More than 1200 riders from six countries lined up for the 10th anniversary K2 cycle classic, where New Plymouth’s Michael Torckler caused a major upset to win New Zealand’s toughest road cycle race.
At the top level, road cycling can be as much a test of tactical nous as talent, but the 200k lap of the Coromandel Peninsula is simply a test of toughness. Either you can do it or you can’t, and Michael Torckler surprised even himself to do it better than anyone.
The 10th anniversary K2 was meant to be the Jeremy Yates show. The former world junior champion was looking for his fifth straight win, and generally accepted as the best climber in the country K2 was generally accepted to be his race. But it turned out to be Torckler’s race as the 24 year old waited for everyone to play their hand and then made his own move when Yates least expected.
Starting this year in Thames, the race was animated right from the start with a dangerous bunch of Eliot Crowther (Taur), Jim McMurray (Tirau) and Andi Bajc (Slovenia) opening a big lead on the opening climb of the 14k long Kopu-Hikuai Hill. Favourites such as Yates, Torckler and last year’s third and fourth place getters, Andy Hagan and Silas Cullen from Wellington, appeared happy to let the trio have their head and by the time they reached the halfway mark at Whitianga their lead was out to five minutes.
The big danger in the breakaway was Bajc, who has represented Slovenia at the world championships and was a late entry into K2 just a few days out. But with almost 2000m of climbing, the 60k between Whitianga and just past Coromandel is the toughest section of the race, and as expected Yates and Torckler started cracking the whip. The trio were reeled in 30k later, on the long climb up Whangapoa Hill.
On the last two climbs of the day over Manaia Hill and Kereta Hill, Yates and Torckler went to work, with only Crowther and Bajc able to tag on. Crowther was first to drop away, followed by misfortune for Yates when his chain slipped off on Ketera Hill. Torckler attacked instantly, opening a lead on both riders. Yates gave chase as they swept down onto the Firth of Thames coastline for the final 40k to the finish line, but Torckler was too motivated and too strong.
The 200k K2 might be the toughest road cycle event in the country, but for Torckler it paled in comparison to the last 10 months. In January the 24 year old hurt his knee in a racing crash. It forced a few days off the bike but didn’t seem too bad, until a few weeks later when a fall while mucking around in sand dunes split his weakened knee cap in half.
It was bad timing. Torckler had just signed a contract with Pure Black Racing, the new Kiwi pro team that went on to win several major titles on the American pro circuit this year. But at K2, Torckler announced his comeback to be complete.
He crossed the finish line in Thames in 5hrs 12min 08secs, almost three minutes clear of Yates. Behind them Andi Bajc was impressive after a day of riding in the wind to outsprint Te Awamutu’s Hayden McCormick and Wellingtonians Silas Cullen and Andy Hagan for third.
The Elite Women’s race, contested over the 100k K1 event from Whitianga to Thames, turned out to be a similar affair. The small but elite field of 16 riders was blown apart within the first 10k as Auckland’s Teresa Adam stamped her authority on the race up Pumpkin Hill.
Adam’s aggressive riding split the race into four bunches, with a five-strong lead bunch of Courteney Lowe (Taur), Emma Crum (Akld), Jeannie Kahujek (Nelson) and recently crowned world duathlon champion Melanie Burke (Akld) leading Janine Copp (Wgtn) and national junior reps Ashleigh Neave (Napier) and Georgia Williams (Akld). This trio stayed close for the next 30k, until Whangapoa Hill, when Adam and Lowe went to war.
Adam proved strongest, opening up 30 second lead as they crested the big climb. But she proved the most skilled downhill rider too, eventually reaching Coromandel Township with 90 seconds in hand. With 53k and two big hills yet to ride, however, the race was anything but over. Lowe showed tactical nous and waited to join forces with the chasers. But Adam was simply too strong, actually adding to her lead on the final 40k of flat riding along the coastline to Thames.
Adam eventually stopped the clock in 2hrs 52min 56secs, winning 3min 32secs ahead of Lowe, who also rode well to finish almost three minutes clear of Emma Crum in third.
While the racing up front reflected the K2 reputation as New Zealand’s toughest road cycle event, behind them there were 10 riders taking on the 10th anniversary event for their 10th time. Two were particularly impressive – Milford’s Dennis Magness and Whakatane’s Warren Smart making their 10th K2 their fastest, with Magness clocking in at 6hrs 18min 18secs and Smart at 7hrs 02min 39secs.
Organised by Adventure Racing Coromandel, the K2 is the first of their popular summer events that includes The Great Kauri Run, the Moehau Multisport Race and the ARC Adventure Race. Their events benefit the Spirit of Coromandel Trust, which provides opportunities for young people to experience the outdoors. For details visit www.arcevents.co.nz.
K2 Cycle Classic, Coromandel
Elite Men – 200k
1, Michael Torckler, New Plymouth, 5:12:08
2, Jeremy Yates, Hastings, 5:15:02
3, Andi Bajc, Solvenija, 5:15:52
4, Hayden McCormick, Te Awamutu, 5:15:52
5, Silas Cullen, Wellington, 5:15:52
6, Andy Hagan, Wellington, 5:15:59
7, William Bowman, Christchurch, 5:24:13
8, Josh Page, Hastings, 5:24:14
9, Eliot Crowther, Tauranga, 5:24:16
10, Sam Lindsay, Auckland, 5:24:17
Elite Women – 100k
1, Teresa Adam, Auckland, 2:52:54
2, Courteney Lowe, Tauranga, 2:56:26
3, Emma Crum, Auckland, 2:59:15
4, Jeannie Kuhajek, Wakefield, 3:03:34
5, Ashleigh Neave, Napier, 3:03:58
6, Melanie Burke, Auckland, 3:03:59
7, Janine Copp, Wellington, 3:03:59
8, Janine Copp, Wellington, 3:03:59
9, Georgia Williams, Auckland, 3:04:05
10, Gayle Bronwlee, Auckland, 3:09:57