Friday, April 27, 2018

Graperide Magnum

By virtue of a couple of rides around the 100km Graperide course on the back of a tandem, most recently in 2014, early this year an invitation to take part again hit my Inbox.

Given preparations for long days France were going to be well advanced by early April, the 200km Magnum seemed to make sense, and I suggested to the TDF team that we do it together.  Understandably, annual leave and finances precluded participation for most, but that didn't put me off, and I fired an entry in.

I booked a return trip on Bluebridge for Sarah and I (plus bikes), and soon after, she'd confirmed accommodation with friends of ours, Mike, Lynzi and Karen.  They'd have a car, which meant not only could Sarah and I put a bag of clothes into their boot, but also the coffee machine, making the early start on the Saturday morning a bit more bearable.

We all made the ferry crossing together, and Sarah and I enjoyed a blat along SH1 through to Blenheim.  For the most part, we rode on the road, but when a cycle path appeared, I took the opportunity to leap onto it.  That slowed us down somewhat, and elicited a query from Sarah:  "why are we riding on this shitty little road?!"  To be fair, some of it was actually a road, providing access to a few residences, but she was right to complain about the rough surface.

We had a nice evening with Lynzi, Mike and Karen, and turned in with alarms set to 4-something.  Eek.

I left home at about 5am, after a big bowl of porridge and a couple of coffees, and enjoyed a chilly but straightforward 30 minute ride to the Forrest Vineyard on the outskirts of Renwick.  By good fortune, I immediately bumped into Aaron and Steven, both of whom are riding around France with me in July.

I was glad to have warm legs when we lined up for the 6am start.

This was the first time I'd ridden in a bunch since our first training camp back in late November, and my first race for months.  As a result, I had no real idea how things were going to go.  I'd already knocked out a 200km ride that week - making the most of the university holiday, I'd decided to spend the hours of 9am to 5pm on my bike, and had followed that up with a partially successful interval session on the Thursday.

Once we were underway, I was fairly conservative in terms of my position in the bunch, but by the time we got to SH1, I was putting my nose in the wind from time to time.

It was still fairly dark, and besides, looking around to see what's going on behind is not the safest thing to do when riding at close quarters.  So, it wasn't until the climb into Picton that it really became apparent that I was riding in a very small bunch at the front of the race.

Paul Odlin disappeared up ahead at some point, and by the time we reached the top of the high point of Queen Charlotte Drive, there were only five of us.   We pushed on and when we got down onto the flats into Linkwater, there was no sign of anyone behind.  It was nice to see Sarah on the side of the road with her camera, and Paul surprised us too, appearing on the side of the road and slotting in as we went past.

R-L:  Chris, Tony, Jan, Josh and me.  Photo: Sarah Tumen
It was all fairly civilised through to about Havelock, but once gravity and the wind were both on our side, I was amazed to find us lapping through at 45-50km/h.  100km deep into a 200km race, this didn't seem completely sensible, but it was a case of joining in, or sitting up and leaving them to it...!

We'd passed the start/finish line during the release of the 100km bunches, introducing the tension of how to interact with the groups we caught.  Some of those saw an opportunity to crank things up, which both broke up our flow and complicated things from a racing point of view.

Unfortunately Chris got a flat tyre somewhere around Koromiko and no-one was inclined (or capable, most likely) of chasing Paul Odlin when he ghosted off the front before Picton.

I pushed the pace on each of the short climbs out of Picton reaching the top of the second with only Josh.  When we realised we had a gap, we agreed that pushing on was the right thing to do.

Josh and I on Queen Charlotte Drive
We hooked up with a strong but surgey dude which gave us a little bit of shelter on the flat roads through Linkwater, and caught a large bunch just before the road tipped down into Havelock.

Not much time to enjoy the abundant scenery
Just before the descent, we were passed by a couple of guys going very quickly, but by the bottom a gap had opened up.  I bridged, and caught them just before a nasty ramp.  By the time I turned left onto the Nelson-Blenheim highway, I was well and truly in the red, and had to sit up.  I took the 30 second hiatus as an opportunity to eat and drink, and waited for the cavalry.

It all got a bit messy in the last 25km.  For quite a while Josh and I were part of a small group, but we got caught by about 15 or so one-lappers with about 15km to go.  The nightmare scenario of a fast bunch pulling our competitors back to us had indeed materialised, and we could only guess how much of an armchair ride Tony had had getting back to us.  He may well have been flogging himself, but more likely he'd had an easier time of it than Josh or I.  

The finale needed a bit of care, but I was still feeling pretty good when we crossed the Wairau river for the fourth and final time.  I upped the pace and managed to string the bunch out.  While it took a fair bit of energy, it did simplify identifying who was where, and as I slipped back a bit, I was pleased to see Tony in third or fourth wheel.  

With a couple of hundred metres to go, I made my way around him, and hit the final driveway section ahead of both him and Josh.  There's probably some protocol about not passing in those last metres, but to be sure, I kept the pace as high as I could, and was bloody delighted to be the second Magnum rider across the official finish line.  

Almost done

Despite being some 8-and-a-half minutes behind Paul, Josh, Tony and I had still averaged 37.5km/h for the 200km, which was definitely respectable.  Aside from that highlight, it was a nice surprise to see Rhys from Westport, who'd been a near-constant companion for Simon and I on our first attempt on the tandem record back in 2013.  When he said gidday about 10km from the finish, I didn't initially recognise him, but was very pleased that I remembered his name (and the circumstances of our first meeting).

The rest of the day was very nice, and a great opportunity to spend a bit of time with Aaron and Steven.  Unfortunately, Aaron had been tangled up in a crash about 30km into the event, and had to withdraw when his bent derailleur hangar sent his derailleur into his spokes (and then into the bike-parts graveyard).  Steven had missed the split while giving himself a bit of a break after far too long at the front of the bunch, but was otherwise very pleased with his ride.

Sarah and I had a lovely ride the next day, heading contra flow to Havelock and then along Queen Charlotte Drive to Picton in time for our afternoon ferry.  She'd ridden almost 200km herself the previous day riding out through Portage to the end of the sealed road before completing the Graperide lap.  We nonetheless knocked the 75km out without too much fuss, and even had time for the best lamb curry I've ever had, at Plaza India.

For me, that brought to a close a nice 600km week, and was a great confidence booster a few weeks out from the team's second training camp, this time in Christchurch between 25 and 29 April.  

1 comment:

  1. A great description..we rode one of the pre-Grape Ride practice rides in 2013 with the now late Peter Preddy.
    Its a well organized finish too, with plenty of food,as we found in 2017!!