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