Tour of Northland: One women’s view

Riding a four day event at a cracking pace is something that will either inspire you or give you a sense of the chills. No matter which camp you fall into, you can’t help but respect someone who completes a ride such as the four day Tour of Northland.

One Auckland based rider, Danielle, took up the challenge and finished very credibly. However, she openly admits that the event tested her mental and physical strength beyond what she had imagined.

I was curious what would drive someone to go from taking up cycling around two years before to trying to average 36km/h across a very hilly course for four days in a row? Following one of her recovery rides we caught up to get one women’s view on the motivations and the idea that riding the 800 odd km from Wellington to Auckland in one race is a good idea.

Danielle at the start of day three in Opononi

Danielle at the start of day three in Opononi (rider 260)

What got you into cycling and then what switched in your head to jump to competitive cycling?

A friend of mine wanted to do a duathlon, one of the women’s series that used to be run across the country. I started with a five km run and a ten km cycle event. Following this one I signed up for one with a 20km cycle and I remember thinking that 20km was such a long way and wondering how was I going to go that far.

From there I started riding on my own quite a lot. It was during one of these solo rides that I decided to do the race around Lake Rotorua. I signed up and did the race. Looking back I rode terribly. I wasn’t eating on the bike and drank only water. I really struggled and just about didn’t finish.

What has been the most useful in preparing you for racing, where do you get your information?

I get it wherever I can. My coaches Alan and Tracey help but also friends and the internet. I am still learning about nutrition while riding. The problem is that I hate eating while riding, when training I like to stop to eat. It is something to work on and I am experimenting with different things while training.

So what is your motivation?

It sounds stupid but I hate races. When I finish I am always fed up and generally say I will never do it again. I have done Taupo a couple of times despite saying I wouldn’t. The reason I do it as I want the motivation to train and I get enjoy getting better through training.

Part of it comes down to being able to enjoy a Sunday group ride. When you can keep up for the entire ride you actually enjoy it as opposed to being dropped all the time. Being dropped by the group each week can be a bit demoralising at times.

Thinking about the last year my improvement has been amazing, thanks to my coaches who keep me training when I don’t want to. A year ago there was no way I could race 80km at 36km/h average. It has actually been in the last three months ahead of Northland that I made the most improvement.

Would having more female cyclists make it easier or not bother you?

I don’t know, it really just doesn’t worry me. I get a little annoyed when I am just hanging on the back of the bunch but I have never ridden with loads of females so I don’t really know.

So you recently did the Tour of Northland, a four day event. What prompted you to do the tour?

I did it because I wanted to ride the Wellington to Auckland race. So this was a test run, you know if I can do this then I will be able to do that.

So then the logical question is seeing as you finished, are you going to do the seven day Wellington to Auckland race?

The thing about that race is that it is two stages a day so they are shorter but more of them. One in the morning, lunch then race again in the afternoon. In a race like the Tour of Northland you go flat out for around three hours in the morning then have the afternoon to recover and do what you need to do. But with the Wellington to Auckland race you don’t get that recovery time and from what I understand it can also be tough getting going again later in the race. More mental preparation would be required, so I am not sure. I think I will be dragged to the start line by my friends and coaches.

In terms of riding the ratio of cyclists is still well tipped to the male favour. How do you find riding with all the guys and being in the group both mentally and physically while on the bike.

Most of the guys are actually really awesome. I had a couple of blokes who really helped when I was struggling on day three with a cold and having being dropped from the group. Without their help I am sure I would have lost a lot of time by the finish.

The women that are racing can be really competitive. There is plenty of competition among the males but with so few women I am not sure we are getting the best of the competition as the numbers are few. But like the men there are some really good female riders. In the end I finished seventh in my class from 12.

In terms of your preparation for the ride compared to say Taupo, did your training prepare you well for it?

No, I didn’t do enough training with four days in a row to understand how much of a toll this takes on your legs and body. The key to this is mental preparation and I don’t think I would have pushed myself hard enough in training to really prepare for the reality of riding four days at race pace.

Some riders have an amazing capacity both of mind and body as they were riding as hard on the fourth day as they were on the first day. By day four I was absolutely stuffed. Overall though, I felt like my endurance was ok (thanks to my training) but I just couldn’t hold the pace of the group. I felt pretty wrecked at the end of day three but I never thought I was not going to reach the end it was a matter of how quickly I was going to get there.

Thinking about the tour, what were the favourite day/s?

I really enjoyed the second day and strangely the fourth day as by then I just didn’t care anymore about being dropped I was just riding my own race. Taking some time to admire the view so to speak did catch me out when I nearly rode off a cliff – the view was stunning….in races you don’t often get much of a chance to look at the scenery.

The second day was just beautiful, riding through the Kauri forest and then into Opononi, the scenery was stunning. [Ed note: The Waipoua Forrest features Tane Mahuta, ‘King of the Forest’ the largest Kauri tree in the world and is approximately 2000 years old.]

Tane Mahuta. a 2000 year old Kauri tree

Tane Mahuta. a 2000 year old Kauri tree

So what was it about the third day that was so tough mentally?

That was the day that I had a cold good and proper. It was also tough as you still have two full days to go. You think to yourself on the start line that you still have two full days of riding to go.

What can I say other than I hate racing..But I like doing the events to push myself and day three certainly did that.

Well done on a great first tour and we’ll see you next year on the Wellington start line.

Thanks and we’ll see about that.

Author: Christopher Baylis

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