Waimate’s Edition Zero Gravel: ‘There is nothing else like it in New Zealand’

Riders on a pre-race course ride ahead of the first Waimate Edition Zero Gravel race.

@TOBY_BIKES_ROBERTS/Supplied

Riders on a pre-race course ride ahead of the first Waimate Edition Zero Gravel race.

Andy Chalmers’ nice one-day weekend ride with a friend has turned into New Zealand’s first long distance gravel cycling race.

Chalmers, of Christchurch, said the January 2021 ride in the Waimate District of South Canterbury, was simply about wanting to ride a loop.

“It was a really nice day, a great weekend, and we thought it would be a great one-day event.”

Fast-forward 19 months and the 243km-long Edition Zero Gravel race will roll out of Waimate’s historic outdoor velodrome at 6am on Saturday.

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“There is nothing else like it in New Zealand … it is something special.”

Chalmers says there are two other shorter distance events – 80km and 137km – on the programme, but the main race is the first long distance gravel race event of its style in New Zealand, “the first of more than 200kms”.

Riders on a pre-race course ride ahead of the first Waimate Edition Zero Gravel race.

@TOBY_BIKES_ROBERTS/Stuff

Riders on a pre-race course ride ahead of the first Waimate Edition Zero Gravel race.

Chalmers said they put the course through a test ride in December 2021.

“We rode it and finished it in nine hours at a relaxed pace and thought it would work.

“The response surprised me. To have 300 in year one is exciting.

“I never thought it would catch this many people, with more than 50 preparing to fly in from Auckland.”

Chalmers said the cycling club and Waimate mayor Craig Rowley have been great.

“The mayor responded seven minutes after I sent an email at 9pm one night and simply said ‘how can we help?’ and now we’ve got 300 cyclists from all over New Zealand coming.”

Chalmers says similar events in the US can have 2000-3000 people, and he’s already had interest from Australia for following events.

“It’s a big week. I know people who have houses booked in Kurow and Ōamaru, and I think Waimate is booked out.

“We are also fortunate to have support of the communities and those little halls around the countryside.”

Steve Fish and his gravel bike ahead of the first Waimate Edition Zero Gravel race.

JONATHAN FISH/Supplied

Steve Fish and his gravel bike ahead of the first Waimate Edition Zero Gravel race.

Waimate doctor and cycling devotee, Steve Fish, admits he’s relatively new to gravel riding but is pumped for the event.

“I think it is huge, more than 300 riders, it is pretty massive for Waimate,” Fish said.

“I hope it is the start of many others (events).

“Personally I’ll be pretty happy to complete the 244km in less than 12 hours.”

The 53-year-old discovered gravel riding after completing the “one-day-head Tour De France” event in 2018.

“I had basically ridden all the tar-sealed roads, and they all started to seem the same but many, many more roads are gravel, and it has been epic.

“The scenery in the Waimate District is fantastic and great vistas you don’t see on the tar-sealed roads. It’s been an absolute eye-opener.”

Fish said gravel roads have gradients that are more extreme and change more often.

Steve Fish and his gravel bike ahead of the first Waimate Edition Zero Gravel race.

JONATHAN FISH/Supplied

Steve Fish and his gravel bike ahead of the first Waimate Edition Zero Gravel race.

“Gravel racing has taken off around the world. I’m not sure about round here, but it’s great. It takes you away from civilisation, it takes you away from the traffic and those roads.

“You can go long distances without seeing anybody, so you have to be pretty self-sufficient.”

Fish said “middle of nowhere” riding means he carries a GPS tracker and a water filter if he has to find a water source.

Fish believes he has now ridden almost “every single road in the Waimate District” from about the beginning of 2019.

“It has taken some doing and includes some trails. It is about 1600kms which I think is 99.5% of roads.”

The main race has 161 starters. The course, which is 75% gravel, takes riders through to Albury and returning via the Hakataramea Valley and Meyers Pass, and includes a number of names well-known in the South Canterbury cycling community including Amy and Noah Hollamby, Bailey O’Donnell, James Wilson, Kees Duvestyn, Shane and Mitchell Brookland.

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