Friday, 17 October 2014

Our Tour of Fiji 2014 - Backstories

With the Tour of Fiji race tales told, here is some of the tales from behind the scenes....

With only two weeks to organise things, SLane and I came up with the plan and went full steam ahead making it a reality. The support we had from those we approached with the idea was nothing short of amazing. We submitted our Tour of Fiji proposal to David and the team at Kosdown and had the thumbs up within minutes. Co-sponsors of KPC were also on board, it was go go go!

Our list of objectives for the trip:
  • To compete in the Tour of Fiji - Oct 10th-12th. 
  • Promote Kosdown and our sponsors through participation in the event.
  • To help promote Cycling Fiji and participation in cycling as a sport over there.

Nothing too ambitious, and along the way we'd be putting our feet up and soaking in some sunshine.

SLane's parents travelled with us as support for the week. They'd be helping with the logistics of point to point stages. 

We flew over on a five hour direct flight into Nadi a few days before the tour started. That gave us enough time to adjust to the heat and find out what we could expect out on the roads. The heat and humidity was a welcome friend. It feels just like an indoor ergo session, only 24/7.

At our accommodation in Nadi we were greeted by an excited host who saw we had arrived with bikes for the race. I thought he was just being polite until he mentioned he'd read about us in the national paper, the Fiji Times that day.

Fiji Times Oct 7th 2014 - Miller to Compete
Pressure was on from the start! :)

The following day we went out exploring on two wheels. The roads were a lot better than we'd been told to expect. We needed to pick lines though some rougher sections of road, but overall the main roads were fine on a road bike. The biggest surprise was how much courtesy was shown to us by cars, trucks, and other road users. We were always given plenty of room while passing, along with waves, and never ending "Bula!" with big smiles.

The 'Tour of Fiji' race summarised in one road sign!

Fiji road contractor Fulton Hogan were a sponsor of the Tour. As visitors we could quickly see how their work will bring about so much positive change for the whole country. See below for a before and after example...  

As the country continues to invest in their road infrastructure over the next few years, Fiji will be a perfect cycling holiday destination for touring, training, and as the sport grows, racing.

With the main island Viti Levu now sealed, SLane and I have already tossed around the idea of going back over there for a circumnavigation cycling trip. No racing, just pineapple powered kms and plenty of sunshine!

Riding done, time to rest up before race day.

The night before the race we caught up with a few of the other competitors, sponsors, and organisers for dinner. This is where we met Scott and his wife Amanda who quickly became our tour guides throughout the week. Their insights were invaluable to us and taught us more than any Lonely Planet guide could.

SLane and I with our awesome Fiji guides - Amanda and Scott.
After 200k in the heat only the locals were able to smile! :)

We also caught up with Melbourneite, Peter Hutchings. Peter won the Tour last year and along with a few others managed to get 30 road bikes donated and shipped over to Fiji for their riders in time for this year's Tour. The impact this alone has had on promoting cycling in Fiji is remarkable. Kids who were training on mountain bikes were now riding 'race bikes', some for the first time.

Hutch driving to the line on Stage 3

SLane's experience as a coach and mentor was on show on a regular basis. The riders were always keen to hear about training, racing, and equipment. The allen keys were out more than once making sure seat heights were optimal and the rattling bottle cages were secured.

SLane holding court before Stage 4

At the final presentation ceremony we were given the opportunity to say a few words and present Cycling Fiji with a supply of Kosdown cycling kit as a small gesture of our appreciation of their hospitality and for welcoming us as competitors to their event. We hope that a supply of cycling clothing will be another piece of the puzzle that will assist Cycling Fiji in getting cycling introduced to more schools and to kids who aspire to be the next Tour de France winner, or even the next Anthony Navolo.

Post Tour roll into Suva

How I managed to take the photo above...

SLane's mum, Anne, is now an avid fan of the sport and wanted to pen a few words about the experience -
It was an awesome experience for Ian and myself (Stephen’s mum and dad) to watch our two Aussie boys on the road in Fiji.  We were asked to follow the front peloton as a back-up vehicle and so had the “box seat” to witness the great sportsmanship of Shane and Stephen as they coached the more inexperienced young riders.  They “talked” them through riding strategies and encouraged them up some very long, steep inclines. (Most had never ridden such distances before.)  One incident that stands out in a proud mum’s mind is when Stephen turned back to offer assistance to a young rider whose tyre had blown, then “put the pedal to the floor” to catch up to the front group.  One rider Stephen passed at this time, came up to him after the race, and pointing down said, in a broad accent, “Magic legs, magic legs!”  It was this comradery during and between races that Shane and Stephen developed with the riders which earned them the respect of the organisers and the younger boys and girls who “hung” on every word our boys said.  A big thanks goes to the Kosdown team for helping Stephen and Shane, enabling them to ride the Tour of Fiji  – you should be very proud of their efforts on and off the road, I know we are!

Aren't mums ace? :)

Fiji blue socks on Fiji Day! #rapha #sukkie #hashtag ;)

The Food:

Every meal was amazingly good, although some of the orders arrived on delayed 'Fiji Time'. I ordered the fruit salad from every menu I looked at and I was never disappointed. A big surprise was the coffee being on par with Melbourne. Bulaccino is the hot tip (they were also fans of ours after seeing us in the Fiji Times).

Equipment / Tips:

I tried to research as much about Fiji before our trip as I could. There is an abundance of travel documentaries showing the pre-packaged air-conditioned tour bus tropical resort side of Fiji... but that isn't what we were there for. The best documentary I came across was from BBC2, A Cabbie Abroad. If you have an hour to spare, I highly recommend it.

The episode can be viewed online here: A Cabbie Abroad - Fiji

Phone/Internet: At the Nadi airport SLane and I swapped our iPhone SIMs for a AU$45 30day pre-paid Vodaphone service that had 4GB of data. The 3G coverage was fast enough to keep in touch with the world. Perfect for what we needed.

Bikes: We took our road bikes, both Specialzed SL4 Tarmacs with nothing special added. We used clip-on TT bars for Stage 2 only. If you wanted to explore further inland on hard packed roads a CX bike would be an ideal choice. If you're sticking to the main roads, road bikes are fine.

Tyres: We used a combo of Specialized Roubaix (23/25) and GatorSkins without any issues. Some of the roads are coarse so a wider tyre with a little less pressure is the best option. I picked up two flats on the first two days from small pieces of wire on the road, then had no issues from then on. Take plenty of tubes and quick-stick patches given the remoteness of some locations.

Luggage: KPC sponsor issued THULE gear. Bags with wheels and handles, very important things when you're sent to Gate 22 that is about 3km walk at the airport.

The Future:

We'll be back, maybe for the 2015 Tour, hopefully before. A cycling holiday taking in the whole 500km around main island is the newest entry on my 'must do' list. I've promised to take Von there with bikes and introduce her to some of our new friends.

Making it happen list:

Everyone who helped made this happen behind the scenes:

Flight Center Active Travel - For making the whole trip so easy to organise. I sent our contact Josh an email with the itinerary and in a few hours we had flights, car hire, travel insurance, and accommodation sorted. This was the first time I'd outsourced the planning/booking of an overseas trip and I was impressed. They wrapped it up with one single payment across 6-7 separate companies, in another country. I never had to make a booking or a phone call to Fiji myself. We even got hats!

The Ride Cycles -  Aaron and the crew in Burke Rd Kew East helped out with the last minute spares for the trip. Those guys are always smiling and happy to help.

TraVelo Bike Bag Hire - Calling on friends for favours! Anna had two bags ready to go at short notice.

SLane's parents Ian and Anne - They travelled with us. They were great company and invaluable support throughout the week.

Kosdown - Without David and the crew getting behind us this trip would have been a passing thought only. Their ongoing support of what we do inspires us to come up with crazy ideas like this.

Last and not least ....

Cycling Fiji - An amazing group of people, in an amazing part of the world, doing amazing things to promote the sport. Adrienne, Christian, Adrian, and everyone involved who've put months of preparation and planning into this event - Thank you!

Adrian, I have an important announcement....
We'll be back! :)

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