Jeremy Yates and Serena Sheridan are favourites to retain their titles in New Zealand’s toughest road cycling race this weekend.
In mountain climbing circles, K2 is renowned as the world’s toughest peak. But in New Zealand “K2” it is the country’s toughest cycling event, a gruelling 200km around the Coromandel Peninsula that attracts some of the world’s best riders.
The attraction is the European-style course and a hefty prize purse. 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, who lines up this year looking for a record fourth straight 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 Coromandel Town on Saturday. The course opens with two short, sharp climbs before a sedate coastal 40k to Thames where everyone takes stock for 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 final 90k over the short but steep climbs of Pumpkin Hill Kuaotunu and Whangaparoa to finish back in Coromandel township.
Yates, who set the course record of 5hrs 02min 34secs in 2008, is expected to split the race open on the big Kopu-Hikuai. Riders expected to challenge the defending champion include Taupo’s Patrick Bevan and Cambridge’s Eric Drower. Drower, in particular, is a strong climber and one of few riders in New Zealand who can stay close to Yates when the road heads uphill.
Organisers are expecting more than 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 the extreme K4 where true endurance junkies will take on two laps of the Coromandel Peninsula. The 400k challenge is included in the event every four year and this year has attracted 33 entrants, including 74 year old endurance phenomenon Garth Barfoot.
The Orca K1 also doubles as the Elite Women’s race, which promises to be a closely fought affair. Napier’s Serena Sheridan took the tile in 2008 but was outsprinted on the line in 2009 by Commonwealth Games rep Meshy Holt. This year Sheridan faces Melanie Burke (Akld), Emma Crum (Akld) and Tracy Best (Wgtn), who were third, fourth and fifth last year. Rower-turned-rider, Sonia Waddell will also be close, as will Sheridan’s former Nelson clubmates Karen Fulton and Jeanie Kuhajek. But it is Tokoroa-based Marie-Claude Gagnon who could prove the dark horse. The Canadian is a regular on the American circuit and will be watched closely as the race moves into the big climbs.
This weekend’s race is also the ninth race of the 2010 Rabobank National Points Series. Serena Sheridan currently leads the women’s series and only needs to finish among the top 10 to maintain that lead. The men’s series is led by Commonwealth Games rider Gordon McCauley, who is not starting in K2. Jeremy Yates currently sits fifth and a win at K2 would move him up to second place with another three races after K2.