Mon, Feb 12, 2024 12:04 PM

GrapeRide on ice again


Peter Jones

One of Marlborough’s iconic sporting events has been shelved for the third consecutive year.

Organisers of the 2024 Whitehaven GrapeRide, which covers a 101km loop course - taking in Blenheim, Picton and Havelock – announced last week that the Queen Charlotte Drive section of the course was not safe enough for large groups of cyclists at this stage.

The event was canned in 2022 due to COVID issues, then, following severe flood damage and the ensuing repair work, the GrapeRide was abandoned last year.

This time around, although road works have progressed, GrapeRide director Duncan Mackenzie said the state of the Queen Charlotte Drive, with its many one-way sections, meant running the race as planned on April 20 was not viable.

“It’s just not practical at the moment,” he said. “I have had people say, ‘why don’t you just make Queen Charlotte Drive one way’ but there is no way that would be allowed.

“Every year since we began to run the event we have applied for a closure and it has been turned down. The big worry is that if we even got closure on the one-way sections … all it takes is one local resident who doesn’t get the memo and is travelling the wrong way, and we have cyclists believing that they are the only thing on the road and we could end up with a situation similar to what happened in Le Race many years ago when a cyclist was killed in a collision.

“That’s just too big a risk to take.”

Looking ahead, Duncan said the organisers may have to explore other options.

“If the road isn’t ready by next year we may have to look at alternatives – which may be on or off-road because, quite frankly, the cost of traffic management these days is huge.

“People scream about the cost of entering an event but there is a lot of overheads to be met …traffic management, medical and public liability insurance are three of the big ticket items and they are all intertwined.”

Duncan said that a decision on next year’s event will have to be made by September and, “if we can’t do that by then we are exploring other options, including an off-road option.

“How that would sit with the riding public, well, we have just got to ask the question and see what pans out, but I know there are a huge number of riders out there who feel the event just has to survive and are committed to it.

“We are certainly not wanting to kiss goodbye to the event, Queen Charlotte Drive is a magical part of the GrapeRide, and will do everything we can to make it happen … getting all the stars to align.”

The first GrapeRide took place in 2005, with the next chapter set to be the seventeenth, whenever and wherever that should be.

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