Hills around the Tasman region played a large roll in the 4th annual 40/50 Tour, the countries premiere cycle race for riders 40-years old and over.
Organised by Nathan Fa'avae, the new tour route replaced the previous course since 2006 that used to include Nelson and Marlborough roads.
"After 3-years of the same route I felt a course change was needed and also utilising lower volume traffic roads, Tasman district offers that and has some great hills to keep the racing dynamic" Fa'avae says.
The riders had to conquer the hills of Moutere, Neufdorf, Stanley Brook, Kerrs plus Reay and Hope Saddles.
The tour began on Thursday night with the 48-riders tackling a 10km individual time trial down the Lee Valley to Brightwater.
2008 Men's Tour winner Kerry Harford (Hastings) rode a blistering fast time to lead the tour in the Yellow leader's jersey. His time of 9:33 was a minute faster than second place getter Mark Taylor (Auckland) with Richie Van Vugt (Tasman) taking third.
Auckland's Rachael Larner rode equally impressive to claim the women's Pink leaders' jersey by posting a time of 10:40. Second place was Mary McBride (Wellington) and Jacqueline Davies (UK) coming through in 3rd.
Friday morning had the riders leave Brightwater over the Waimea Plains to the Moutere Hill. The peleton stayed as a group until close to the top when Rob Searle (Tasman) sprinted over the summit to earn the King Of The Mountains points. Larner collected the maximum points for the Queen of the mountains with Eileen Searle (Tasman) close behind. The group rode together again until Neudorf Hill when Blayney increased the tempo. Rob Searle joined him and the two of them climbed hard to the summit to grab the King of the Mountains points.
Nearing Dovedale they were joined by Harford and Mike Sanders (Auckland) and the group of four worked well together to gain time on the chasing pack. Blayney who had lost time to Van Vugt in the 50+ Grey Jersey competition did the lion's share of the work to put as much time between himself and Van Vugt, Blayney's team Avanti Plus Mount Eden / Muffin Break did their best to slow the progress of the peleton to aid Blayney's efforts. Searle jumped away again on Stanley Brooke Hill to get more points and but it was Harford who won the stage sprint in Tapawera.
Larner rode a solid stage to finish high up the field and firm her grip on the Pink jersey.
Stage 3 started with a sprint up Golden Downs road. Harford won the sprint once again and the bunch rode steady to the base of Kerrs Hill. Once onto the hill the peleton split up quickly and Harford uncharacteristically suffered a low patch which allowed Blayney and Searle to ride away. Searle was first to the top but on the descent he mis-judged a corner and careened off the road.
Shaken but not broken he miraculously remounted his bike and rode superbly to pass almost the entire field to claim second place by St Arnaud. Blayney though had clean breakaway and won the stage, creating a large lead in the 50-plus Grey Jersey but also putting time on Harford who lead 40-plus Yellow Jersey competition.
Larner riding a near perfect tour won the stage over Searle and McBride.
Saturday morning dawned overcast but by the time the riders reached the Korere Valley the sun was out. There were 2-intermediate sprints contested on route but the main bunch stayed intact until Hope Saddle and the King of the Mountains points' race was on. Searle once again took the line first and then it was a fast descent down to Kawatiri Junction.
Peter Baron (Auckland) rode over 40km by himself on the 90km stage but winning the stage back into St Arnaud belonged to Harford.
The afternoon challenge was stage 4, a 30km ride into the Wairau Valley and return. Windy conditions prevented any successful attacks and the field rode together until the climb up Rainbow Hill returning to St Arnaud. Harford eager to distance himself from Blayney rode aggressively to try and claw back the 40-seconds that separated the 2-riders but all he managed was another stage win with an 8-second gap. Searle rode into third. Harfords efforts did help his team the Borlase Breakaways extend their lead in the Teams general classification.
The final day started with stage 5 from St Arnaud to Belgrove, 55km on the road passing over Kerrs Hill and Reay Saddle. This was final chance for second place rider Harford to gain time on the overall tour leader Blayney. Harford riding in Team Borlase Breakaways needed to ride to their namesake and try and breakaway from the peleton and Blayney. Harford and team-mates Searle, Van Vugt and Warren Borlase (Nelson) tried their earnest but Blayney responded to all their challenges. By stage conclusion Harford did enough to win the stage but not enough to take the overall leaders prize from Blayney.
The final stage was a 15km team's time trial from Belgrove to Brightwater. When a rider from Borlase Breakaways incurred a 2-minute time penalty for crossing the centre line, it reduced their lead to only 9-seconds from Auckland team, Avanti Plus Mount Eden / Muffin Break. Both teams rode full speed to try and capture the overall top team award but the Borlase Breakaways did enough to take victory.
Larner produced a great performance to win the Pink Jersey for the 40+ women and Jo Holden (Wellington) won the 50+ women's purple jersey.
Blayney won the 50+ category with the fastest time overall making it the first time a 50+ rider has out rightly won the tour. Harford won the men's 40+ category.
The Queen of the Mountains hill climb point's competition was won by Eileen Searle with husband Rob winning the men's King of the Mountains.
The Sprint Ace point competition was dominated by Harford.
Tour winner Blayney commented "This was a fantastic race and our team worked exceptionally well, it was a great course with exciting racing, we'll be back next year."
The tour was supported by Summit Rescue Helicopter trust and Nelson Bays Holden.