Wednesday, September 16, 2015

A weekend in Nelson

If the little arrival card in Nelson had asked the purpose of my visit, I would have ticked both Business and Pleasure...  This was a weekend of two halves.


The trip came somewhat out of left-field.  My new team-mate and friend, Brendan McGrath, had been invited to ride for Placemakers in the 5th round of the Calder Stewart Cycling Series (previously the Benchmark series), but as race day neared, the team was looking short a rider or two, and he asked if I was interested.  It would be a new experience, so after running the idea past my family, agreed.

Sarah initially decided she'd hang at home with Khulie, but once plans for a couple of sleep-overs were disclosed, I was back onto the internet to organise more transport!

The schedules were a bit awkward - I had a busy day at work on Friday, and didn't much like the look of the premium fares on the Friday evening.  Instead, I booked the first flight down on Saturday morning, due to arrive at about 8:30.

Brendan had taken advantage of Bluebridge's sponsorship of the WORD programme, and fewer work commitments, and had booked himself on the Friday morning ferry.  As race day drew nearer, his car filled up:  first with my race bike and kit, then with Sarah, and finally with Brendan's wife and son!  Space was soon at a premium!

I dropped Sarah off at sparrow's fart on Friday morning, a little bit worried that she might be in for a rough crossing - her ship's departure was delayed due to heavy seas meaning it had arrived late!  EEK! Khulie and I took advantage of the early hour, and grabbed breakfast at Fidel's before school.  There, we bumped into WORD founder, Ashley Burgess, who was very pleased to hear that the discount was being put to good use.

At work, I tried not to think too much about Sarah - trying to avoid both envy and concern.  She'd taken her own bike and had decided to ride from Picton to Nelson.  Shortly after 6pm, she arrived in Nelson, having had no problems knocking out the 110km from the ferry terminal to the accommodation we'd booked near the centre of town.   The weather had got a little inclement towards the end, but she'd taken it all in her stride, such is her way.

I had a bit of an early start on Saturday, but made time for my stock start to the day:  a big bowl of porridge and a coffee.  I said goodbye to Khulie, and had a quick drive across town to the airport.  My parents arrived soon after, and I handed over my spare car key, and let them know where I'd left the car.  Bless them, it was going to be waiting for us in town on Sunday night, saving Brendan dropping us home.

The flight was running to schedule, which meant there should be little stress associated with getting to the race on time.  After coffee number two with my parents, I boarded, and soon after was disembarking in sunny Nelson.  The strong southerly winds I'd been buffeted by on the way to the car were non-existent here, which was a lovely surprise.

Brendan's wife, Jenny, flagged me down in the terminal, and I was soon in the back seat of the car.  We didn't have a huge amount of time, so one of my tasks was to get into my riding shorts.  "Now would be a very bad time to look in the rear-view mirror, Brendan..."

They'd kindly organised coffee number three for me, and once I was suitably clothed again, that was the focus of my attention.

The drive to Upper Moutere took 20 minutes or so, and we arrived at about 9am.  The race was due to start at 10.  We quickly found our team-mates, and I was handed a Placemakers skinsuit by Peter Murphy, the third north-islander on the team.  Getting changed a second time was somewhat easier with everyone else out of the car!

We lined up for a team photo (minus one team-mate, and plus one photo-bomber), and then I was off for a warm-up.  I'd been shelled in a local handicap race two weeks earlier, having started with no warm up to speak of, and I was determined for that not to happen again.

L-R:  Brendan, myself, Peter, Justin and another Brendan
It was good to spend close to 30 minutes spinning the legs.  Just before heading to the start-line, I gave Sarah a quick kiss, and smashed back a tin of creamed rice.  Then it was time to line up.

Fortunately, one of my team-mates asked if I'd signed in.  I hadn't, and so the few minutes remaining before the start were slightly less relaxed than they might have been.  But, I was able to quickly find the table I needed, sign in, and then rejoin the bunch at the start line.

We were warned of a dodgy bridge we'd be crossing around the 30km mark, and then we were sent on our way.

I really enjoyed the first 30 minutes or so, riding near the front of the bunch for the most part.  My task was a relatively simple one:  help Justin, sitting in second place in the series, to finish ahead of Brent Allnut, the masters' (35-44 years old) series leader, riding for the Thule team.

Allnut was wearing the leader's jersey, so was easy to spot.  Between my height, and my somewhat upright position on the bike, I was able to keep track of who was up the road, and in particular the locations of Allnut and Justin.  We'd been encouraged to roll off the front in these first kilometres, to see who was up for what.

About 20 minutes in, there was a decent sized bunch up ahead.  Brendan and Justin were up there, but Allnut wasn't.  Nor was Dave Rowlands, who'd not started the first round, but had won the next three.  He started working his way up to the front of the bunch, and I gave him a good shout as I accelerated past. He jumped on my wheel, and we flogged ourselves for the next minute or two.  We managed to ride across the gap, but Dave's exit had sparked some life into the peloton, and they too had closed the gap.

We managed to find each other a few minutes later, and agreed that we'd wasted a hell of a lot of energy for no gain!

There were no real hostilities for the next half an hour or so, and eventually we came to the bridge we'd been warned about.  I was at the very front, and was slightly bemused to see the decking was actually in really good shape.  The organisers neutralised the race, and we slowed to a crawl.  It wasn't clear why, but they kept the speed low for almost 5 minutes, causing a bit of chaos at the front.  Sarah and Jenny, driving in the race convoy in support of our team, explained later that someone had crashed on the bridge, and the low speed was to enable them to get back on (to their bike, and then to the peloton).

Once the lead vehicle cleared out, the pace ramped up, and I found myself at the front.  I had team-mates immediately behind, and they urged me on.  We negotiated a tricky wee bridge, and I ramped up the pace again, "KEEP GOING, KEEP GOING..." ringing in my ears.  It was exhilarating drilling it into a light headwind at almost 50km/h, though after a few minutes (which felt like an eternity), I started to fade, and swung off.  1, 2 Placemakers came by, and then Allnut, and then another Placemaker.  He shouted "yep", and at that point I realised we'd gapped the peloton.  I swung onto the wheel, sucking in air, and was soon lapping through again.

We were in a great position, 4-on-1, and it was time to ensure that it stayed that way.  Everyone was working, though I was really struggling to roll through, still reeling from my big effort on the front.  I was very glad to have Brendan's company, and the presence of team leaders and series contenders Justin, and Brendan Akeroyd.  They were vocal, and it was good to know I wasn't going to have to think too much for myself.  Just the way I like it.

After 10 minutes or so, none other than Dave Rowlands arrived.  He later described the difficulty he'd had breaking clear of the bunch behind, only to then face the equally difficult task of riding across to us.

L-R:  Justin, Brent, moi, Brendan, Dave, Brendan A
No sooner were we six, than all of a sudden we were down to five again - Brent Allnut had vanished!!!!  Still not fully recovered, I momentarily let myself off the hook.  I eased off, subconsciously feeling like my work was done, and was instantly gapped by the others.  They had a quick meeting, and decided they wanted to keep me around.  I was told to hurry my arse up, and was soon taking turns again.

Things never really let up.  We rotated generally pretty well, but every now and then someone would skip a turn, and we'd reorder.  Sometimes I had trouble rolling through, sometimes not, but the scenario was a great one, and so it was just a matter of enduring, and working as hard as I was able.

And then there were five...
The race was 122km long, and we'd broken clear at about 40km, and as the kilometres ticked on, my legs started to feel more and more stuffed.  We'd had a few time checks, and our gap was well over a couple of minutes by the time we hit the two-hour mark.

Sarah, Jenny and Fletcher's view from Convoy #1
There were no real hills in the first 100km, and the few short climbs we had faced had been done in a somewhat gentlemanly fashion.  By the time we reached Neudorf Hill with a few kilometres to go, my legs were absolutely shot.  Looking down, I could see my feet going round, but I couldn't feel my legs at all.  Our gap was 3 minutes, and while I probably could have stayed clear of the peloton if the others had ditched me on that hill, I was glad they didn't.  As soon as gravity was on my side again, my strength came back and I again felt like I was actually controlling my pedalling!  It was good to have company, and even better knowing we were almost done.  I was REALLY looking forward to stopping.

With an eye on the series, Brendan and I were told we'd be finishing 4th and 5th, which suited us down to the ground, and we cruised the last 500m home, watching the other three duke it out for stage honours about 30 seconds ahead of us.  Dave took the win, with Justin 2nd, and Brendan Akeroyd 3rd.  Brent Allnut lead the bunch home, two minutes behind Brendan and I.

For the Placemakers team, the race had been a roaring success.  While we didn't get the stage win, Justin taking the lead in the series had been the primary goal, and by virtue of the three riders between him and Brent Allnut, he was now the series leader by 6 points, with one race to go.  Placemakers also strengthened their hold on the Team prize.

Unfortunately, the after match was a bit of a fizzer.   The local dairy/cafe seemed to be indulging in daylight robbery, so turned us off grabbing a coffee in there.  Also, the Elite race was longer than ours, and had started later, so there was quite a wait for prizegiving.  Half our team, Justin included, had imminent flights back to Christchurch.  So, our prizegiving consisted of a team photo, with Justin proudly sporting the leader's jersey!

In many ways, it was nice to be off the hook.  Sarah, Jenny and Fletcher had been very patient with us, and not having to endure a lengthy prizegiving was a sure bonus.

The McGraths dropped Sarah and I back at our accommodation, and after a shower, we went for a stroll around down-town Nelson.  It was surprisingly deserted, but we found things to do, including beer and fries at a pub (!!!), a trip to the supermarket - much more up my alley - and then an early dinner.
Not too smashed to smile for the camera!
After we'd had our dinner, Brendan picked us up, and we hung out with them for a couple of hours, reliving the race-glory, and enjoying apple pie, custard and ice-cream!  Then, back to town for a solid sleep.


Sarah and I were almost ready to leave when my 8:30 alarm went off.  I insisted it was to wake us up, not to send us on our way.

We'd already scrambled some eggs - not the same without a bit of salt - and knocked back a packet of English muffins with nutella.  Before dropping our bags off with Brendan, we found a cafe in town, and enjoyed a quick coffee to supplement the nasty instant we'd had in our room.

It was a little tricky deciding what to wear - we again staring down the barrel of a glorious day.

We didn't take a particularly efficient route out of town, and were lucky to see the McGrath family making their way into town for brunch.  They'd booked-a-bach opposite the end of a cycle path that took them straight into the city centre, and were making the most of the opportunity for a family ride.

We ditched our bags on the deck of their place, admiring the stunning views left and right, and then it was time to hit the road.

Looking west...
... and north

We stuck to the cycle-path for quite a while, but all the time coveting the relatively uncomplicated riding the shoulder of SH6 would offer.  Mercifully, the path came to an end after a few kilometres, and there was no further need to duck and dive, and cross roads, and brake, and accelerate, etc, etc.

A sign reading 141km to the "Wellington Ferry" gave me a bit of a laugh.  Being a Wellingtonian, I've only ever thought of it as the "Picton Ferry", and it was also amusing to think that cars were being encouraged to take a route 40km longer than ours.

My legs were feeling surprisingly good, miraculously good even, which was both a pleasant surprise, and a relief.  I really wanted to ride with Sarah, and would have done so come hell or high water, and it was nice to discover I wasn't going to have to suffer through it.

She's slowly but surely got the hang of drafting, and sat close behind me through to the bottom of the Whangamoa climb.  There, I let her take point, and enjoyed the solid pace she set.  Towards the top she faded a wee bit, but it was nonetheless impressive, and the thought of her collecting additional Strava trophies made me laugh a little to myself.

The descent was a rip-snorter, and before long we were into the second of two major climbs of the day.  Half way up the Rai Saddle climb I passed Sarah, and made the most of my climber's rig.  Despite buying this new race bike over four months ago, I've still only ridden it a handful of times, and it was nice to be clocking up a few k's on it!

Sarah atop Rai Saddle
The summit came quickly, and on account of Sarah passing this way a couple of days earlier, we negotiated the 100m unsealed section halfway down the descent without fright nor problem.

We had plenty of time up our sleeves, but apparently no inclination to stop at Rai Valley.  Instead, we pressed on to Pelorus Bridge, enjoying the stunning scenery both upstream and downstream of the bridge, before popping in to the cafe on the far side.

If only I'd packed my togs!!!
I really wanted a pie, but wasn't actually feeling particularly hungry or low on energy, so made do with a cheese scone and a coffee.  A big fat kereru put on a nice show for us while we ate, and we made use of the handy toilet before mounting up again.

My favourite NZ bird

And now a word from our sponsors...  Or a hat-tip to one, at least!
Havelock was the next stop, and en route I admired the new bridge near Canvastown, and remembered fondly the various times I'd passed through here:  on the Kiwi Brevet, a dirt cycle-tour with Simon, and another with Marjolein.  Simon and I would certainly have made good use of that bridge at the end of the Nydia day!  We made use of the first decent cell-phone coverage since Nelson, and I smashed back another cheese scone!

The short climb out of Havelock afforded us great views of Havelock itself, and up into the mountains south of the Wairau Valley.

Looking south
The views north were the best though, and posing several objects of my affection made the sights even better!

Once we'd descended towards Linkwater, we hit one of the worst bits of road I've ever ridden, and it brought back horrible memories from the Graperide.  Then, I wrote:

Life got temporarily quite horrible when we hit one of NZ's stretches of cheap seal.  I suppose Simon was able to observe the hit our speed took, while the only feedback I got was nasty vibration through my hands, feet and arse.  It lasted a couple of kilometres, and when we finally got to the end of it, I did divert enough energy to mutter "thank god".

Yep, the road is still bad, and apparently I said "thank god" at the end this time too!

Queen Charlotte Drive, though beautiful, and virtually devoid of cars, wasn't great riding.  There must have been frosts recently, because the road was covered in grit, and often the corners were chewed up and a bit rough on our skinny tyres and stiff frames.

I pointed out Peter and Erris's place, where Dave and I stopped for lunch on our cycle tour together way back in 2008.  It's funny how good memories last for years, and the brain promptly forgets the less fun stuff.

Unlike that day, I wasn't towing a load of gear, and we'd made short work of the ride.   We were just in time to see the ferry before ours depart, and it was nice to think that we hadn't had to rush for that earlier one.

Picton!  Just before our bikes fell over in the wind!

We spent the next couple of hours mooching around.  It was warm, and there was food to eat.  I tried to find someone to wax my legs, but being a Sunday afternoon (and in between ferries), just about everything was closed.  It wasn't as disappointing as finding the Dutch bakery closed, of course.

A well deserved salad.  Not that Sarah seemed to have exerted herself at all!

We retired to the Bluebridge terminal - the sun and wind combination became a bit much - to be warm we really had to be out in the sun, but I was starting to worry about sun burn.  We'd only been there a few minutes when Brendan, Jenny and Fletcher arrived, and we were then able to get changed.  We rode back into town, and after investigating a couple of over-priced offerings settled on a pub on the main drag.

Three Roast Lambs, a Steak Sandwich, and some Nuggets and Chips later, it was time to go check in, and before too long we were heading onto the boat!

We'd booked cabins, and I'd been looking forward to closing out the weekend in style.

The cabin costs a mere $40, but let me tell you a secret, the shower alone is worth that.   I took my time, during which I was able to reflect on an awesome weekend.  Good company, one of the best races I think I've ever ridden, stunning weather, and a lovely ride with Sarah to top it all off...

It's funny how things pop up when you least expect them!


  1. Great work on the business, nice work on the pleasure, and thanks for the tip of the hat.

  2. You did the weekend the right way bro.

  3. Thanks John - that prompts some fond memories!