The wet early morning in Palmerston North might have discouraged some late entries, but as with all fun-rides of late, numbers were a little down at the start line.
Some 72 riders began the 96 km Rangitikei River Loop, one of the most enjoyable rides on the annual calendar, on Sunday morning. There are usually some riders from as far a field as Wellington and Taranaki, some using it as training for the Tour of Southland, others just wanting to see the fantastic country-side. This year was no exception.
The tough bit about this ride is the nasty climb straight out of the start line and as usual, this immediately split the bunch. A group of some 16 of the better riders formed at the front, with a couple of large chasing groups hoping to get back on before the first section on SH1.
Almost immediately down on the river flats, Nate Levin and Josh Kendall attacked and were soon joined by Robert Stannard. These young riders managed to get a 30 second gap which they held for about 20 min but was closing to the ten remaining riders in the front group as we neared SH1 for the second time. However, Steve Stannard jumped across to his Bike Manawatu colleagues before the short climb out of the valley and very quickly the gap to the front group opened. This group of four established a good lead down the highway to the Halcombe Rd turn-off, whilst the front group began to split as the pressure went on to chase.
The four Bike Manawatu riders were caught at the top of the Stanaway hill by a stroung group consisting of two Wheelworks riders (Andy Hagan and Kane McCollum), Alex West, and Luke McDermott (Wellington). Soon after National Club ITT champion Hagan attacked and rode out to a 2 min solo lead. The remaining front group then worked fairly evenly along the Cheltenham Rd to Waituna West where the race really begins!
Some attacks up the hill, seemingly for second place now, started and the bunch started to splinter. Nate Levin was particularly strong and pushed the pace hard. Before the second last climb we passed Andy Hagan at the side of the road with a puncture and so began a new race!
Both Nate and Kane McCollum put in some big attacks and found themselves alone, some 50 m in front of Robert and Steve, at the bottom of the Vinegar Hill climb. At this point either of these riders could win.
However, a mechanical at the top of the hill saw Nate withdraw leaving Kane to take the ride about 40 seconds in front of Robert and Steve. Andy Hagan (with a new wheel) and Alex West finished another 3 minutes back.
Elizabeth Stannard was the first woman home amongst good representation from Bike Manawatu.
This is a ride which is well organized and over some great roads. If you’ve not done it before, put it in your diary for next October!