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K2 Road Cycling Classic
Coromandel Peninsula, New Zealand, October 28, 2006
McMaster Masters NZ's Toughest Cycle Race
By Michael Jacques
Commonwealth Games track cyclist Fraser McMaster showed he's no slouch on the road when he outclassed most of New Zealand's top riders in New Zealand's toughest road race today. In just five years Coromandel's K2 road cycling classic has established itself as one of New Zealand's must-do events. In 2006, more than 1200 riders lined up for what the cycling community consider to be the toughest road cycling event in the country.
The 200 kilometre lap of Coromandel Peninsula is as savage as it is scenic, with more than 2000 metres of vertical climbing offsetting the scenic mix of bush and beaches. The event format is also unique: with the start/finish alternating annually between the four major Coromandel Peninsula townships, the demands and tactics of the race change every year.
With three times K2 champion Glen Mitchell not returning from the US to defend his streak, this year's K2 was wide open. On such a mountainous course climbing specialists like Auckland's Aaron Strong and Wairarapa's Scott Lyttle were tipped as the ones the watch. But after a race of non-stop attacking, and counter attacking - it was track specialist Fraser McMaster who proved strongest.
Starting in Coromandel township this year, the route opened with two tough climbs in the first 15km and then 40km of flat riding along the Firth of Thames coastline to Thames. With so much flat riding before the serious climbs, nobody was expecting a break away - which was exactly why Tokoroa's Justin Kerr managed to take a flyer.
Smacking a big gear up the two early climbs over Kerata Hill, Kerr quickly opened up two minutes on a big chase bunch behind. With the truly tough riding still to come, no one was keen to organise a chase and the bunch stayed together all the way through Thames to the base of Kopu-Hikuai - the race's biggest climb.
Tucked almost anonymously in the middle of this bunch during the early going was lead woman Linda Villumsen - a 21-year-old Danish professional who is considered one of the big up and comers on the international women's scene.
Villumsen broke through at the highest level this year when she won the Route de France Feminine, the women's Tour de France. The European time trial champion is currently enjoying her off-season travelling and training in New Zealand and was a late entrant into the K2.
Although not in top race fitness, Villumsen outclassed New Zealand reps Michelle Hyland and Gina Waible - stopping the clock in just under six hours. But in the early kilometres of the race she impressed onlookers by rubbing shoulders in the front bunch as they chased early leader Justin Kerr.
It was at the 60k mark, at the base of Kopu-Hikuai, that the race began in earnest. The 14 km long, 500m high, Kopu-Hikuai Hill is the single biggest climb in the event. In past years it has decided the winner, but with such a strong field this year it served simply allowed five riders to break clear - catching Kerr and establishing their own break away.
The quintet included climbing specialist Aaron Strong, elite triathletes Kieran Doe and Matt Gilbert, national Under-23 time trial and mountain bike champion Clinton Avery and McMaster. They stayed clear on the long descent back down to the Pacific Ocean and through Tairua, which marked the halfway point. Behind them, however, a second chase bunch of 12 riders had formed and worked well along the rolling coastline to catch the leaders at Whitianga.
With 40km remaining the 26-strong bunch sat up to eat and drink before this tough final section of the race. Sitting on the outside of the bunch Fraser McMaster decided this might be a good time to shake things up and rolled off the front to see who was keen.
It turned out no one was keen and in the space of eight kilometres McMaster opened up a two and half minute gap. With five challenging climbs to the finish line its the toughest section in K2 and nobody thought McMaster, a track specialist, would last all the way by himself.
But with 10km of downhill or flat terrain remaining nobody could catch McMaster, who finished in 5 hours and 24 minutes.
Men 1 Fraser McMaster 5.24.00 Women 1 Linda Villumsen
Local results 2006