Tilly excited about Graperide

03:22, Mar 23 2012
Graperide virgin: Frances Tilly will attempt her first Graperide tomorrow. Her friend, Ellie Wilson, provides the massage and will offer support on the day

As you can imagine, being one of 100 "virgins" picked out at random to crush pinot noir grapes in front of several thousand people would be quite a surprise and even a little daunting for a young woman.

We are referring to Forrest Graperide virgins of course, those riding Marlborough's annual cycling event for the first time. The Graperide has an entertaining tradition, now in its eighth successive year, where race organisers randomly select 100 females doing the ride for the first time, to crush three tonnes of prime grapes.

One of those 100 GrapeRide virgins in 2012 is Blenheim woman Frances Tilly.

The 23-year-old admitted she was surprised to get the callup and is sure she'll cop some flak from her mates.

"I'm sure I'll cope with the grape crushing. I kind of just ticked the box as a joke. I didn't think I would be picked out. I'll get a hard time about it. It should be a laugh."

Tilly is looking forward to riding the 101km course – part of her rehabilitation process back from injury suffered in another sport.


Back in Blenheim after studying for several years at Otago University, Tilly is a New Zealand handball rep and plays national league basketball for the Oceania Gold Rush.

A bad ankle injury suffered playing handball required a reconstruction. That wasn't totally successful and in May last year she had another operation. Cycling offered a way to keep her fitness levels up while recovering.

"I got a new bike last year and thought I'd take it up a notch, see if I like it, and get into it a bit more.

"Living in Marlborough I thought I might as well have something to train for. I've been around the course. Been to Picton and back a few times.

"Cycling is very different to the explosive sprinting in the other sports I play. Trying to adjust to the mindset of sitting on the bike for over three hours and pacing myself is a challenge."

Tilly hopes to go under 3 1/2 hours tomorrow and, while not in contention to win the event, said: "I'm very competitive, as soon as I get around people, it becomes a race."

For most of the 2500 taking part, the Graperide is a personal challenge and everyone has their own humble expectations, but the elite riders also have their part to play.

Among them is two-time winner Paul Odlin from the strong Subway team in Christchurch and the runnerup to Odlin last year, Sam Horgan. Former Marlborough Sportspersons of the Year, Jason Allen and Robin Reid – Commonwealth and Olympic reps respectively, are competing.

Favourite to take out the women's crown for the fourth consecutive year is Nelson's Karen Fulton.

The Graperide activities start today at Forrest Estate in Renwick when the Ultimate field gets away at 2pm for five laps and 505km of cycling torture.

First away tomorrow morning is the Leppin Magnum two-lap 202km field at 5.45am followed at 8.15am by the speed bunny men and women, and thereafter groups of around 100 riders at a time are sent on their way.

At 10am the 42km taster ride begins followed by a shorter 15km cancer survivors ride.

Spokesman for Top of the South Events who run the event, Duncan Mackenzie, is thrilled by another full field.

"There's no secrets between event organisers and we know a number of other events are doing it tough as far as entrants go. We are still right up there and like to think we run a good event."

He urges Marlborough people to come out to Renwick and support the riders and enjoy the aftermatch atmosphere.

He also asked motorists to be patient tomorrow along the course, if there are holdups, and said if it can be avoided to keep off the route which runs along Old Renwick Rd, State Highway One to Picton, over Queen Charlotte Drive to Havelock and back on the main road to the start/finish line.


Start/finish: Forrest Estate in Renwick.

Start times:

The Ultimate (five laps) 505km – 2pm today;

Leppin Magnum (two laps), 202km – 5.45am tomorrow;

Speed bunnies (elite) 101km – 8.15am;

Main field, 101km, follow in waves after the speed bunnies have left – approximately 8.30am;

Taster, 42km – 10am;

Cancer survivor ride, 14km, following the taster riders – approximately 10.15am;

Aftermatch – starts 3.30pm (entertainment and spot prizes precede it).

Parking: Inkerman St and Blicks Rd off the main highway near Forrest Estate.

Prize pool: Approximately $100,000 in cash and products.

Weather forecast: Cloud thickening and rain developing about the Sounds and western ranges during the afternoon. Northwesterlies picking up.

The Marlborough Express