Thursday, March 3, 2011

Sifter goes Wild in Wellington

With Karapoti looming, it's time to finally get this post done! Over the last few years, the great days were few and far between, but lately, they seem to be turning up more often. On one of the best was a twelve hour relay on the familiar slopes of Mt Victoria - an action-packed concoction of riding, sifting, and coffee drinking! A coincidence that this day rocked my world?  I don't think so.  Put simply, the 2011 Wild Wellington was a stunner.

The genesis of this fine day out was months earlier - last winter to be precise - when Simon and I took up a contract for the Kennett Brothers to extend the Hataitai Zig-zag, nominally an easy-grade climb from the Hataitai Velodrome up to Alexandra Road.  Above anything else that winter, this project got us out of our respective offices, and ensured that a few times a week we got some exercise.  We did the design work over a couple of months, and then led volunteer work parties through to completion of the track.  Well almost - we didn't quite beat the onset of summer, and the track dried out too much before it could be gravelled.

We followed that job up with a second, but much shorter, deviation further down the ridge.  Again, we did a lot of work on our own, but a great lunchtime session with volunteers and the venerable Ranger Steve had the track to full-width, and ship-shape for its first event - the Wild Wellington.  Simon and I did a final bit of tweaking on Friday evening, after which we headed to the velodrome to register and put up the tent.  We were two of five in the Kennett Brothers team, and we'd be joined by Simon's brother Paul, Pat Morgan, and Mike Thompson.

I was nominated to do our first lap, so when I turned up at about 9 in the morning, I figured I'd mosey around the course to get my legs warm.  The first 3/4 of the figure-eight course was all good, but heading into the top of the Hataitai Zig-zag, I almost came a cropper on a tree on the outside edge of the track.  Usually I'd just press on, but I figured I'd best take a look at what went wrong and immediately concluded a tree needed to go - not the one I'd almost hit, but the one before it which had forced me wide.  To boot, the tree I wanted gone had warning tape at head height, so someone had already identified it as a hazard.  I blasted down to the velodrome and interrupted Joby, one of the WCC rangers.  He excused himself from his conversation, grabbed a saw from his wagon, and we went up and did the job.  It was a good call I reckon, and one which I savoured each time I passed the spot at speed!

I didn't have much time at all once that was done - barely enough to say gidday to Simon and grab our timing chip.   A few minutes later I was on the start line, nervously waiting for Jill Ford to send us on our way.  I knew it would be a torrid start, with Stu Houltham and Hiskey looking pretty eager in pole position.

Within a few minutes more, we were off.  I found myself at the back of a group of 6 or 7, and comfortable!  After a flat 30m, the course kicked up a bit, and within 150 metres of the start, I was feeling rather uncomfortable as my legs and arms and innards all struggled to adjust to the change of pace.  I'd been gapped by the leaders, but was behind Dan, looking splendid in a pair of beige stubbies.

I desperately tried to compose myself as we turned onto Alexandra Road for the first time.  Under way only a few minutes, heart and lungs were still really struggling, and legs too.  I didn't have the nerve to pass Dan, knowing that too big an effort too soon would surely cost me.  Instead I followed him, and forced myself to relax.  Plenty of time yet.

The newest bit of track on the course took mere seconds to ride, but it was much better than the alternative!  We crossed the road, and then struggled up the steepest climb on the course.  As we crossed the soccer field for the first time I was tempted to try to pass Dan, but still reeling from the most recent effort, I decided to chill out for a bit longer.  Another sweet bit of singletrack down, the course opened up a bit, and we got into the final climb for a while.  Sitting atop Flux Turner, I relished finally having a bike that would take care of me on the downs.  With that in mind, I swung around Dan, gave him a quick word of encouragement, and gave it everything I had up the ridge. Sucking air in, I blasted my way down the main descent which would get better and better as the day went on.

I never turned back, so had no idea what was going on behind me.  Instead I concentrated solely on getting myself back to the velodrome - the quicker, the better, or should that be, the quicker, the sooner (I could stop).

I lost a bit of flow on the zig-zag but was soon hammering the tarmac section into the velodrome.

Almost time to stop!
I went high on the banking for the first turn, but realised soon after that my front tyre was hooking up nicely on the grass, so didn't bother with it again.  After a bit of to-ing and fro-ing through the tents, I arrived at our site, and stood patiently while Mike swapped the timing chip from my leg to Simon's, and then collapsed on the grass for a bit.

That was the worst bit done.  I'd gone pretty hard, managing a 16:02.  Some had gone over a minute faster, but I'd taken 20-odd seconds out of Dan, and there were plenty more behind him.

Simon handed over to Pat, then Pat to Mike, who returned with a flat rear tyre.  Still in bloody good time though, and we were duelling with Dan's team for second in the Open Men's division.  I headed out for a double, then Simon did the same, with Pat and Mike sharing the next four laps.  I did another double, then handed off to Paul, who'd been unavailable first thing but was now raring to go.  I'd ridden five laps already, but we weren't even halfway through the event yet, and my legs were starting to grizzle!  It was good to have Paul here though, which would lengthen the rest-breaks somewhat.

Mike, Simon and I, soon after sending Paul off for his first lap!
The day was warm, and thankfully Simon hadn't asked us to wear the Kennett Bros' merino jerseys.  I would have, but as on other rare occasions where I've had my racing gear dictated to me, I'm sure it wouldn't have quite felt right.  I've had a long association with Oli, and kitting up in his gear has always ignited a bit of a spark inside, and helped get my head in the game.

I had a nice long break, and took the opportunity to cruise around, catching up with many friends.  The Revolvers were in fine form, and apart from Ash sporting a nasty looking bruise on one quad, all was good at the front of the women's competition.  The People's Coffee was flowing, and the warm concrete of the velodrome made for a very pleasant spot in which to catch up on some family goings-on.  My uncle was in the ICU after a terrible fall earlier in the week, and talking to Mum about it was the only tough period in what was a remarkably simple day.

Some down time
Simple, but inevitably, the call to action would come, and it would be time to get set for another assault on the senses.  Lap 5 had been an absolute bastard - it was my fastest lap after lap 1, and one in which I'd been duelling with Mat Wright, team-mate of Dan, proprietor of Floyd's Cafe in Island Bay, and awesome supporter of the Miramar Trail Project.  We'd been neck and neck heading out, and he'd pipped me on the way back into the velodrome.  Laps 6 and 7 felt pretty horrible too.  My legs were getting tired, and while I was still managing to push middle chain-ring on all the climbs, my enthusiasm was waning. 

Full tit into the base of the last climb!
Still, Flux Turner was absolutely smoking the descents, and I was feeling pretty good overall.  My XTC would have been quicker on the first lap probably, and maybe for a couple after that, but I'd have had the shit beaten out of me on the descents, and would have been in poorer shape later in the day.

I handed over to Simon who had an absolute scorcher, and wore a goofy smile on his face for the next hour or so!  Great to see my good buddy having such a good time. 

We'd lost touch with Mat and Dan's team, but when Mike busted a chain part way through his lap and come back to base, Simon had to head out for an impromptu lap, and we were suddenly nervous about dropping to fourth.  Dusk was also looming, and we only had two sets of lights to share, so our nervousness was high.

I did a single lap, and handed off to Simon, who had another blinder.  We reckoned I'd have about 17 minutes of daylight left, and in the end I saw sense, and rode with Pat's lights onboard.  One lap to go...

Strange pose, but ready for my last lap...
As with earlier laps, this one felt a bit slower again, though I was pleasantly surprised to feel pretty good from the get-go.  I'd favoured double laps earlier - they were short enough that handling two at pace wasn't too bad, but also short enough that you didn't have much time to get warm.  On the flip side, nor was there much time to cool down, especially when Simon was knocking out sub-17 laps!

It was good to know it was my last.  I enjoyed crossing the field for the last time - it was the only place on the course where we had a refreshingly cool cross-wind.  As with pretty much all the other laps, I had little problem with traffic, and even when I did get stuck, I simply took the opportunity to relax a bit, and have a breather, before opening up again when the track widened.  All day, I only got passed by Mat, and one other 6 hour rider on his first lap.  I'd been lucky to avoid the guys who were circulating over a minute faster than me, but it was satisfying nonetheless.

Light was marginal down the zig-zag, but I didn't need Pat's light.  One final sprint into the velodrome, I tagged off to Paul, and then was done!

Remarkably, while lap 5 had been the fastest at 17:17, my slowest was my 3rd, at 17:36.  Laps 6, 7 and 8 had all been 17:31, and surely lap 9 would have been too, but for the failing light - it clocked in at 17:34!  Eight laps within a 19 second time spread was pretty amazing, and while a testament to my inate self-preservation mode and decent endurance, I think it spoke volumes about my amazing bike, and how little the riding took out of me.  Chapeau Turner!

The thrill of the chase no doubt set the scene, but there was so much more going on to make the day a special one.   Our team was seriously casual, and casually serious.  We found a really nice balance which enabled us to embrace a bit of hard racing, but without creating that pressure-cooker environment where inevitably someone pulls out a shit lap and feels horrible for letting everyone else down.  No such dramas for us!  Awesome!

The tone around the velodrome was also fantastic. Jill had organised a great DJ, and most of the stuff he was playing was great!  While there weren't a huge number of teams, the downside of having a less-than-capacity event base was offset by the upside of having a pretty clear race-track.  I reckon Wellington will always suffer from a lack of convenient budget accommodation - no Rotorua Thermal Holiday Camp down here.  Consequently bringing a team of 5 from out of town is gonna cost mega-bucks.  The entry fee is one issue, but one which could perhaps be offset a bit by facilitating proper overnight camping on Friday and Saturday nights.  Maybe even 24 hours would be the way to go?

In any case, that Saturday rocked my world.  I was on a high for well over a week afterwards, and it was good to see photos and results appearing, and just as the memories were fading a bit, they'd be snapped back into focus.  We managed 3rd place in Open Men and 4th overall.    I felt not an ounce of guilt for being the only team-member under-40.  If they'd wanted to win that category, it was bloody silly asking me onto the team!   

Thanks to all those I had a chance to chat to, cheer at, be cheered by, or ride with.  Excellent times!!!!

1 comment:

  1. Nice one John.
    Thanks too supporters: D for the home baking, Anouk for the shoulder rubs and everyone else who stopped by. I had a great day.