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Michael Torckler climbs NZ toughest road climb

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Soon after I moved to Rotorua, I was offered the opportunity to travel down to Ohakune to do a shoot for NZ Road Cyclist of Michael Torckler (one of NZ’s top pro cyclists) climbing up Mountain Road, the only beyond category climb in New Zealand. In road cycling, particularly in races, the hills included in the course are categorized based on length and steepness, originally there were four categories of climbs:

Category 4

  • 2km or so @ 6%
  • 4km or so @ < 4%

Category 3

  • 2-3km @ 8% (or less on average, but with very steep pitches)
  • 2-4km @ 6%
  • 4-6km @ 4%

Category 2

  • 5-10km @ 5-7%
  • 10+km @ 3-5%

Category 1

  • 5-10km @ >8%
  • 10-15km @ 6%

Then in 1979, in the Tour De France it was decided that there needed to be another category for climbs harder (longer and steeper) than Category 1, so they called these climbs Hors categorie (or beyond classification) and there is only one road in New Zealand that has that beyond classification on it and that is Mountain Road in Ohakune in the Central North Island. It is the road that takes skiers and trampers to the base of the ski field from the town. It is 17km long and rises 1000m to the end of the road.

[singlepic id=836 w=320 h=240 float=right]Once we got to Ohakune, we drove up to the summit so that Michael could get an idea of what was in store for him and I mentally noted what corners I wanted to be sure to get and what kind of backdrops I had to work with, since the climb starts fairly low in typical New Zealand rainforest surroundings and then as it rises above tree line, you get very wide open, rocky exposed views.

Since I had only one chance to get the shots, Michael was not about to do the climb again if something went awry I had to nail it on the first go. So as Michael warmed up for the ride, I laid out my gear in the back of the SUV that I would be shooting from with tail gate open. I had my Canon 5D MK II, 24-70 2.8, 70-200 2.8 IS, and my 16-35 2.8 in my bag and I started with the 24-70 on my camera and ended up using all three lenses during the shoot to get different aspects of the climb. I had not taken into account how far away we had to be from him, especially towards the end of the climb and would have liked to have my 1.4 teleconverter with me, but that was left at home.

I wish I had another camera available to show you the positions I had to contort myself into to hold my camera steady, get the shots, and prevent my lenses and myself from rolling out the back of the SUV as we went around some of the steep hairpin turns….lets just say that Michael was not the only one who got a workout during his climb and some of my rock climbing skills came in very handy.

These are a few of the images I got of his climb, the one at the top of this post ended up making the cover of the NZ Road Cyclist magazine……

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