Saturday, February 06, 2021

Tour Te Waipounamu

 We were on a family holiday down south. Covid lockdown had decreased to a level where we were able to get out and stimulate the economy a bit. We'd been staying with my cousin in Christchurch and were on the way back home and passing through Hanmer where Steve Halligan lives. Steve invited us around and made us an amazing breakfast. He asked me what I thought about Brian Alder's new event? Brian's event? It was news to me. 

Steve told me all about Brian's Tour Te Waipounamu, a 1350 km route taking in some of the South Island's gnarliest high-country. Once I got the appropriate permissions signed off a loose plan developed. Try to get some rides in - easy in the amazing weather of lock-down, but really hard in one of Wellington's crappest ever Springs. It seemed like a really hard course that Brian had dreamed up. But then again that was also part of the attraction. A real adventure, and a chance to see some completely new country. No one had ever done what he was suggesting, not even Brian himself. Linking the top of the South Island to the bottom required getting permission from private land owners all along a route normally out of bounds to the public. He outsourced the route-checking to his various buddies located around the South Island, just to see if what he was planning was actually doable. It turns out that it was.

I first met Brian Alder and Steve Halligan on my 3rd Kiwi Brevet in 2014. Brian seemed very prepared and was obviously a very details oriented kind of guy. Steve was quiet and strong and you could tell was the kind of guy who was very happy with his own company, while still being your typically friendly Irishman. Little did we know that they would both go on to achieve some pretty amazing results in the Tour Divide and other ultra Bikepacking events. 

Brian came 5th in what is often said to be the worlds hardest Bikepacking Race, the Tour Divide, in 2016, and Steve was 4th in 2017 and 2019 , despite having some pretty devastating mechanicals in his first attempt. 

Brian's event, the Tour Te Waipounamu is filled with Top-ten Tour Divide veterans including Geof Blance, 4th in 2014, Tony Lesur 5th in 2019, Ollie Whalley, 1st and record holder in 2012 and Peter Maindonald, 10th in 2017.  I think that's about 17% of the riders, and there are quite a few other Tour Divide veterans riding as well. Kiwi riders have had a special relationship with the Tour Divide, ever since Simon Kennett came back from the States after doing the Great Divide, and introduced Bikepacking to Kiwis with the first Kiwi Brevet in 2012. Simon's spin on the "Dirt Brevet" was to require riders to stop riding for 6 hours in each 24 hour period. It's my belief that this is what made it so accessible to Kiwi riders. The Tour Te Waipounaumu will not require riders to rest in this manner, more like the "races" that are held in other parts of the world.

Some other interesting stats from the Tour Te Waipounaumu riders follow. There are 3 riders on single speed Surly Karate Monkeys! What are the odds? All piloted by very capable riders, Stephen "Stealth" Butterworth, Phil Walter and Tad Mejdr,  an ex Single speed world champ, who I think originally comes from Czechoslovakia, as does Martin Strelka. Martin seems to have the most recent "form" with some big pre-covid wins in Europe, so it will be interesting to see what bike he turns up with, and if it looks as flash as Steve's Binary Havok

Steve Halligan's Binary Bicycles Havok

There are six woman entered which is about 17% of the entrants, very good by international standards - I have pulled these stats off the Mapprogress page that shows the riders who have registered their trackers.  Hanna Black has been travelling the Americas for several years with partner Mark Watson and still would be if not for Covid. Brenda (Bob) Clapp is also riding with her partner Chris, and Kath is another very accomplished rider I know of.

There are some big questions to be answered in an event like the Tour Te Waipounamu. Finishing an event this tough is not a given. There will be weather and terrain. And those are just the constants. How we deal with them is the real test.

Dulkara Martig's description of the course is the best I have seen here: https://maprogress.com/2021/01/27/tour-te-waipounamu-new-zealands-toughest-bikepacking-race/

Miscellaneous links:
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An interview with Brian before his Tour Divide rider in 2016, and another on his return here. You can find Steve's story about his win in the epic Terrra Australis race here

Two great interviews on Bruce Maunsell's Pedal On Podcast with Brian and some of the riders.

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My bike

Jonty at Revolution Bicycles loaned me a frame and a fork, as the Worlds fastest Karate Monkey had been sold.

It's nothing special, an old Cannondale Flash aluminum frame and luckily the same frame bag I used on the Karate Monkey and XTC still fit it.

The main gear is mostly antipodean. Maybe not the lightest in the world, but certainly amongst the longest lasting. I've gone for comfort over weight. B-17 Brooks saddle and Ergon grips.

  • Gas tank, seat-bag, frame-bag and stem pouches from Stealth Bike Bags, and front harness and glove-box from Cactus, another NZ company famed for robust gear.
  • Lighting and charging from the dynamo genius Kerry Staite at K-lite, running an SP dynamo hub with K-lite qubes on the back.
  • Ancillary lighting via Ali-express 1x18650 torch and a few 2x18650 Ali-express DIY Power-banks.
  • Navigation via Extrex 20
  • Rear wheel is Hope Pro-2 running on a DTswiss X-432 rim. Mezcal 2.35s. (Don't do this it's a really tight bead).
  • Runnning gear is 2x10. 38/24, 11-40.
  • Brakes Shimano, shifting SRAM.
  • RAB sleeping bag liner
  • North Face sleeping bag
  • Tarptent Contrail
  • Sleeping mat, Thermarest
Ready to roll, for sunday the 14th of Feb. 


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