En­durance cy­clist faces epic US chal­lenge

Marlborough Express - The Saturday Express, Marlborough - - SPORT - MATT BROWN

When it comes to en­durance sports, cy­clist Craig Harper has been there and done that - well al­most.

The cy­cling ace from Blen­heim had one more test to add to his im­pres­sive list of achieve­ments.

And he faced the big­gest chal­lenge of his ca­reer as he pre­pared for eight days of ex­treme dis­com­fort at the pin­na­cle of en­durance cy­cling events, Race Across Amer­ica.

At roughly 4800km long, the course trav­elled through 12 states dur­ing the height of the US sum­mer and climbed nearly 54,000 me­tres - four times the max­i­mum cruis­ing al­ti­tude of a Boe­ing 777.

Harper said he needed to cy­cle a min­i­mum of 550km a day to re­main com­pet­i­tive, roughly 22 to 23 hours of cy­cling a day, de­pend­ing on the ter­rain.

‘‘Some­times you’re quicker or slower, the ter­rain has a large ef­fect on that,’’ he said.

The Blen­heim builder was no stranger to ul­tra en­durance events.

Harper re­cently broke the world record for cy­cling the length of New Zea­land solo. He com­pleted the 2170km Cape

‘‘You need to suf­fer to get bet­ter, just know­ing that has helped me ... you're very much rac­ing against your­self.’’ Ul­tra-en­durance cy­clist Craig Harper

Reinga to Bluff route in un­der four-and-a-half days.

He had com­peted in and won events such as the 640km Maxi En­duro at the Lake Taupo Cy­cle Chal­lenge in 2015 and the 1010km 10-lap Mam­moth race at the For­rest GrapeRide in 2014.

Harper com­pared ul­tra­en­durance cy­cling to a bug, one he had eas­ily caught.

‘‘It’s been a dream for a while,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s a huge chal­lenge ahead but one I’m ex­cited to get stuck into.’’

Known as the world’s tough­est bi­cy­cle race, the Race Across Amer­ica posed some clear-cut phys­i­cal chal­lenges.

Sleep de­pri­va­tion, mus­cle fa­tigue, the ter­rain and 40-plus de­gree Cel­sius tem­per­a­tures through the desert.

He said the big­gest chal­lenge was in the men­tal ap­proach. ‘‘The men­tal side of it is where most of my prepa­ra­tion is go­ing,’’ Harper said.

‘‘I have ways to deal with bore­dom on the bike, head­winds, the sheer scale of the race.’’

He said keep­ing things fun and hav­ing dis­cus­sions with sup­port crew dur­ing the day were vi­tal.

‘‘It’s not just about be­ing men­tally tough.

‘‘It’s know­ing how to think and how to re­act in­stead of just tough­ing through it.’’

Harper’s sup­port crew would con­sist of nine peo­ple, three cars and three back-up bikes - they would also have to deal with chal­lenges such as nav­i­ga­tion and the ter­rain.

Harper for­merly rowed for New Zea­land to which he cred­ited his hard work ethic

‘‘You need to suf­fer to get bet­ter, just know­ing that has helped me,’’ Harper said.

The race had a cut-off of 12 days, if Harper hadn’t com­pleted the course in that time, he wouldn’t post a time.

There was no prize money, ath­letes com­peted purely for the chal­lenge and recog­ni­tion of de­feat­ing the most gru­elling cy­cling race in the world.

The Race Across Amer­ica is set to be­gin in early June next year, Harper is al­ready train­ing but in­tended to fo­cus more time on the race from Jan­uary 2019.

‘‘I want to com­pete against the best in the world, fly the flag for New Zea­land and just see how far I can go,’’ Harper said.

He said ul­tra-en­durance cy­cling was a fickle game.

‘‘You’re very much rac­ing against your­self.’’

Fol­low his jour­ney on­line at www.solo.kiwi for fundrais­ing and pro­mo­tional events over the sum­mer.

MARK GRAM­MER PHO­TOG­RA­PHY

Marl­bor­ough ul­tra-en­durance cy­clist Craig Harper is train­ing to take on the 4800km Race Across Amer­ica in June 2019.

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