Cycle the Milford Magic

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Milford Photo :1.6The Milford Mountain Classic offers a huge personal challenge and the unique opportunity to race through Fiordland’s remarkable scenery. This area has long been described as the “Eighth Wonder of the World” – and with good reason. The course is a tough, but spectacular, journey from Milford to Te Anau. Two tough climbs ensure the course presents a challenge, but it’s one that will be rewarded with extraordinary scenery and personal satisfaction…

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Resisting the urge to stop and admire the view could prove the hardest thing about racing through a World Heritage area – and New Zealand’s newest cycle race poses that very dilemma.

With the majestic peaks of Milford Sound looming picturesque in the background, competitors in the Meridian Energy Milford Mountain Classic Cycle Race will embark on a 120km journey from the tourism mecca to Te Anau leaving Milford at 4.15pm.

The area has long been described as the “Eighth Wonder of the World” and it’s easy to see why.

But spectacular scenery won’t be the only thing taking the competitors breath away – the initial gruelling climb from sea level to 940m in just 21km is sure to rip cruelly at the lungs.

Yes, beneath the innocence of its postcard-like exterior, the Meridian Milford Mountain Classic is one tough race.

“It’s 120km but we warn people it’s more like a 160km ride because of the two hill climbs,” Race Director Matt Sillars, of Sport Southland, said.

The race initially climbs 620m over the first 18km before steepening to scale an additional 320m in just 3kms, including the 1.2km through the iconic Homer Tunnel; the location of the King of the Mountain title. Equating to an average rate of climb of around 11 percent, it’s sure to test the mettle of competitors.

Another steady climb looms from the Hollyford turnoff at the 29km mark, ascending to The Divide – a 150m gain in 3.5km.

From there, the race follows the Eglinton Valley downstream with a net drop in altitude of 360m to 220m above sea level at the Te Anau finish. The only climb of significance is 150m over 1.5km, out of the Retford Stream Valley onto the Te Anau Downs.

“We anticipate the elite riders will take just over three hours and recreation riders will probably take up to six hours,” Sillars said.

The brainchild of Fiordland College, the race is a fund-raiser for this local high school. Its original concept was embraced by the Te Anau Project Group – a sub-committee of Destination Fiordland with a mandate to develop iconic events for the area – and transformed into reality with the expertise of Sport Southland and Cycling Southland.

“The first thing we had to overcome was the logistics of doing it on that particular road which is absolutely bustling with tourists and buses every day,” Sillars said.

“We established the vast majority of tourist traffic had left the area in the afternoon – hence the later race start time of 4.15pm, making use of the region’s long summer evenings (to around 10.30pm).

“From an overall traffic management perspective, it was relatively simple because there’s only really one side road in whole 120kms to Milford Sound.”

The Te Anau community had embraced the event, which also received support from NZTA (Transit), Downers, the Department of Conservation, the Milford Development Authority, the Te Anau police and particularly the local tourism industry.

“It has certainly been well-received … the iconic start at Milford and unique features like the European Alps-style climb to Homer Tunnel has sparked plenty of interest,” Sillars said.

“Event cycling tourism is a big market and a growing market,” Sillars said.

“We believe this race has the potential to become a `must-do’ amongst serious road cyclists.”

For further information and to enter online, check out .

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