thames.
New Plymouth’s Michael Torckler knew how tough it was. In 2011 he had to end the reign of five-time champion Jeremy Yates to win by three minutes. This he broke away even earlier, to beat Auckland’s Cam Wynniatt by six minutes in 5hrs 16min 52secs. Although for Torckler the four years in between have been tougher than either win.
Just a few months after his 2011 win at K2 Torckler was hit by a car while training in California. “I had a head-on collision with a car coming down a descent,” he explains. “I have no memory of it, but I was knocked out for three days and was in hospital for a few weeks. That took a long time to come back from. I had multiple facial fractures, broken arm and hands. But the concussion was the hardest thing. I had to be really patient coming back from that.”
He lined up at K2 this year with good form following a year on the tough American and Australian circuits racing for Australia’s Team Budget Forklifts. He went straight to the front on the opening climb up Kopu-Hikuai and was joined by Aucklanders Cam Wynniatt and Logan Mort. Mort fell behind after Whitianga but Torckler and Wynniatt worked well together through the triple climbs to Coromandel.
It was on the flat after Coromandel that Torckler lifted the tempo to pull away. “Mike was just too strong,” said Mort after finishing six minutes behind Torckler. “Those last 50k felt like 100k for me.”
“I always really like this race,” said Torckler, who has ridden the race three times but by chance only ever raced from the Thames start and finish. “It offers everything. It’s great. Long climbs, technical descents and the scenery is unreal. It would be one of the most spectacular courses in the world.”
Behind Torckler and Wynniatt, Whangamtata’s Jonathan Hazelton went one better than last year to claim third place in a tight sprint ahead of Stu Holder (Akld), 2014 winner Josh Aldridge (Akld) and Jason Thomason (New Plym), with all four recording the same time of 5hrs 34min 47secs. Aldridge’s fifth place was a victory of sorts after breaking his pelvis in a race crash earlier this year.
The open K2 was a carbon copy of the elite race, but the winner was just as impressive. Going one better than his second place last year, 52 year old world veteran champion Jim McMurray (Tirau) rode the last 120k solo to win by two and a half minutes in 5hrs 32min 53secs. National rep, Emma Crum (PNth) was first woman in 5hrs 58min 32secs.
As well as the feature Cranleigh K2, the Schwalbe K1 over 100k, the Focus K150 and Nicholas Browne 50k offer options for all age and ability. The K1, which this year rode from Whitianga to Thames, doubles as the elite women’s race and saw pre-race favourites Ruby Livingstone and Hannah Gumbley stage a race of their own that came down to a final sprint.
Livingstone who was second last year, has spent the year racing professionally in Europe for Team Bepink Laclassica and was expected to be significantly stronger than 2014. But it was the teenage Gumbley, a national junior rep at the world road race champs this year, who had the fastest finale as the two women recorded the same time of 3hrs 08min 54secs.
Nine minutes behind them came another sprint for third place, with another teenager – Amanda Jamieson from Waipukuarau – holding off Helen Baillie-Strong (Akld), Madeliene Park (Akld) and Grace Anderson (Akld).
The Schwalbe K1 and Nicholas Browne 50k were both dominated by teenagers. Fifteen year old Tauranga rider Fergus Hamilton won the 50k from Coromandel to Thames ahead of another 15 year old, Harry Lochhead from Auckland, in 1hr 37min 27secs. Coromandel’s own Ben Leakes was a popular third place, but Auckland teenager Ally Wolleston got one of the biggest cheers of the day as she finished 5th overall and first woman in 1hr 46min 03secs. Impressively, eight women filled the top-20 places in the 50k.