Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Tour of Fiji 2014 - The Race


The annual Tour of Fiji hosted by Cycling Fiji has been on my 'must do' list since its inception a few years ago. A multi-stage race, hot conditions, challenging roads, and a time trial or two thrown in. The bonus being Fiji is a tropical paradise. Well, a lot of it is.... and a lot of it isn't. More of that in my next post. For now, here is how things unfolded out on the road: 

Stage 1 -  Nadi - Korotogo 70km. October 10th 2014.

At 8am the sun was already beaming down and the humidity was high. Thankfully with a point to point stage the sun would be on our backs for the entire stage.

There were a total of 47 riders on the start line. The field consisted of a number of juniors, locals, expats, and international riders. The range in ages and origins was matched with the range of bikes the riders were on. I was taken back to my early cycling days when seeing an original condition 2003 Giant OCR that was identical to my first race bike.

With the traffic control convoy organised and official proceedings out of the way, we were off and rolling towards the Coral Coast.

Start line smiles... Photo by Suzie Turner
As first timers to Fiji, we had no idea what kind of racing to expect. Within a few kms things were strung out with a surge at the front. This shuffled the bunch into a number of groups that would stick together for most of the stage.

At 20km in Peter Hutchings (Hutch) set things alight up the first climb. Local rider #5 Anthony Navolo (Tony) was glued to his wheel and looking comfortable. Hutch continued to drive the pace while Tony kept him honest, staying right on his wheel. I mentioned to SLane that #5 was showing really good form early on, and he continued to do so in the following kilometres.

The temperature was heading north as we headed south. It was getting HOT! A group of around eight riders were at the head of the race with 45km to go. Up the next incline I pushed the pace and was given a small gap by the bunch. 17yo Tony was soon across to my wheel. This kid can ride! A few hills later he was still on my wheel and we were holding a good 30 second lead on the others.

SLane and I had planned on conserving as much as possible on the road stages, then going head to head against each other in the two time trials. However, there I was off the front with Tony on my wheel.... the game plan changed. It was time to see if I could help get young Tony to the line before the others and get him a good GC buffer. Early in the stage he was positioned well in the bunch, responded to the right moves, and deserved a shot at a podium place on the stage.

15km to go and the two of us had a 2 minute gap. I told Tony that we just might make it to the finish line ahead of the others if we were lucky.

We had a leading police escort and a support car following our break. In the support car was Tony's father and coach, Percy Navolo. Percy is the Nadi Western Cycling Association (FNWCA) president and has represented Fiji at the Commonwealth Games. He had been the driving force behind getting his son on a new Mireda bike for the Tour. A few days later his son was doing his father and sponsors proud by being the decisive move on Stage 1 of their national Tour.

With 10km to go, Tony was feeling the effects of the heat and having to race the full 70km distance. We had enough time to drop the pace, take in some food and drink, then make one final push to the finish. Percy and crew in the follow car were helping spur Tony on as we darted though Sigatoka with our police escort clearing the way, true tour style!
Dishing out the encouragement for one final push over the last hill!
(Photo: Richard David)
With 2km to go Tony put it all on the line up the final climb. He made it to the top and launched off my wheel as soon as he saw the finish on the fast descent. What a star! That's exactly how you win bike races. And he did. On Fiji Day no less!

An emotional Percy had to lift him off his bike, he was exhausted. Thankfully the combination of sweat and large Oakleys hid my emotions too. What a champion. And he would soon pull on the leaders yellow jersey for Stage 2.
Stage 1 Top 10
1    Anthony Navolo      5    02:06:38
2    Shane Miller       36    02:06:42
3    Stephen Lane       37    02:08:31
4    James McCann (E)   12    02:08:56
5    Stuart Gee         40    02:09:12
6    Peter Hutchings (E) 1    02:10:19
7    Petero Manoa       30    02:13:28
8    Jason Turner       14    02:18:24
9    Scott Smith        34    02:18:24
10   George Lal (L)      9    02:19:23

(Full Tour results on FB here)

National newspaper headline! Big time!

Stage 2 - Time Trial - Korotogo - Sigatoka - Return (16km) October 10th 2014.

The stage was extended by 4km and over a solid hill climb to allow for a better start/finish location. This was a welcome addition to SLane and I as these were the stages we were looking to really bite into.

A rain shower just prior to the race drove the humidity though the roof. With riders off at 30 second intervals, everyone was out on the road in no time at all and chasing down their '1/2 minute man'. I was chasing SLane who put in a solid first 8km that almost cooked us both! I bridged the 30 second gap on the return leg and set about spraying him with water (the only reason I took a drink bottle on the TT). We had a cracking battle up the final climb before hitting the line side by side taking 1-2 for the stage.

Direct hit! Filmed on the GoPro! (The water fight is at 18:15)

Tony did the yellow jersey proud by setting a good time that secured him 5th on the stage. Fast enough to keep him on the GC podium.

Stage 2 ITT Top 10
1    Shane Miller        36        00:23:21
2    Stephen Lane        37        00:23:52
3    Stuart Gee          40        00:28:17
4    Peter Hutchings (E)  1        00:28:18
5    Anthony Navolo       5        00:29:22
6    James McCann (E)    12        00:29:33
7    Mapa Bolea          22        00:29:54
8    Petero Manoa        30        00:30:05
9    Scott Smith         34        00:30:12
10   Carl Ngamoki-Cameron (L) 6    00:30:14

At presentations that night I was presented with the leaders jersey and SLane and I were given the opportunity to offer the development squad riders some advice on racing, training, and nutrition. Many thanks to Cycling Fiji superstar/Westpac GM/event sponsor Adrian Hughes for arranging that for us. 

In Yellow with Cycling Fiji President, Adrienne Ali.
SLane giving everyone a few tips for Stage 3.

Stage 3 - Korotogo - Pacific Harbour (70km) October 11th 2014.

The first day in Yellow for me. SLane and I stuck to the game plan, letting the others dictate the road stages while conserving what energy we could. The hills started getting longer and steeper as the stage progressed. This was the Queen stage on Queens Rd!

The local riders loved to push the pace at the start of the climbs. Jamming hard up the start of the climbs and leaving us behind spinning away.... until they inevitably slowed down and we caught up again. We tried to lead by example, "slow at the bottom, strong over the top".

After being peeled off the bike yesterday completely exhausted, #5 Tony Navolo was still showing us his strength by always being up near the front over the top of the climbs. 

Mid race pic! Tony driving the pace past the school kids.
The lead bunch split on the steepest climb of the day. Tony, SLane, and myself holding a slim gap over the field as we continued the journey along the Coral Coast towards Pacific Harbour. We lifted the pace on the 5km flat section to the line to hold a comfortable GC buffer. SLane and Tony went head to head in a sprint resulting in a dead heat for them on the stage. 

Stage 3 Top 10
1    Stephen Lane            37    02:11:40
1    Anthony Navolo           5    02:11:40
3    Shane Miller            36    02:11:43
4    James McCann (E)        12    02:17:18
5    Peter Hutchings (E)      1    02:17:18
6    Mapa Bolea              22    02:20:20
7    Carl Ngamoki-Cameron (L) 6    02:20:22
8    Stuart Gee              40    02:20:36
9    Jason Turner            14    02:20:36
10   George Lal (L)           9    02:20:36

As we rolled around at the finish, young Tony pulled off his helmet revealing a wild 'fro. How someone could ride in the heat with so much hair was beyond me, so I joked that short hair (or no hair) was a cooler and faster. Anyhow, time to put the legs up. We had 5 hours to rest and recover before the afternoon TT.

Fiji Times - Navolo and Lang (Lane!) Win Stage 3

Stage 4 - Time Trial - Pacific Harbour (5.5km) October 11th 2014.

The back block blast! A prologue style TT course with everything. Bridges, potholes, gravel, even a few hills. In the time between stages SLane and I had done a recon so knew were to go. During that time, young Tony had located someone to give him a haircut and rolled up to the start with short hair! I didn't know if I should have been embarrassed that he took me literally, or proud that he actually took my advice. Either way, lols! What a champion!

This TT course took a lot of thinking. Picking the best lines, mashing a big gear at the right spots, big-ringing the hills, and keeping safe as we raced past the local shops. I rolled in stopping the clock at just over 8 minutes. ~400W no aero equipment and only just over 41km/h, tough, and rough! SLane and I locked in 1st and 2nd. Hutch had the misfortune of a rear blow-out in the TT, dropping down in GC.

A few riders took a wrong turn and copped a +30 second penalty (the wrong turn was actually a 20m short cut!). This was the first tour and time trials for a lot of riders, so it was more about the experience and listening very carefully to pre-race briefings. 

Stage 4 ITT Top 10
1    Shane Miller            36        00:08:17
2    Stephen Lane            37        00:08:30
3    Stuart Gee              40        00:09:55
4    Carl Ngamoki-Cameron (L) 6        00:09:58
5    Christian Carling        7        00:10:10
6    James McCann (E)        12        00:10:21
7    Lui Pene                21        00:10:34
8    Stephen Sanday          38        00:10:39
9    Scott Smith             34        00:10:53
10   Jason Turner            14        00:11:01

Post race kms..... magic!

Stage 5 - Pacific Harbour to Lami (40km) October 12th 2014.

The final stage into the outskirts of Suva. This was a regular training route for the local riders and it showed. Christian Carling attacking 10km in and taking a number of riders with him. We kept them at a manageable gap until the break started dropping riders as the road headed upwards.

This stage unfolded like a typical Tour race stage - Breakaways, attacks, chasing, and a bunch kick to the line! It seemed as if everyone was involved in animating the race at some point.

The pace lifted in the final kms. The lead group was strung out, twitchy, and nervous. Tony Navolo went for a solo shot at another stage win but was pulled back in. The sprint opened up and Hutch weaved his magic and took the stage win with the #1 race number on his back. SLane and I rolled in safely and securing the 1-2 on GC! 

Stage 5 Top 10:
1 Peter Hutchings (E)     1    01:09:33
2 Mapa Bolea             22    01:09:34
3 Carl Ngamoki-Cameron (L)6    01:09:35
4 Shane Miller           36    01:09:36
5 Stephen Lane           37    01:09:36
6 James McCann (E)       12    01:09:36
7 Stuart Gee             40    01:09:36
8 Jason Turner           14    01:09:36
9 Scott Smith            34    01:09:36
10 Anthony Navolo         5    01:09:42

The post race procession through central Suva was an experience in itself. Thankfully it was a Sunday and the streets had little traffic. Official event photographs were in front of the government buildings in town before the final presentations were held over a BBQ at the New Zealand Official Residence. Unfortunately we weren't hosted by Murray from Flight of the Conchords.... maybe next time. ;) 

Top 10 GC - Tour of Fiji 2014

1  Shane Miller           36    05:59:39
2  Stephen Lane           37    06:02:09
3  Anthony Navolo          5    06:09:45
4  James McCann (E)       12    06:15:44
5  Stuart Gee             40    06:17:36
6  Peter Hutchings (E)     1    06:22:00
7  Petero Manoa           30    06:28:53
8  Carl Ngamoki-Cameron (L)6    06:30:27
9  Jason Turner           14    06:30:36
10 George Lal (L)          9    06:31:49

(Full Tour results on FB here)

Lane, Miller, and Naovlo

The crew, the team, the support - And still not all of them in the photo.

Fiji Times - Navolo trails Australian duo in 2014 Tour of Fiji

Event Photos by Sizie Turner - Facebook gallery with 500+!

This is just the tip of the iceberg in regard to what went into getting over there, the support we had, the running of the event, and the amazing experience that was our seven days in Fiji. I'll post more tales in a day or so....

Thanks for reading!

1 comment:

stooge said...

Great write-up Shane, and congratulations for your fine win.
Stuart Gee