That said, I've never actually focused on it, and this year was no exception. In the month after the Brevet, I'd not ridden a bike off road, though I could be considered well fed, and well rested.
It seemed I was one of the few who realised there was a choice this year, and for me it was a simple one to make. Tucked somewhere in the bowels of Michael Jacques' promotional emails was mention of the Karapoti Original - an event over the original Karapoti course from 1986. This year, it would be run on the Sunday, the day after the Karapoti Classic, to celebrate the 25th annual race. I'd had the pleasure of checking out the first section of the course with Simon Kennett, and was sold! As if the charm of the course was not enough, I try hard not to let a rare opportunity like this pass, and the saving of $35 over the Classic was also attractive.
Choosing to ride on Sunday also freed me up to spectate on Saturday. Kaitlyn and I drove out to the park together and arrived in time to see the M2 start. We walked over to the far side of the bridge and stood with some Bushlove lovers to watch the men hammer through.
That done, we caught another start from the bridge, and headed towards the event HQ. Despite half the field being on course already, there were still many acquaintances to bump into and wish well. When we finally got to the park, we bumped into Simon, and helped him get some stuff up to his car. He, and bros Paul and Jonathan, were taking care of the Original race, and we loaded up some leftover race-packs from the Classic as well as a bunch of stuff Simon and Jonathan would use to mark out the start of the course up to the top of the Rock Garden.
While we were messing about with this, we were constantly being tricked by the weather, and we were alternating between baking in hot sun, and cowering from the rain. I relocated the car to Simon's now vacated spot, so we'd at least be closer to our storm gear. We checked out the various trade displays, and it was good to have my annual catch-up with Tim Vincent, many time Karapoti winner, Tineli owner, and all round good guy.
At about midday, we cruised down to the river bank to watch some people crossing the river en route to the finish line. The first of the Challenge riders were already in, and so we were treated to a steady trickle of mud-covered riders stumbling their way across. The right-hand line must have looked good from the far side, as quite a few people took it, before realising that being up to one's nipples in river was not such a good idea...
A great innovation of recent Karapoti races has been the coloured plates. So when we saw the first green plate in amongst the red of the Challenge riders, we knew that the winner of the Classic race was upon us. As the plate got closer, beneath the mud, I recognised none other than "my" prized racing jersey. It was Tim Wilding, racing in Roadworks colours. Needless to say, Timmy got a great cheer from us, and it was fantastic to see the elated look on his face as he crossed the river.
As soon as he was out of ear-shot, I rang Oli, and told him he'd better haul arse to the finish line! He was just making his way there, and it was great to know that he'd be one of the first to congratulate Tim.
Kaitlyn and I cheered a few more finishers on before making our way up to the park. Tim and Oli were both there, and I think I surprised Tim a little by giving him a big hug! To be fair, I was clean and dry, and he was wet and filthy, but he'd just won the biggest MTB race in NZ (under some metric, surely) and in the team colours! I noticed the state of his helmet, which was sporting what looked to be about a kilo of Karapoti mud, collected in a stack on the way down off Dopers. It was beautifully captured by Tim, and then by Caleb Smith from Spoke (sorry to flog the pic, Caleb!).
As the minutes ticked by, many more of our friends arrived at the finish, most looking pretty pleased with their efforts. We enjoyed chatting to them, in between scoring free muesli bars from the sponsors! We'd had enough though, well before prize-giving was due to start, and so we snuck away home.
Once their, I got my gear ready for the next day, and fired the bike on the back of the car. I gave the chain a bit of extra lube after seeing the amount of crud everyone was covered by. Then we headed out to my parents place in Strathmore so that Kaitlyn could have a decent sleep in in the morning. The dinner we were treated to may not have been the ideal pre-race fodder, but it was a hell of a lot more delicious than most plates of pasta. After dinner, and once Kaitlyn was in bed, I had a nice chat to Mum and Dad, during which Mum was thrashing herself on their exercycle. They've both been logging a bit of time on it in the last year, since Dad's Taupo revelations! Ma wants me to go riding with her on her 60th in June, which I'm really looking forward to.
In the morning, I went through the motions and was waiting in Molesworth Street when Simon and Jonathan Kennett rode up. Their 29ers onboard, we were soon on the motorway, and before long pulling into Karapoti Park. There were a few folk there already, and there was plenty to chat about before setting off up to Akatarawa Saddle. Paul Kennett took the spare seat in the back, and after starting us off, he would drive my car back! Mint!
Once we'd reached the saddle, and overcome one of the two big hurdles of using this course permanently (the point to point nature; the second hurdle being the private land), there was no time for a warm up. While suiting up, I was given a MTB calendar by NZ Mountain Biker photographer and Cycletech good guy Craig Madsen! Cheers Craig!
Simon briefed us (briefly) and then we headed up to the start line. Craig joined us with his camera, and took a few shots - one of which he generously has shared with us all.
And before we knew it, we were off. And boy I was off! Jonty Ritchie, Alex Revell and Rob Kilvington, all sporting Revolution Cycles shirts got straight into it. Gavin McCarthy was behind them, and I found myself "duelling" with Mike Thompson, another Revolution Cycles rider. With cold legs, I struggled initially, but pretty much everyone was in the same boat. My legs actually come online pretty quickly, but I struggle for breath initially. Also, my lack of mountainbiking was showing, and I had to take my sunnies off, somehow attributing my appalling lines to them.
Simon had told us we could leave the tagged gates open, but at the sharp end of the race there'd be none of that! So, over the gates it was, as one by one we decided to leave them closed.
I made some inroads on Gav on the descent into the valley, and managed to gap Mike. As we started climbing out the other side though, I lost sight of Gav. The 4WD road soon left the felled pine forest, and disappeared into native bush. The ground was wet, and I was taking my typical conservative approach by carrying my bike over bogs. While I was reducing my chances of chain suck, this approach was slow, particularly given the difficulty of getting going again on the soft, uphill terrain. Mike came past before we got to the top of the Rock Garden, and I wouldn't see him again.
I've ridden down the Rock Garden on probably about 10 occasions, and have punctured on at least 6 of these. The first time, back in 1998, I was running alongside my bike, when the rear wheel punctured (I mean, seriously - does that actually happen?!). The most recent time was a year earlier, and I ruined a brand new UST Nevegal on a rock, and a pair of gloves trying to stem the exodus of jizz from the rapidly deflating tyre... Even in my fastest lap of Karapoti, back in 2007, I had to replace a tube after I noticed bubbles emanating from my rear wheel on the way through a bog...
Fortunately, this episode was trouble free. I conservatively dismounted before the first big drop off, and after realising I'd be better on my bike than off it, I sat down, and literally slid on my arse before jumping back on the bike. 1000 or so riders the previous day had left a pretty good line, for the most part. In the worst sections, there was little evidence of a preference, though elsewhere, the riding line was about a foot across. In a couple of places I was caught out by the same rock as each and every one of those before me, and wondered how we could have missed it.
All in all, this was a rare descent for me, and I got to the bottom of the Devil's Staircase intact! With nothing to repair, I resigned myself to heading straight up the hill. After a few minutes, I heard some familiar whistling! "Where have you been?!" I hollered. So, as we did 5 or 6 weeks earlier in the Akatarawa Attack, Simon and I pushed our bikes together up this bit of track. We swapped notes a bit, and if anything, slowed from the pace we'd been holding until the catch. I lamented my lack of oomph, which hopefully wasn't insulting since I'd been up front until this point.
After a cheery "Thanks guys" to the first aid team at the top, it was back on the bike. I followed Simon for a bit, until a small rise suited my extra momentum, and I shot past him. We were soon into the descent, and as befitted the name Big Ring Boulevard, I slotted it into big ring. The light conditions through here were incredibly difficult, and I really just had to point, shoot, and hope for the best. We passed someone on the side of the track, but I had no idea who. Simon, very sensibly, stayed on my wheel, no doubt ready to swerve one way or the other if it looked like things were going to custard. He let me know it was Big Gav somewhere down the way.
Simon took over on the left hander down towards Dopers, and gapped me a little with the tighter corners. I passed him somewhere along the flat section. I pushed up the first 50m of the climb, and then jumped aboard. Simon swung by and then stopped. After stifling a laugh at his old man's bladder, I regained my concentration, and got into the climb. I was feeling OK, but not strong. Though I wasn't moving particularly quickly, this was the first time I'd ridden the entire climb in a long time (please forgive me for starting my "climb" after the tricky loose section at the bottom). Nonetheless, Simon was riding stronger, and passed me about 2/3 of the way up. He was off to find Mike.
I'd love to watch someone else ride the top section, because I suck at it so badly. I don't think it was just the climb taking the sting out of my legs. I hope it's something to do with the tacky clay trying to stop my tyres from leaving. Progress was slow, which probably helped me avoid crashing into the ruts and bogs that appeared out of the blue in a couple of places. I had a stuttery ride down the big descent, and couldn't see the imprint of Tim's helmet in any of the cuttings.
The gorge was a hoot, despite being hard work. It never seems as downhill on the way down as it seems uphill on the way up (if you know what I mean...). I got a bit of a fright as a trio of trail bikes roared around a corner, but luckily I wanted the inside line and they wanted the berm on the outside. Soon after there was an ungodly noise coming towards me. I actually pulled over and stopped, and a few seconds later a couple of unmuffled quad bikes came past. Soon after the gorge was done, and all that was left was to slog into the headwind "down" Karapoti Road - another descent that feels like a climb...
I managed to find a relatively shallow path across the river, and was soon having my time added to Paul's list in Karapoti Park. The Revolution crew were in party mode - it was a shame Simon had chosen to race in his Ground Effect shirt instead of Jonty's colours. Five of them together, with no company until I arrived would have been very cool.
In the last week, it's been great to look at the various results and photos. Tim's had some fantastic publicity, including photos on cyclingnews.com! While the Original probably deserved more interest than it got, I was glad to have done it. The course is so much nicer than the Classic course - my time was probably 40-45 minutes quicker than I'd have gone on the full course.
The Original brought the end of the summer's riding plans. I'm on the look out for some new goals now!