Down, but not out! (My attempt at the Coromandel K2)

There are many words that describe Coromandel’s K2 bicycle race. However, none as apt as: “to inspire fear in young animals”. Literally! That’s because the event is named after the “Kuaotunu” community on the Coromandel Peninsula, and translated gives the aforementioned.

Here’s my unfortunate experience of the 2013 Coromandel K2…

It’s the day of the race and I’m woken by my alarm clock. The time’s 3:15 a.m. and I reluctantly pull myself out of bed. I have a bowl of porridge (my usual pre-ride breakfast) and leave Auckland at 3:50 a.m.

Even on the way back, it insisted I ditch my car. Presumably it’s better walking 250km back to Auckland that having to drive few extra kilometers?

Two and a half hours pass by and I’m almost in Whitianga, the start (and finish) of this year’s K2. It’s my first time down in the Coromandel and it shows. I’ve placed too much faith in my car’s GPS and it has steered me to the wrong end of the Whitianga Passenger Ferry terminal. It’s a merge 500m between the ferry terminal and the township but unfortunately I’m in a hurry and a ferry ride won’t do — I also need my car on the other side! Silly GPS! You would have thought when planning your route it would avoid ferries and such (if possible), especially so when it is only suited to carrying passengers! This mistake adds an extra 30 km to my journey but fortunately I have some time to spare. I leave the registration office with my bike timing tag and put on my kit.

It is a few minutes from the start. To make things safer, they divided the start the race in groups based on the riders’ anticipated times. I signed up for group 5, who expect to finish between 6:10 and 6:19. I’m aiming to complete the K2 in under 6:30. And we’re off!

There are a couple of small hills before the nasty one — the Whangapoua Hill! So far I’m happily keeping up in group 5. Like always, I restrain myself in zooming too fast down the hills, especially since I haven’t done the course before. Consequently, I’m ‘left behind’ on the descents but make up for it on the flats and the climbs.

Soon enough we’re making our way up the Whangapoua Hill. This involves a 380m climb without reprieve! Surprisingly, I have no problem making my way up and overtook a number of people on the way. It is still hard work and on the side of the road there’s some creatively clever use of road kill. Someone’s dressed several dead possums and put them on re-purposed road signs. The signs below usually read “How’s the cramp?”, “How’s the body?”, “Go hard you Aussies!” and other tough-love motivational phrases! One of them even had several shot glasses filled with what looked like whisky. I wonder whether anyone stopped and had a drink?

At last I’m at the top Whangapoua Hill and it’s time for a very steep descent. As always, I’m hard on the brakes but at least the bunch has spread out. Those Coromandel killer hills separate the men from the boys. There are many hairpin turns on the way down and you pretty much need to obey what the road sign’s safe cornering speed says. There’s one just a head that says “15” (i.e., take this corner faster than 15 km/h and risk falling down the cliff!) and I’m slamming on the brakes.

Then I hear that sound that every cyclist hates! Pissshhhhh! F#ck! F(_) c|<! F####ck! I’ve got a blowout! Fortunately at that stage I’m at a slow enough speed I safely make my way off to the side and inspect the damage. I whip off the front tire and look for the leak. Fortunately it’s just a small hole so I patch it up. While I’m waiting for the glue to become tacky I notice there’s also another rider who’s suffered the same fate as me. He’s also off to the side, no doubt cursing just as much as I am! Is this turn notorious for getting flats? Before fitting the tube back onto the wheel I have a quick look for what caused the damage. Slightly bemused, I can’t see a thing. I shrug it off and get back into it. 10 minutes down the toilet!

But the tire wasn’t finished yet! A measly 200m later and I hear that dreaded pissshhh noise. Another flat in the front tire! By this stage I can see that several groups have now passed by, and it would be pretty much impossible to catch up to the original group I was with. I spend a little more time looking for the problem and might have found what I couldn’t find before. There’s a small and just noticeable cut in the tire sidewall. I’m not sure what it is from, but it doesn’t look like it’s helping at all. It appears to be where the puncture in the tube is as well. Unfortunately I didn’t carry any spare inner tubes with me, let alone a tire, so I am feeling a bit worried at this stage. It was a new Gatorskin as well! Due to the narrow and windy Coromandel roads, there are no support cars.

I fixed the puncture and hope for the best. Unfortunately, but predictably, it is flat again in the next 500m. The only saving grace at this point is that I’m in Coromandel, and just a few hundred metres from the start of the EMCK150 race. I ask around and with a bit of luck I manage to bump into “Stuart”, a friendly supporter who happens to have a spare front wheel! Legend! I thank him many times for saving my bacon and decide to join in with the EMCK150 riders. But for some reason or another, I end up falling off the back of this group (there’s only 30 riders or so) and end up doing the remaining 150km mostly solo.

Riding the bulk of the race solo is hard and frustrating work! There are three of us taking turns at leading some of the way from Coromandel to Thames, but even so, biking into the sea breeze is harder than ever. It’s even coming from the side! Looking back on the race, oddly the flat stretch along the Thames Coast Road was the hardest part for me.

Two hours slowly roll by and I’m about to climb the other and largest hill on the course, the Kopu-Hikuai Hill. This one is a 425m climb, but I’m told this one isn’t as bad as the Whangapoua Hill I climbed earlier. I also drove over in when making my way to Whitianga so I already know what’s in store. Again, it’s just a matter of sucking it in, dropping down to the easiest gear and staying seated. I take a longer than usual stop at the aid station that’s partway up the hill. I take a handle of jellybeans, refill my water bottles, and restock on bananas!

The rest of the course passes by, fortunately without any drama. I meet up with several more riders on the home stretch, but unfortunately they’re the slow ones from K1 and continue riding solo right until the end. The other major hill on the course, Pumpkin Hill, a 240m climb, wasn’t too bad.

I cross the finish line relieved, but mostly annoyed at my below par performance. The numbers:

  1. Start to finish: 8:06
  2. Time of first puncture: 1:30
  3. Time to fix first puncture: 10 minutes
  4. Time of second puncture: 1:41
  5. Time to fix second puncture: 11 minutes
  6. Time of third puncture: 1:53
  7. Total time wasted from punctures and sitting around: about 45 minutes!
  8. Time to do K150 (mostly solo): around 5:52

I’d imagine I’ll have better luck and do better next time. Pity the K2 is on the same weekend as the Auckland marathon!

I was feeling really good until my bike got several blowouts…
… And somehow it all went to custard! Most of this is solo.