Perfect finish to the perfect race
Auckland fitness gym owner Stuart Holder made best use of the idyllic weather conditions to win a punishing sprint finish to the Taranaki Round the Mountain Cycle Challenge on Saturday.
In the leading bunch of no fewer than a dozen riders, Holder was first across the line at New Plymouth's Pukekura Raceway, just a tyre width ahead of Wellington's David Weaver and third-placed Heath Lett, of Tauranga.
All three recorded a time of 3 hours, 40 minutes, 50 seconds - believed to be a record for the 148km trip around the mountain.
Fourth and the first local rider home was New Plymouth teen Jason Thomason, who was only a second back from a podium finish.
"I came in 11th last year and this year we've gone 13 minutes quicker," 36-year-old Holder said. "It's the best conditions I've struck for it.
"They were perfect and it was like the wind was on my back the whole way."
The South Africa-born businessman had contested the previous three challenges and was thrilled to take line honours.
Holder took up road cycling only 3 years ago, soon after arriving in New Zealand.
"I used to do off-road motorbike racing back home and I couldn't do that when I arrived here, so I took up cycling."
Holder is a member of the Counties-Manukau Cycling Club and is coached by one of the legends of road cycling in New Zealand, Gordon McCauley.
"He's been coaching me almost from the beginning. I've gone from not riding at all, to winning a race like this in three years. It's awesome. Gordon has made a huge difference to me."
The 1130 riders who lined up for Saturday's challenge is just a small field in comparison to what Holder has competed against in the Argus Cycle race in Cape Town, South Africa, the past three years.
"It's the biggest cycling event in the world and has 36,000 competitors," he said.
"It's held every March and I'll be going back for it this year."
Holder finished 325th last year in the Argus and said it was better than it sounded.
"This year, I'll be a seeded rider because of my (325th) finish last year, so I would hope to finish in the top 100."
Holder was part of a breakaway lead group that made their move about 80km into the challenge on Saturday.
"I think there were 16 of us and we bled three or four off in the last 15km when the pace really, really picked up, especially going up the last hill."
Holder plans to contest the RAV bike race in Cambridge later this month as a pipe opener for the Argus.
"It's a race much more for climbers than this event," he said.
"Then I"ll head back to Cape Town for the race there."
Event director Selwyn Brown was "99 per cent sure" a course record was set by Holder and the other two top solo riders.
"Which is great," he said.
"It was an awesome day and idyllic to ride around the mountain."
Brown believed the previous fastest time recorded by a solo rider was around 3hr 45min to 3hr 50min.
The first female rider home was Hayley Giddens, of Wanganui, in 3hr 49min 34sec.
Meanwhile, the hot sunny weather caught out several riders, with some suffering from heat stroke and dehydration, needing assistance from first aiders posted around the course.
"Fortunately, we had plenty of first aid staff posted around the course," Brown said.
"In any large event like this one, there is always going to be a few accidents. It's par for the course."
"One rider popped a collarbone on the ride."
Riders came from all parts of New Zealand, from Invercargill in the south to Whangarei in the north, with seven entered from Australia.
Taranaki Daily News