The bloggers finished off at 9.30pm last night, but they couldn't help notice as they made their way to bed that there wasn’t a single rider at large in the hotel. We were riding for 140 kilometres today as well as climbing 1720 metres, and the peloton was already on edge. They had a rude shock nevertheless.
We left Christchurch at 7.00 (to the strains of ‘’We’ve got a great big Convoy…” streaming from Brad Bennett’s mobile boom box) and travelled west across the Canterbury Plains. There was a low fog, as we made our way along a tree-lined road, straight and flat, which felt vaguely Italian (even had olive trees), and the temperature must have been no more than 16 degrees. Even when we came out of the fog, the temperature stayed low. We stopped in the morning at a rugby field called the Domain, in a little village called Sheffield where, as always, the support crew helped us re-fuel, and the local apples were particularly fantastic. We set off again, keeping our shape and hooting along at 31 kilometres per hour on the flat, in the sun, and we were counting our blessings.
But that all changed. Our headquarters tonight is the Moa Lodge at the Beasley Hotel, on the Beasley Spur, just near Arthur’s Pass. Its a vaguely-nordic looking group of cabins in the New Zealand Alps, and it cost some pain to get here. You climb 1000 metres to reach a place called Castle Hill on the edge of the mountain plains and the incline just gets steeper as you go. But, to add to that, there was a headwind blowing at 55 km per hour and as one of the riders pointed out you could be going backwards even when you were peddling. There was an awful pinch just at the top, and we have to admit that one of the bloggers, and a number of other riders, jumped off their bikes and walked the last 200 metres. One of the most beautiful things we saw (apart from breathtaking mountain views) was to see many of the strong riders hanging back to help the slower ones up the hill. All the same, the sag wagon was fuller today than we've ever seen it, which tells you something about that wind.
We we crested the peak, we stopped for lunch at a place called Castle Hill. There were boulders all around the area, and some vague stories about how Lord of the Rings had been filmed there. Certainly, there was a steady stream of New Zealand tourists going somewhere that was apparently significant, but it looked like a long way, and the peloton was knocked around. We ate a lot, and we took some team photographs in the picnic area, but we stayed. There was still a moment at lunch. Every night when the jerseys are awarded, we also confer a rubber chook to the person who has committed the worst indiscretion in the course of the day. We have adjusted the tradition this year to award a sheep (called Sean) in deference to our off-shore location. There were lots of things that happened on the climb but the Sunkids team were the presenters tonight and they decided that Brad Hellen should win for accidentally eating his paper plate whilst he was having lunch.
We arrived here at 2.30 and lots riders had massages, but many of them went swimming in the fast, cold streams that are presumably fed in winter by the snowcaps. The bloggers had the rare pleasure of watching Michael Byron stripping off his Hutchie’s board shorts to reveal his hutchie’s speedos, before diving into the icy stream like a small bear chasing salmon. The Hutchies team are strong on merch.
As we say, Sunkids presented tonight and it was high energy. For reasons that the bloggers would struggle to explain, there were two riders dressed in masks and capes as rock ’n roll wrestlers, and then a thoughtful talk by Patrice Sherrie, Peter Sherrie and Paul Cavallucci. The yellow jersey went to Shannon O’Brien. MichaeI Irvine was awarded the white. Jamie Charman received the polka dot. Paul Davis came away with the black. Sue Jeavons was awarded the red. Ben Urban got the green. And the blue went to Michael Tritton.
As we write, the mess at the lodge is empty and Cori our fabulous marketing person, is tapping her fingers for us to let us know she needs to get to bed, and we should finish up, so we will. To all you partners reading this, can we say in closing that the riders are truly grateful for the sacrifices you made to get us here.