Thursday, September 23, 2010

Maps, maps, glorious maps - the bike chapter

Over the last few years I've used the Wellington MTBO Series as a mighty fine way to kickstart some Spring fitness.  There have typically been 4-6 events per series, spaced roughly monthly.  In 2008 and '09, I managed a race win, and by virtue of stepping up to organise a round, went into the final round with a chance of winning.  With solid rides in the last race of each of those series, in 2010 I had the opportunity for a three-peat. 

The MTBO community is rather small, despite (in my humble opinion) there being no better way to get out mountain biking!  For measly $15 per race, you get a fantastic map and the chance to ride in a familiar area in unfamiliar ways, as you play join the dots.  The events are great interval sessions, with regular forced stops to clip your control-card, and much more frequent stops to look at your map properly to work out where on earth you are.  A small community puts pressure on organisers, and overseers - unlike XC events, it's difficult (if not impossible) for the course-designer to compete - and so the 2010 series would consist of only four events: Makara Peak, Waitarere, Belmont, and Wainui, with the best three scores to count. 

In race one we were treated to torrential rain.  Ant Bradshaw had set a fixed order course with additional controls bearing time credit.  This innovation - e.g. grab a 20 minute bonus at the bottom of Leaping Lizard - adds an interesting dimension as you try to estimate how long it will take vs the time bonus.  Given the horrid conditions, I commited to only going for the compulsory controls.  An advantage of spending so much time in the park over the years (mostly on foot!) is that I know it like the back of my hand.  It kind of spoilt the event in the traditional orienteering sense, but it was handy to be able to memorise the whole course before setting off.

While I was pretty pleased with my strategy, I came unstuck finding one control.  Ant had mumbled something about wading through gorse at the summit control.  The map showed it at the far corner of the aerial compound, so I blindly charged into the gorse, with my bike carried above my head (the control card must be attached to the bike).  I couldn't find the control, and instead of stopping and slowing, my instinct is to panic a little.  I actually climbed a sheer cliff (without my bike) to see if I could see the control from a higher vantage point - I couldn't.  Before getting back onto the 4WD road, I added further insult to injury, or perhaps it should be injury to insult, and gave an old shoulder injury a bit of a tweak.  Literally 2m riding after giving up on the control, I saw it out of the corner of my eye.  I could reach it from the 4WD track...  Back underway, I had a whale of a time riding down the streams flowing down the tracks.  I was the second off Course 1, but by virtue of very few bonus controls, ended up in 4th.  Simon won (he went for EVERYTHING), with irregulars (is that the opposite of regulars?!) Jonny Waghorn and Ed Crossling between us.

Round 2 at Waitarere was custom made for me.  I navigate pretty well, and love the flat stuff.  The year before, I'd picked up a win out there on my Giant XTC, a nice light-weight XC race bike.  But, I was in much better shape then.  After a long lay-off, I tend to struggle a bit with hubris - a fancy term for "thinking I'm faster than I am".  To combat this, I decided to ride my singlespeed, thereby eliminating the chance of blowing myself up hooning around in big chain-ring on the flat course.  The bikes was souped up pre-event during a bit of sifting at Revolution Cycles.  Off came the heavy steel fork (1241 g)

and on went the ex-Brevet carbon fork (785 g).

It's always a lovely atmosphere there on a Friday evening, especially so when I get to watch my beautiful daughter wrenching!

I drove out to the forest with Simon, and got suited up and underway pretty smartly.  I had an absolute mare to start with, screwing up my navigation through the suburb, and then grossly overshooting the "Site of the Shipwreck Hydrabad" shown on the map.  Turns out it was none of those hulks off in the distance (each in turn becoming the next likely suspect).  Of course by the time I turned around and headed back the way I came, Simon was heading towards me, and was robbed of the opportunity to make the same mistake!  Though, there'd be plenty of opportunities.

The rest of the event went well for me.  The singlespeed was a good choice, and protected me well from myself.  19 controls meant for plenty of excitement over the 105-odd minutes I was riding.  Simon was second, 7 minutes back, with Liam Drew (absent in round 1) another minute back.

Round 3 was at Belmont.  I'd been enjoying riding the singlespeed, and it came out to play again, on a course much less suited to it.  I didn't have a great ride, and felt like I was grovelling most of the time.  I struggled for traction in many places (SS + Stan's Raven tyres were not a good choice).  I was making good progress nonetheless, and getting a great workout.  Fatigue is very difficult to measure in the moment, but it was almost certainly a contributing factor to a god-almighty screw up mid-event.  I was looking for a couple of controls at the north end of the course, accessed using a good 4WD track heading north-east.  I hadn't really looked at the contours of the land on the map, and lost count of the various intersections en route.  Rather than stop to get my bearings I ploughed on, before finally getting to a group of bunkers not shown on my map.  I was clearly in the wrong place.

I headed back the way I came, and now, by studying the map and reconciling it with what I could see, suddenly realised (after my 1.5km detour) that I was pretty much where I needed to be.  Back in business, I was heading back to base.  The descent back into the Stratton St valley was treacherous, and I made a bit of a meal of it.  Again with an early start, I was back early, and waited to see what fortune (or misfortune) had struck the others.  It turned out this day, Liam had had a blinder, five minutes quicker than I was, with Simon 1 minute faster.  Liam's blinder on the bike had come at the expense of his mapreading though, and with 3 minutes deducted for ignoring a one-way arrow, only two minutes separated the three of us on the score sheet!

The final round was at Wainui, and having had little time out there, Simon and I snuck out for a mid-week, after-work ride.  Dave Sharpe had kindly lent me a tubeless tyre with a damn sight more tread on it than the Raven, and this was mounted on my XTC - set up fully rigid, but nice and light, and hopefully, fast!  We made good use of the available daylight, and then some.  Without Simon's company, I would have been reduced to a walk by the end of it.

Saturday followed a pretty wet week, but the day was dry and clear.  I made a botched attempt at getting a new mapboard installed, having turned up late, and without the necessary tools.  Nonetheless, my trusty old bit of core flute was soon zip-tied to the handlebars.  Uncharacteristically, I decided to start last, and enjoyed watching my competitors head out.  Soon enough, I was underway myself.  We blokes on Course 1 were to first do Course 3, and then Course 2, stopping in for a new map at half time.

Course 3 went pretty well, and I knocked it out in about 28 minutes (Simon was fastest, at 27 minutes).  I'd made one small screw-up, by missing a connector from Beeline onto Jungle Jim, but it wasn't much in the giant scheme of things.  Shit happens, as they say.  My legs were coming to the party nicely, and though not as strong as I've been in recent years, I felt pretty good.

Course 2 started with a challenging decision from the Spoonhill ridge down into the suburbs.  I took the option of going up Spoonhill before dropping down a bit of steep single-track (on foot) - probably a slow choice, given the conditions.  I made good time in the suburban controls, and was soon heading up the hill again.  With three controls to go, I was at the top of the Spoonhill ridge, with my destinationjust off the side of Snail Trail, where the singletrack from Spoonhill cuts across it.  Rather than head back to the start of Snail Trail, I shot off down Spoonhill.  I took the right option where the track split, and was off the bike for just about all if it.  I said a cheery gidday to a man and his son sitting on the side of the trail, and charged on down, jumping back on the bike eventually...

Hang on...

I'd gone way too far down the ridge, and it dawned on me way too late.  My turn off had probably been where the man and his son had been sitting. I'd been so certain I'd see the intersection I needed, I'd paid no attention to the distance I was covering.  By this stage, turning around was probably going to see me worse off than continuing down.  Within a few seconds I was taking a right fork, and ended up down on the track around the lake.  Up and over the board walk, I pushed my bike up a bit of singletrack to the bottom of the Snail Trail switchbacks.  This was possibly slower than riding up the main route, but it took me straight past my penultimate control.  I resisted the (miniscule) temptation to cheat and clip out-of-sequence, but knew exactly where to go upon my return.

Up the switchbacks, I overshot the intersection I needed - the bottom was just as indistinct as the top.  I lost only a few seconds with my small detour.  The next was simple, and off to the final control!  It seemed to be shown in the old quarry - but 20m in, knee deep in water, I looked more carefully at my map - bugger!  The control was on the singletrack up on my right.  Back out, and back on the bike, and the last control was duly clipped.  I popped out into the open just behind a fellow Course 1 rider, Lee Campbell, a big powerful-looking bloke on a fully.  He'd paused to check his map, I guess to make sure he was done.

I cheekily asked him "wanna put on a show?" and his response was silent, but might has well have been shouted at full bore.  The race was on!  We had to cross 200m or so, make a left turn, and then cover 15m to the finish.  What an exhilirating end to a great series.  We hit the corner together, and, stuck in grossly inappropriate gears, muscled our ways over the "finish line".  It was a bloody good thing I was on my XTC, as I needed every little watt of power to translate into forward momentum.  We rode in like a couple of roadies at the end of a classic.  We were shoulder to shoulder, and both giving it our all, with neither of us yielding an inch!  What a blast!

Prize giving ensued straightaway, and as Lee and I stood marvelling that we hadn't crashed or knocked anyone down, the organisers were doing the various sums required to work out who'd won the series.

Simon, Liam and I had had one win each, and none of us had an organiser's freebie.  It turned out none of us won race 4, with Tom Bradshaw taking the event out.  It was now going to come down to the time gaps relative to Tom's time: 3 minutes from Liam back to Simon, and another 3 minutes back to me.  That was enough to put me out of the running for the series.  In the end, Simon's 2nd score (Belmont) was slightly better than Liam's (Wainui), and both Simon's 3rd and 4th scores were better than Liam's 3rd score. Simon takes it by half a length!

Simon at Waitarere - 2010 Wellington MTBO Series winner

I didn't get my third series win, but it was a 4th win for the Makara Peak Mudslingers!  How nice to keep it within the team!


Tomorrow, Simon and I are heading out of town, on our "Triangle Trip".  We're hitting gravel roads (where possible) between Woodville, Hastings, Taihape and Woodville.  Watch this space...

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