Sunday, December 14, 2008

A Classic New Zealand Aorangi Crossing (from the vorb files)

The second half of this year's been a bit odd on the "training" front, and it's turned out the one race has been the training ride for the next. As a result, I've not really fired in races, and so I'd pretty much ruled out entering the Rice Mountain Classic. I'd love to give B grade a good crack in the future though. I've raced over the entire course, though not at once (Millers loop was the second half of Stage 2 in the 2 day tour that I did two years ago, and Kourarau and Admirals were Stage 4 of the same tour), and I really enjoyed it!

Moving on from Taupo a fortnight ago, and the Makara Peak Rally last week, I asked Simon what he thought I should do this weekend. An Akas loop was suggested, but when the cry for volunteers for Rice Mountain came out, I signed up for that and asked him to come up with something in the Wairarapa for me to do. The fall-back plan was to ride home over the Rimutakas. He ultimately suggested the Aorangi Crossing, described as "A classic from way back" in the newly released Seventh Edition of Classic New Zealand Mountain Bike Rides (sure enough, it was called the Haurangi Crossing in the first edition, copyright 1991)!

Volunteers had been asked to report to Gladstone Hall at 8am on Saturday. I'd toyed with camping over there on Friday, but in the end, my alarm went off in Karori at 5:45, and after some tea and toast, I jumped into my wagon, and after obsessively checking all the stuff I'd loaded into the boot the night before, I was off. I stopped for a very nice coffee and scone at Brown Oats (??) in Carterton, before heading out to the hall.

I had been allocated sag-wagon duties, but helped set out a couple of intersections before the start. I didn't do any driving until the second lap of Millers behind the A graders. The nicely staggered starts put them last on the road over Kourarou, and possibly Admirals. One of the riders punctured, and I tailed him for probably an hour! He was hauling at times! A few photos from the starts are here.

I didn't go up Admirals Hill, but returned the van, and shot off to Greytown for lunch with Scotty and psych. After some good food, and good conversation (including theorising about what could be so special about a small bag of muesli to make it worth $9.50), I ducked into the mensroom to fling my bib shorts on. Time to get riding. I had a short drive to Martinborough, where I parked up, and got my gear out of the boot. I was carrying a lot of stuff - about 5 bottles of fluid (1 on the bike, and 4 in a camelbak), 4 bananas, some bars and honey roasted peanuts, a largish first aid kit, a bunch of tools and spares, a Tojjarific light, and some spare clothes. My bag was bloody heavy, and I wondered how long before I wanted to ditch it (not long...).

The ride started on the road heading south(ish) out of Martinborough, then a left turn and about 15 minutes climbing on the road to White Rock. Then came about an hour of really good quality gravel road, which deteriorated straight after a DOC lodge, and ended abruptly at a carpark of sorts. According to the map, it was at about 500m elevation.

From here I dropped into a valley via a 4WD road. The bible described it as "a fast 4WD track", but frequent bogs, and encroaching vegetation meant I picked my way fairly sedately down. In the valley, the track crossed the river a bunch of times. Damn, the water was cold. My feet didn't get very wet, but one foot in particular took a long time to warm back up. Eventually I came to a fork in the track, and taking the right I found myself at Sutherlands hut after a minute or two...

After recording my intentions in the log book, I backtracked, and began what the Bros describe as "the main obstacle of the ride... a teeth-gritting granny gear climb... often involving walking, sometimes defying gravity". They pretty much nailed the description, and I took almost exactly the one hour suggested. I didn't ride much, though occasionally I found a section that wasn't super steep or while it was super steep, wasn't littered with loose rock. I ended upside down, down a bank after miscalculating the firmness of a path around a big bog!

In parts the track was so steep I was kind of glad I hadn't come in the opposite direction (as planned for a northerly wind). I am sure the photos won't do it justice (down, out, up)...

Soon after I took the photos, the track generally levelled off, though much of it was either steep down, or steep up. I think I managed to ride all the rest though. Cell coverage faded in and out, and apart from this, it was very cool to realise how remote this area is, and how lucky we are to have such an awesome opportunity to enjoy it. The views west were stunning.

After a steep descent, and a very satisfying 10-12 minute climb out of Hurupi Stream, I took a short detour for a glimpse of the Putangirua Pinnacles of Brain Dead fame. It was worth it! I got to spend a few minutes on some singletrack, and the view was pretty neat!

After admiring my last view of the south Wairarapa coast,

I found myself skirting around a large paddock. The track was rough, and I kept crossing some inch diameter water pipe. I decided to pop over into the paddock instead, and no sooner had I got underway than I heard the sound of many many hooves. I looked over my right shoulder, to see a few dozen cows about 15 m behind me. Figuring if I ignored them, they'd ignore me didn't work at all. They were getting closer, so I stopped and dismounted with my bike between them and me. Shouting "hah" at them (I think I was imitating the noise the cowboy in the movies makes when spurring on his horse - don't know why I'd choose that noise again...) had no effect, so I promptly got through the fence. No sooner had I lifted my bike over, but they came right to the fence, as if to say "and don't come back!"

Feeling lucky to be alive, I rode quickly down to the coast, where a beautiful sight awaited.

 At this point, it was 7:30pm, 5 hours after I'd left the car in Martinborough. The remainder of the trip was on the road, so I put a lot more air into my horrible Hutchinson Piranha. I suppose Giant stocked their bikes with these on account of their weight, and because they'd roll around the carpark very well. They suck!

It took me just over two hours to get back to the car. I stopped three times I think, each time having something to eat. By the time I got back to the car, I'd added a merino vest under my riding shirt, my trusty Roadworks armwarmers, some knee warmers, and my helmet light. It was very nice to get some weight out of my back pack! It was great to finally get some feedback on the distance remaining at the turnoff to Featherston! Only 18km to go, and it was 8:58pm. I whiled away some of these kilometres thinking about how long it might take at various speeds, and I thought a lot about what it must have been like for Simon on his incredible Great Divide Race. Here I was at the end of a 100km day, and all I wanted to do was stop. I felt like a bit of a blouse to tell the truth. In the end the 18km took me about 40 minutes, so about 26km/h. Not too bad on an MTB, at the end of a 7 hour ride!

I was thrilled to find the fish'n'chip shop about 50m from the car open at 9:40 at night. While they cooked my dinner, I loaded my gear into the car! I was home and in bed just before midnight, well rooted, but glad for a sweet day with plenty of cycling!

Originally published on vorb

Sunday, November 30, 2008

My first Taupo! (from the vorb files)

Anyone who reads this thread will be aware of how little riding I've been managing to do lately. The road season started off with a hiss an a roar for me (with the Balfour Pennington handicap series), but my early season form didn't seem to come to much with a series of disappointing graded races. Work has also been crazy, and I've an awkward after school schedule, which has meant I've had difficulty sneaking in a lunch time ride. Nonetheless, I thought there could be no better way to head up for my first Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge. I was confident I could get myself around, and although I signed up for bunch 1 in the solo, I was anticipating getting dropped at some point.

The longest road ride I'd done this winter was the Wellington Centre Champs (at Otaki) debarcle - 120km, consisting of 2 laps at race pace, 1 lap solo (after being dropped), 1 further sifty lap with Joel, and then a solo ride back to Whitby. I'd had a good quality weekend with Simon in the Central Plateau a month ago, but the longest ride there was only 80km. With luck, I thought, my body would remember what riding for 4+ hours felt like, and some short sharp efforts on the MTB will have maintained some semblance of fitness and power...

I drove up on Friday with Simon and Jonathan Kennett, and Alex Revell, who were entered on the Kennett Bros' triple. I was pretty amazed that it got in the van - lashed above the rear seat... Alongside it was my bike, and Jonathan
s Penny Farthing, which he was set to ride this morning in the record attempt... We had a great drive, and although Simon was due at a meeting in Taupo at 3pm, it was pretty unpressured stuff. There was a fair bit of traffic on the road, but no one doing anything dumb. We didn't see any Maxi Enduro riders on the east side of the lake, unfortunately.

Friday afternoon and evening were most enjoyable, and we sifted at the events centre, I did some supermarket shopping, and the lads put their bike back together - including replacing a seatpost on the triple that had got stuck, requiring a crow bar to be used against a nail that had been inserted into a hole drilled into the post...

The four of us managed to get through most of a kilo of pasta, a bit of brocolli, tuna, tomato puree, and some tasty cheese. Then, it was off to hear Simon redescribe his Great Divide Race, followed by Steve Gurney. Jonathan had scored a DVD of some old Dulux Tour (1960, Auckland to Wellington) footage, so we watched that and then all drifted off to bed.

I wasn't quite sharp enough in the morning to watch the Classic start, butI must have only just missed it when I rode off to the start line. Conditions were perfect, and it was already warm enough to be comfortable just in my Roadworks jersey. I love putting it on before a race, and always feel a small charge run through me - I like to keep it low key, but I'm sure the jersey is part of my "process".

This day, my pockets were loaded with three bananas, a one square meal bar, a spare tube and pump, and my cell phone. On the bike, I had a second tube, tyre lever, repair kit, and CO2 canister, and two bottles of fairly dilute Horleys Replace.

I was little nervous as I rode across the Waikato River flood gate, and up through the roundabout at the north end of town, but the start area was very well marked out, and I found myself a spot at the back of 1C. [Interestingly, a guy I finished just behind on the line has a time listed as 10 seconds slower than mine. Not a bad strategy turning up later than everyone else!] I thought the organisation was very slick, as 1A, and then 1B were set off, and we were given our safety briefing. I didn't recognise many in my bunch, but had chatted to Ian Paintin, and also spotted young Luke McDermott, who later in the day won a nice new Skoda sedan!

And then we were off!

There was nothing particularly urgent in the way we moved off the line, and away from Taupo, and it felt good to get going. The bunch began to spread out pretty soon, with people trying to get across to 1B up the road. I'd wondered about this, and decided against going too hard early on, but found myself riding at a fairly comfortable place near the front of the bunch. After picking up stragglers for what must have been half an hour or so, we caught sight of a fairly sizable bunch. In the end I was the first across, catching up to them just at the top of a 100m climb. One of the advantages of being 85kg+ is that you roll down hills a lot faster than 75kg riders. On this particular occasion, I was damned if I was going to brake down yet another downhill, leading into yet another climb, so I slipped into the middle of the road and blasted up the rise. The rest of the bunch weren't far behind, and we were joined very soon after by a pair of tandems from the start behind us. They were carrying an impressive amount of momentum, but given my own experiences on the descents, I shouldn't have been surprised!

There was nothing particularly notable about the riding until about Turangi. That said, it was nice to chat to a few people, including Ross Watson, who'd been a bunch mate of mine in the early season races, Peter James, Mike Peach (not related to Ian Peach), Ben Revell, Alex's brother, and Shane Collett, albeit very briefly! Kuratau came and went, unlike some of the hills we have in Wellington which leave a much more lasting impression!

After Turangi, things seemed to hot up a bit. We had a light head wind, and while the bunch was generally keen to see the pace come on, no-one really wanted to take control (including myself). I was feeling pretty good, and had lead the bunch for a while on some of the first half, but I was wondering when the wheels would fall off, and I was wary of over exerting myself at this point. I let myself get near the front, but I started to have trouble with the surging that was going on (I assumed the riders at the very front were taking a pull, and then slowing down as if to say "who's next?", and fair enough) - the constant braking and then accelerating to close the gap again was reminding me of some of my mid-season failures, and so I prudently chose to drop back a bit.

Actually, here might be a good point to say that riding in a large bunch was a bit of a revelation to me. The bunch riding I've done has typically been a bit of a hammerfest, leaving me pretty exhausted. Most of my road riding has been solo, or when I've done the lion's share of the work. Sitting in a huge bunch, expending very little effort for great progress was damn cool!!!!

Eventually we got to Hatepe, and I was feeling in good shape having had the bunch close up a bit and work a bit more constructively. I rode a good tempo up the hill, and crested in a bunch of about 7. By the time we got up to speed, we were a hundred metres or so down on 4 or 5 riders from our group. I have to say my companions were excellent. Whatever our motivation (wanting to catch the guys in front, wanting to stop riding, BBQ, icecream, whatever), we all pretty much wanted the same thing, and that was to go fast. The "race" got exciting for the first time, and actually felt like a race. Ross Watson was there, and we had the chance to comment to each other "this feels a lot more familiar!" Who knows how fast we were going, but we were working hard, and got a good pace line going. I decided to give it my all, knowing that if I blew, there wasn't that far to go, and there were a few hundred riders not far back down the road who I'd be able to hide in if need be.

When we got to the descent, we had made decent headway into the group ahead. I was in about 4th wheel, but was able to roll past the three ahead of me, and the group tucked in behind me. At the bottom, we were only a few metres down on our targets, and we had a good speed advantage on them. I think they were a little shocked as we hurtled past them, our paceline already back in effect. They latched on, though one got shouted at a little later when he seemed to sit up in the middle of the paceline! He got the point though, and we worked well together all the way back to Taupo. We picked up Mike Revell, who joined his son Ben in the bunch. Crafty of Ben to send his leadout man up the road!

By the time we hit the lakefront, I was still feeling really good, despite having ridden hard up and over the short climbs en route. Along the waterfront I could sense people getting nervous about the sprint, and in particular, bunch safety. "Remember guys, we're sprinting for 700th place" was the comment someone made, and with that in mind, I was content just to roll over the line, mid-bunch.

I thought to look at my watch a few minutes after finishing, and estimated a time a little under 4 hours 30. The results I've seen this evening have me down as 4.21.55. The time doesn't mean much to me, but I was thrilled with my overall performance in the event. Particularly, I'm absolutely delighted that despite not doing much of the sort of riding I would have chosen to do for this event had I had the chance, my body still was capable of getting me round without crapping out. I was glad I chose the bunch I did, and I am excited about the next couple of months. At least I've got an OK base to launch into some decent endurance rides, hopefully losing a few kilos in the process!

I'm looking forward to the Makara Peak Rally next weekend, and a 4 hour rogaine out at Pencarrow Head on December 20. Simon and I will defend our 8 hour Akatarawa Attack title in late January. I look forward to some long road rides in between now and then, possibly including some touring on the east cape, and a possible "Ride around the block" (the Tararuas) with Simon if we can find some time!

Originally posted on  vorb

PS: I managed to get back to the waterfront in time to watch the triple go by. Simon (captain), Jonathan (second seat) and Alex (rear stoker) all had their heads down and grimaces on the their faces. It turns out it's bloody hard to cheer for a triple moving at 50km/h+ "Go Simon, go Jonathan, go Alex" takes just a little too long to get out...

There was one guy on their wheel - apparently only one rider can draft the triple down off Hatepe. They hit speeds around 100km/h, and the wind profile is such that the second bike back simply gets too much air, and can't keep up! So the one lucky guy got to join them back to Taupo. Their bunch was about 200m back!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Weekend at Rangataua (from the vorb files)

Saturday 25 October

Had a stunning ride with Simon up the Ohakune Mountain Road to Turoa Skifield today. We're staying at Rangataua, just south of Ohakune, and had a short ride to the bottom of the climb. Then, a 16km ascent, climbing 1000m. It was dry to start with, but we put our coats on at about half way. Things ticked along nicely until the last few km, which were pretty damn steep. I was on the CRX, and was pleased for the compact gearing... Simon did it pretty hard on his traditionally-geared roadie, and one of the few rides he's done since the GDR. There was enough time for a banana, and an ill-posed photo of some snow at the top carpark, before a tough descent.

It was wet, and damn cold sitting on the bike with little work to do but keep it pointing in the right direction. It was nice to get to the bottom, and back onto dry(ish) roads, for the short ride back to Rangataua. Warm clothes on, then in the car for some world famous (in New Zealand) chocolate eclairs and a big bowl of hot coffee (istep - I won't say it...)

We might pop over to Pipiriki on the Whanganui tomorrow... Weather's making it hard to commit to a ride around the mountain.

Sunday 26 October

Sunday's weather was not ideal - cold, and spells of rain. Nonetheless, we set off for Pipiriki on the Whanganui River at 1pm, grossly overdressed (I wore four layers of Ground Effect clothing - the merino vest, a roadie jersey, a baked alaska, and a long-sleeved shell...). While I sweated a lot on the ride, at no point did I regret having all those clothes on!

Pipiriki's pretty much west of where we were staying at Rangataua, and the round trip (to the waambulance at Ohakune) was a little over 80km. So, not a massive ride, but pretty neat to ride from the central plateau into the upper reaches of a river which feels like it's nowhere near the mountain!

Raetihi's pretty quiet on a Sunday afternoon, but we got a lovely bit of encouragement from a couple of 5 year olds playing in the middle of the road... For a ride that drops about 500m elevation to the river, we did a lot of climbing on the way out. The road was very quiet, though there were a few canoe operators heading our way. The scenery was spectacular, with some impressive river gorges, and a carbon copy of the "Bridge to Nowhere".

There were half a dozen or so kilometers of gravel road, which we almost covered quicker on the climb out of the river. Simon was on his road bike, and me on the CRX, but both with narrow tyres.

There was a small shop at Pipiriki, offering packets of chippies and lollies displayed on a small book shelf, and a fridge with a sign on the front promising chocolate, fizzy drinks and juice within. We weren't tempted, although when my legs started to implode 30 minutes later, I was having second thoughts...

Once back on the road, it was undulating riding back to Raetihi. I popped into the 4 Square and came out with a cookie, which Simon and I shared, and a can of pepsi, which I downed myself. We got hailed on before we got back to Ohakune. We hammered along, desperately trying to get the ride finished (by this stage we'd arranged for Sarah to pick us up outside the eclair shop), but were unable to keep the pace up for the entire 11km.

The steak and cheese pie was good. (I turned down a steak and mince pie - what a fascinating combination.) The apple pie wasn't so good - it was over half air! I should have had an eclair, but I was on cream overdose... Getting out of all my wet gear and getting warm again was a real highlight.

The ride was only 80km, and a lot of that was rolling along with little effort trying to avoid rocks and potholes. We covered it in just under 4 hours, including stops. We passed through some very remote, and very cool NZ countryside. If you're ever in Ohakune with bikes, and nothing to do on them, I recommend you drive to Raetihi, and do the out-and-back from there!

Originally published on vorb

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Maungakotukutuku MTBO (from the vorb files)

I had a great day out there today, though I hardly would have described it as a sprint. My bat-sense was in fine form, and even when I went wrong, it worked out OK.

The highlight of my day was the quality of my bike. I haven't done a lot of mountain biking lately, and the last time my Specialized Epic had been used was round 2 of the MTBO series in Wainui (July?) and before that, the Cyclic Saga in mid-March. I'd raced my Giant XTC on Mt Vic last weekend, but apart from that, most off-road riding this year has been on my trusty Raleigh XXIX single speed.

Apart from fantastic traction from the 29" wheels, the single most noticeable aspect of that bike is the absolutely lousy quality of the Avid BB5 (?) brakes - a low end cable disk, with pad adjustment only on one side, and a front rotor which is way too small for my size (and riding style), and I suspect for the larger wheel. Anyway, I'd hatched a plot to move the better BB7s from my Epic onto the Raleigh, requiring some new brakes for the Epic...

I consulted with Oli, my generous, experienced and completely trustworthy sponsor and friend. He presented me with a list of options, including Avid Juicys of various flavours, Shimano XTs, and the new Avid Elixirs. I read some online reviews of the Elixirs (weight sub-Juicy 7, and power like the Codes) and was impressed by the sharp price, consequently giving these the nod.

A few days later, they were fitted to the bike, and Oli returned it to me as clean as it has ever been, and sporting a new BB, and some new cable outer to boot. Taking my bike to Oli often freaks me out, and I'm very grateful to him that he doesn't give me a hard time about it, but the fact is, I must be a sponsor's nightmare. I am USELESS at maintenance, and I am pretty damn hard on my gear - a combination of my riding style, and the types of ride I tend to do.

The course today consisted of 27 controls, all within 2.5km of the start finish area (as the crow flies, but definitely not as the bike rolls...). It was a mass start and I was pleased to find that my initial plan was different to virtually everyone else's as I picked up the control within a stone's throw of the start. While this worked nicely for me, as it enabled me to ride a complicated set of 5 controls alone, within 1 minute of the start, I was almost completely drenched after splashing through waist deep water - this was obviously going to be a wet ride.

I made a navigational error heading for my second control, but I soon worked out where I was - in fact, on the way to what was meant to be my third!

The chain suck which had plagued me at Wainui did not arise on the climb up on to the ridge soon after. I made my way somewhat erratically north along the ridge, ducking here and there for controls, on foot pushing the bike fairly frequently. I misjudged a perfectly mapped intersection, but again the error worked in my favour as I had a good solid climb up a loop, which enabled me to approach a control from above, rather than pushing through a long boggy section from below. Ironically, I lost my clip card on a fern, and back-tracked 150m to the control, through the bog in my search for it (it was within 5m of where I had stopped, just well camouflaged!).

I put the drive train to a severe test on a steep, very low cadence climb soon after - the sort of thing Simon absolutely excels on, and I usually watch in wonder from behind, on foot. The Fox F100X forks I now have were a post Cyclic Saga addition, and are not only lighter than my old forks, but much better suited to this sort of riding. The bike was absolutely rocking today...

Back down to the valley, several stream crossings and boggy puddles later, I had about 30 seconds of chain suck. I tried to select a "helpful" gear, and ran up some steepish singletrack and this worked a treat - the drive dried out (I think?) and all was well again.

I'd left the hardest navigation to last, though I'd got the hills over and done with. It went well out there today though, and I got back without a wrong turn (plenty of stopping to ponder the map though). I quite a few places I chose a route that may not have been quickest, but made navigation a lot easier - a good move I think!

As I pulled into the finish line, I had to laugh as Simon was already there - he'd thrashed me by about 15 minutes last year, with a finishing time of about 1h15. It turned out he'd missed a couple of controls though, so had time penalties! Craig Starnes, who I'd shared a ride out with, and had seen several times on the course (usually heading in the "other" direction) swung in about 3 minutes behind me. Nice to get the win!, after just shy of 2.5 hours riding

I was amazed at how fresh I felt at the end, so obviously all the road racing I've been doing was not a complete waste - though it has sapped my will to ride to the lowest levels in the context of the last two years. In a new twist, my arms felt awesome, and I put this down to the new(ish) fork, but particularly the new brakes. Finally, I have brakes that seem well matched to my weight and style.

Whatever else Oli did to the bike during the week, it was absolutely perfect, and it did just what I needed under tough conditions. A great team effort!
Originally published on vorb

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Sifter rides bikes all weekend (from the vorb files)

After a wonderful weekend, it's interesting to find myself not craving the therapy that is writing! Nonetheless, I'm going to give it a wee crack.

Part 1 - Saturday

An opportunity to hang out with a friend on Saturday morning was too good to miss, so I didn't end up riding out to Whiteman's Valley as planned. Instead, I dragged the Roubaix out of the boot just before 1pm, and did a 15 minute warm up with Dan Waluszewski. We hadn't really talked before, but it was nice to ride with such a top bloke.

I started in B grade at arond 1:45 - it was warm, with a bit of a Northerly blowing. We headed north over Cowpat Hill, and then a short climb then down Mangaroa Hill. I'd chosen not to wear gloves, though won't make that mistake again. The short but technical descent was much more nerve wracking than it needed to be with my sweaty palms sliding around in the hoods...

With a nice tail wind, we galloped south through the outskirts of Upper Hutt. I had an absolutely lousy line into the turn up Wallaceville Hill, which saw me go wide around a patch of gravel and lose all my momentum, and start the climb in dead last place out of 19 starters. I'd driven this hill an hour or so earlier, and it had seemed pretty benign in the car - not quite so easy on the bike, but I crested about 20m down on Rob Kilvington, Ian Paintin and Emma Crum. A minute after, I was in no-man's land between the leaders and the bunch, with one other rider. I asked him what his intentions were - he said he was stuffed - so I put in a burst to catch Rob, Ian and Emma a few minutes later. My lack of experience kicked in here, and instead of tucking in and having a breather, I used my speed advantage to come to the front, and immediately settled into work. Ian, Rob and I rotated for the next 10 minutes or so, before things caught up with me, and I sat up - I knew I couldn't cope with the speed we were doing for much longer, and I didn't want another solo ride or DNF after the last few races... At that point, I scoffed some banana, and had some drink, and waited for the cavalry, who arrived directly!

By the time I'd rejoined the bunch, Ian and Rob had seen the writing on the wall too, and had eased off. A few minutes later we were all together, upon which time Sepp Hribar set off on his own. Having warmed up in the valley, I knew the head wind home was going to be tough, so didn't mind seeing Sepp (an awesome sprinter) out on his own for a lot of that leg.

The second lap was a fascinating blend of tootling along (as if popping out to the dairy) and hammering (as if chasing the bloke who just flogged your purse). Unfortunately, my structured training program (commuting, and the occasional race) doesn't have much of this in it, and not only does it do my head in, but also causes my legs some grief. I was feeling on my limit on a number of occasions - Rob was putting in some powerful attacks, and Ian was riding very strongly too, as were others in the group. A couple of kilometers out I was actually feeling OK, and probably should have moved to the front of the group, but had absolutely no confidence that I would have anything else to offer, so I sat at the back, took a lousy line through the right hand turn 150m from the finish, and rolled over the line at the back of the bunch.

It was a frustrating race, but it had a few positive aspects. I think I'm beginning to understand the sport a little more, and realise that if I want to do well, I need to structure some intervals into my week. I'd blown the corner at the bottom of Wallaceville on lap one, so I lead through that corner on lap two (and gave myself a little pat on the back as I eased off and let the bunch take over on the climb). I also saw how crucial positioning is at the end.

I had a nice drive home, feeling pretty satisfied with the race. After some food, I started to run a bath when I was invited to go to Karori Pool for a swim. I drained the bath, the spent the next hour or so alternative between the spa, and doing laps (500m swum all up - bikes are so much quicker!) Was a great way to finish a lovely day.

Part 2 - Sunday

By the time I'd got home on Saturday, I'd committed to riding the PNP XC race at Mt Vic on the Sunday. I checked the course details, and knew that I really had no choice but to ride Masters 1, consisting of 2 long and one short lap (Pro-Elite did 3 long). My MTB of choice needs a little work (the BB's not very happy), so I was on my carbon Giant XTC - a lovely light bike, but one which really beats me up. I've done almost all of my mountain biking on a fully, and this hard tail has particularly narrow handle bars, and I've never really worked out quite how I should set up the Reba fork. No matter!!!! I was really looking forward to getting out on my first MTB race since March (the Wainui MTBO aside).

My warm up consisted of sifting in the sun, a short 4 minute lap up behind the velodrome, and enough laps on the velodrome itself to work up the first drops of sweat. I lined up with 29 M1 starters, and was at the back of the lead group half way up to the road crossing (damn that sounds silly - it was only 2 minutes into the race...). My legs felt OK on the climb and I didn't lose too much time on the climb to the summit (I'd commented to a few people that they felt superficially wonderful, but that I wasn't sure how they'd go when the going got tough). I hit the singletrack with a guy on a cyclocross bike with deep dish carbon rims hot on my tail.

His brakes were howling away, and through the din, I'm sure I heard a "spectator" shout: "get back on the road" or some other nonsense. With deep respect for the crazy bastard, I was happy to let him go 5 minutes later, if only so I didn't have to hear those brakes any more...

I suffered a little from not checking out the course in advance - there was some nifty track consisting of a series of big dippers that I hadn't ridden before, and should have been able to ride a bit quicker on if I'd had a couple of cracks at it prior. Above Wellington College I bounced off a rock just as I was leaving the 4WD road, and planted my bar into the bank. No harm done, I carried on. Around this time, I had some shifting issues, periodically losing the services of my granny ring. I'd reorganised my cockpit a little, and I think the shifter was a little loose, and clashing with my brake lever.

On and on went the race, and I was having an absolute blast. I was being shaken around a lot, and handed off my sunnies to my parents who were watching from the corssing of Alexandra road - I was able to pick slightly better lines after that! I was also being passed by guys in my race, as well as in other grades, but I was getting exactly what I was after - a good solid ride on a MTB! I finished with a huge grin on my face, and have kept it on for the rest of the day.

I spent the afternoon with my brother and sister and a couple of friends, at Waitangi Park. Kaitlyn had her bike, and it was fantastic to watch her hurtling around on it. It was perfect summer's afternoon, and apart from our handstands, cartwheels, and wheelbarrow races (as well as a 6'3" man riding a 20" kid's bike around in circles and then realising that the brake levers hit his knuckles before the brake pads hit the rims), we had people playing touch rugby, frisbee, and bats-down (a real blast from the past for me) to watch.

On the way back to the car, Katy spent some time on one of the skate runs. It was a series of ramps in and out of pits. She was initially too scared to ride down one, but I managed to convince her to try it, and was able to watch lovingly as her confidence and control grew. We'll be going back there regularly for a while.



Please excuse the profane ending to this, but "a fucking fantastic weekend" is so damn apt, I can't resist using it!

Originally published on vorb

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Centre champs, chump (from the vorb files)

Today was another reminder how unforgiving road racing can be. I made a bad mistake, at a bad time, and all of a sudden, the race was over for me...

Today's race - the Wellington Center Champs, out at Otaki - was a bit of an afterthought. I generally spend Sundays with Kaitlyn, which is why I've been doing the road races and not any of the XC races in Welly this season. For some strange reason though, I thought I'd make an exception for this one. At a huge political toll (negotiations with Katy's mum), I freed up the day.

Setting the alarm for the morning was much more taxing than usual - my watch alarm was set for 5:30, on winter time, and my cell phone for 6:30, on daylight savings time. Usually I'd just use my cell, but I had no confidence that it wouldn't somehow know about daylight savings, and change the time on me...

I was half expecting to hear rain, but there was none when I woke up. Toast, and tea, and I was ready to go, arriving at Joel's place in Whitby just before half seven. We stacked his bike into my car, then continued north to Otaki. We timed it well, and all the preliminaries were done without too much fuss. Joel timed his warm-up perfectly, and arrived on the line 30s from the gun.

As soon as we were underway, Joe Cooper shot away up the road. The course undulated eastwards to start with, then turned north into a series of short, awkwardly steep climbs - not really small ring territory, but almost. With a tailwind behind us, the course veered around to the left, before a rough bridge and then a rail crossing deposited us onto SH1, heading south. Joel had attacked on one of the milder climbs, but had not been able to bridge to Joe. We could see him up the road, as we cruised into the wind - I found myself alongside Steve Pyne and said "we'd be doing him a favour to catch him" - Steve replied "yeah, but not us!" with a wry smile on his face.

Before long, we had finished our first lap of six, and soon after we turned into the first climb, with Joel looking on - holding his front wheel - clearly punctured, in his hands. The remainder of the lap was a curious one. It seemed to go a lot quicker than the first, but we rode much more slowly. I don't quite remember where, but we caught 3 riders who were on their first lap and had been dropped by their bunch. Such was our pace, that we got attacked by not one, not two, but all three of them, on the upwind leg! I think it was Sam King-Turner, just on my wheel who let out a small laugh, once, twice, thrice...

At the start of our lap 3, Steve Scott and another decided enough was enough, and accelerated around our new companions. I too thought we should get clear of them, so went after Steve, with the bunch sitting in behind. At this point, I had a brain-fade...

As we turned left at the bottom of the climb (Joel was no longer there), I was still hammering after Steve. He turned to me and made some sort of disparaging remark about a lack of work ethic. Whether or not he intended it, he gave me all the ammo I needed to work myself over. For the next five or six minutes, I slogged away, until, about 300m from the highpoint of the course, the bunch attacked me, and that was that. I had no response, and then and there I was gapped, and gone. I had some hope of chasing back on, but of course the pedestrian riding of the previous laps didn't eventuate - with me out the back, and 2 or 3 riders with a 10-20 gap at the front of the bunch, no one had any incentive to wait around. As I turned into the wind, the bunch was out of sight. And so, not even three full laps into a six lap race, it was all over.

Funny how different this sport is to mountain bike racing. I reckon I had the equivalent of a small crash, whereupon I'd get to scrape myself up, jump on the bike, and keep riding, having lost a minute or so. Not here - I weakened myself unnecessarily, the bunch knew it, and punished me for it - and good on them!

The day was not a complete right off though. The weather was beautiful, and the course kind of nice, so when I completed my third lap, and found Joel leaning on his bike at the Start/Finish line, I suggested we ride another lap. He borrowed my pump and got his tyre up to pressure, and then we toddled off. At the end of that lap, I grabbed my wallet and a bit of food from my car, and rode south, while Joel drove back to his place. As I left, the bunch were just about to finished their 5th lap. Joe Cooper was back in the fold, and the pace looked to be pretty casual again. Steve Pyne gave me a "what the hell?!" gesture, to which I responded with a smile and a salute (an actual salute - go figure).

It turns out Otaki's about 50km north of the cafe at Pauatahanui. My legs weren't feeling particularly flash when I left with 64km on the clock. 2 hours later I was leaning my bike up against the cafe, having enjoyed a nice sunny ride down SH1, and over Paekak Hill. A panini and bowl latte later, and a nice chat with Ian Peach, I was off to Joel's place. I arrived there with 120km and four hours showing on the speedo, and feeling like I'd had a pretty tough day at the office.

What's next? Who bloody knows, but I suspect a little less of this graded-scratch racing. Simon had suggested I do my first endurance ride of the season, knowing from experience that that's the best thing for my Akatarawa Attack, Karapoti and Alpine Epic chances. In the end I got that (mostly)... Slowly but surely it's sinking in that I'm not that well prepared for this sort of racing - certainly not at A grade level. Nor is this sort of racing doing me much good since I'm not preparing for Taupo or anything similar. Next time "Simon says", I reckon I'll pay a little more attention...

Originally published on vorb

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Another learning experience (from the vorb files)

It's been a bloody long time since I've ridden that far!

I met way_downsouth and Hollywood in Karori around 11:30, and we rode out to Eastbourne. Karori was pretty still, but it became clear that the ride from Wainui Coast to the finish was going to be tough with a northerly wind. We registered, and then rode into Eastbourne for a coffee. I was peckish, and without checking the time, first ordered a brownie, and then swapped it for a bacon and egg sandwich (much to the waitress' distress  ...)

Time had marched on, so we headed back to the start line in time for briefing, and a bit of sifting. It was nice to catch up with fellow vorbers - Grant, Joel, and Oli, as well as a whole lot of anonymous lurkers

It was nice to watch A grade head off down the road, and then line up with B grade. The pace to the bottom of Wainui Hill was sedate to say the least. I almost came a cropper (and almost took someone down behind me) when a rider in front slowed down and swerved on the first steep section, John Atkinson went off the front, using his chicken legs to good effect, and three two more went after him. I rode side by side with Steve Pyne, at a nice easy, but honest tempo. The riders in front didn't get too far away, and though Steve bridged to the two ahead by the top of the climb, I was happy enough to take it easy - no metallic taste in the mouth for me today (unlike Tuesday). One of the nice things about being able to climb hills at the best part of 90kg, I roll down the other side hellishly quick. I find that in a nice tuck position, I can work up a fair head of steam, and I caught the three ahead before the bottom of the hill.

We were joined very soon after by a 5th rider, and with at least 400m clear of the bunch (I gave up looking back for them), we quickly got into a pace line. Shortly after the finish line, we caught John, and the 6 of us worked well to the coast. It was great to see Joel safely entrenched in the A grade bunch. Almost immediately after the turn, our pursuers went past, and my immediate reaction was to sit up. They were so close (a few hundred metres), and strong in number. We all cruised for the next while, and despite this, the bunch seemed to take an eternity to pick us up. When they finally did, things slowed down even more, so at least they'd suffered on their chase.

The next hour and a bit were rather curious. Sometimes we rode quickly; mostly we rode slowly. Few people worked. The second lap to the coast was a little frustrating for the presence of a few A graders who'd been shelled by their bunch. For the most part, they seemed content to take wind, and rotate with the few B graders who were working, but well into the final leg, one was up the road working with a single B-grader, and a second time same B-grader, plus two others, and a different A-grader. It wasn't the end of the world, but a little frustrating so close to the finish.

In any case, either someone said something to them, or by their own volition, within a few kilometers of the finish, the A-graders rolled back, and it was all on. As usual, I really struggled to hold wheels at this point, and benefitted greatly from the short-lived nature of the attacks, and the fact that when they collapsed, the pace dropped right down. In the approach to the tip, I had a lovely sheltered position about 15 back, and though I was worried that I had nothing much left, at least I was sheltered.

A few hundred out is a lovely little dip, and I swung around the bunch quite aggressively. Again my 90kg paid dividends as I worked up a great bit of momentum, and was second at the bottom of the dip. The first time I'd ridden this finish (last year in BP2) I'd blown spectacularly, and was photographed sprinting with my hands on the hoods - this time, down on the drops (harnessing my glutes... whatever...) and managed to hold second place through to the line. Though a very satisfying result, I found it all a bit perplexing having felt so low a few minutes earlier. I guess those attacks took their toll on everyone...

Check out a video of the finish!

After a short roll through to the bottom of the hill out of Wainui, I packed the Roubaix back into Mum and Dad's car, then hit Petone for a coffee. Then, home for a bath!

I'll be interested to see how the legs hold up at "Whole Lotta Led" tonight. I'm looking forward to Simon getting back on his bike, and some sifty endurance rides through the countryside. And maybe some interval sessions so these races don't feel so damn unfamiliar...

As always, cheers to Oli at Roadworks, and Simon for trying to instill some patience in me!

Originally published on vorb

Saturday, September 13, 2008

And then the wheels fall off (from the vorb files)

Today, I had one of my most disappointing races EVAR!

I lined up in A grade for the first time, although I'd had one relatively successful start with Scratch in the final round of the Balfour Pennington Series.  It was quite a quick start, heading north from Gorrie Road, over cowpat, to Maymorn Hall, for the turn around.

My legs never felt good, but my technique really sucked around the sharp corners and the turn. Each time, I had to chase hard to get back on, and each time took its toll. Over cowpat heading south, I got gapped, and the three riders in front of me themselves had been gapped (ThingOne, Tom Paulin and Steve Scott). Chris Kendall was on my wheel, and unbeknownst to me, there were at least another four behind him.

Chris and I chased the three in front for what seemed like an eternity, and we never really made any headway. They were about 100-200m up the road, tantalisingly close, but getting no nearer. About 5 minutes away from the Avian Road turnaround, I simply gave up. I was focussing on catching them - it seemed like a decent goal - but I realised I'd given pretty much all I had to do it, and the ill-fated attempt had me spent. I failed to hold Chris' wheel as he pulled through, and I pulled the plug right then and there.

I rode on to the turnaround, somewhat embarrassed at the sight of the bunch and their pursuers, Chris on his own, charging along. Shortly after the turn, the foursome approached, and Al Crossling pulled around to ride home with me. We chatted, and rode like we might on a cruisy long ride, had the (now) three remaining A-graders blast past us, and finally we got caught by B-grade, who we tucked in at the back of for the few kilometres back to the school, where my support crew were waiting to cheer me on. At least they were able to support the others out there doing it tough. We watched A-grade shoot past well into their second lap, and then B-grade some minutes later. Then, a ride back to the finish to announce a DNF, and watch the sprints...

What went wrong? The simplest answer, and perhaps the easiest for me to stomach, is that I was outclassed. Excuses? Maybe my nutrition and sleep weren't really up to scratch over the week. I'd not done much riding since BP4 on account of being busy, and all the damn rain. I can't expect my unexpected form at BP to look after me for ever... I hadn't had a decent warm up - 20 minutes of low intensity riding with Chris (!!!!).

Simon asked me what went through my mind at the moment I was dropped. I told him I wasn't sure, but I certainly didn't process the various scenarios of giving everything I needed to get onto Clive's wheel vs spending the next 20 minutes in a 2-up time trial, and then DNFing.

Lessons? I either need to get my cornering sorted, or be at the front when we go through. I need to ride my bike more often. I need to eat properly. Blowing a race, and then pulling out really sucks. Not a proud day for me today. I'm really not sure I can say I gave it my best...

Originally published on  vorb

Saturday, August 23, 2008

First Scratch outing (from the vorb files)

Today was my first start in Scratch for the season. After last week, it seemed like the right place to be though.

I woke up with a sore throat, surely nothing to do with the beers last night, but a strange resurgence of my cold. I was thirsty as all hell, so probably due mainly to dehydration. I woke at about 9, and was out of the house by 10, starting the day with the customary peanut butter and red plum jam toast and a HUGE cup of tea. Rather than ride to the race this week, I was in the car, and hooked up with my Mum and Dad in town for a bit, before picking up the bike from my office.

Oli had been more than a little disgusted last Friday when I took it in for a gear tune, and I left it with him this Monday. When I picked it up on Friday, things that I'd been accustomed to seeing in a shade of black were this weird silvery colour: chain, cassette, etc etc. The bike was literally gleaming.

I got to registration nice and early, and decided to do a lap of the course, backwards. It was a beautiful calm day, and I rolled around the top of the peninsula in baggie shorts and t-shirt. After climbing Awa Rd the wrong way, and riding up Darlington Rd, I felt my rear wheel moving around strangely, and realised I had a puncture - of a brand new tube nonetheless. Luckily, I had a tyre lever, pump, and spare. It was a little nervewracking pumping the tyre up as I couldn't find anything stuck in the tyre. I always much prefer to find a big chunk of glass to remove. Anyway, it held pressure back to the start line, and beyond. Thanks to Perry for loaning me a spare tube for the race! We joked that he'd slipped his timing chip in there!

Safety margins were off the menu today, so first across the line was going to win. This was a new course, and the first lap was a little confused at times. An uncharacteristically slow roll out was due to traffic, and then a couple of riders went straight through the roundabout at Miramar North Rd instead of left. The bunch, in gentlemanly fashion, eased off a bit to let them back on.

The roads around the top of the peninsula were tight, but uneventful, though the first climb up Awa Rd hurt a lot. It was short, but I really struggled to find the right gear, and I seem to be reluctant to do much riding out of the saddle. At the bottom of the hill on the other side, I was gapped , and so my Mum and Aunty got to cheer for me while I desperately tried to get back on. That lap, and the next one, and the one after that. I'm not sure what went wrong each time, but I think I'm not riding aggressively enough through and out of the corners. Luckily, the road around Karaka Bay was pretty narrow, and things slowed off a bit.

On the second lap through there, we got stuck behind a woman who didn't really know what to do with us. Eventually she slowed and pulled over, and the bunch made its was safely past.

We'd passed a few solo riders before the start of the third lap, but it wasn't until the top of the first pinch climb at Miramar North that we saw a large bunch ahead. We passed them on the second half of Awa Rd after being impeded by a bus on the flat section before. I got stuck on the wrong side of the bunch, but managed to find away through the middle and out the side, and was able to keep touch to the top, before getting gapped for the third time on the descent. I worked damn hard to get back on, and was told afterwards by a Break 2 starter that there was absolutely no point me wiggling my elbow at him! :D

We were now a bunch consisting of Scratch, Break, and some Break 2 riders. Coming through Shelly Bay, some guys I didn't recognise have things a little rark up. When we made our way through the cutting, and started the Maupuia climb, we were confronted by a huge bunch, presumably the remnants Breaks 3 and 4, and Limit. While I'd felt shitty on Awa Rd, my legs seemed OK on the bottom climb, though I had to work pretty hard to get back onto the fastest group (leading is a bit of a stretch here as there were riders everywhere) before the descent and flat section leading to the final climb. Again, I was able to mash away when the road tilted up again, and slowly but surely picked off riders.

About a few hundred to go, I passed Lee Evans, who had worked very hard today, especially into the wind along Shelly Bay, and Darlington Road. There were a few riders ahead of me, but I was going as fast as I could, and so just focussed on transferring power to the pedals. Mum and Pam were there on the hill, so was Simon, and finally Oli at the finish line. About 15m out I heard a clunk behind me, and managed to squirt out a little sprint to hold off a fast-finishing Lee Evans. As always, it was a fantastic relief to finish, and nice to be at the front end of the field.

Cheers to the PNP club for putting on an excellent series. After last year's nightmarish BP1 (crash + timing cock up), this series went incredibly smoothly, and it was a pleasure to take part!

Finally, thanks once again to my generous sponsor, Oli Brooke-White at Roadworks Bicycle Repairs for his wonderful support, on and off the bike, and to my inspirational friend, Simon Kennett for his mentoring.

Originally posted on vorb

Sunday, August 17, 2008

BP3, 2008 (from the vorb files)

After a quiet (bikewise, pretty much every other aspect was busy busy busy) and snotty week, it was nice to wake up yesterday morning to a bit of sun creeping around the curtains.

The bike had given me a few minor shifting problems at BP2, so Friday afternoon it had a bit of a tune up by my generous sponsor, Oli Brooke-White at Roadworks Bicycle Repairs. We'd had a bit of a communication break down, and it was much appreciated that Oli gave me a bit of his precious family time.

I'm really liking these late race starts, so it was a bit of a sifty morning. A few bits of toast (peanut butter and red plum jam FTW!) and a big bucket of sweet tea disappeared down the hatch, and another cuppa for good measure. A bit of time on vorb, and I'd arranged to meet way_downsouth for a ride over to the race, and have a bag of warm clothes ferried over by Scotty and psychavoc. We all live within a minute's ride of one another which is pretty cool.

Pete and I had a nice ride out of Karori, and then along the Old Hutt Rd, followed by SH2 to Petone. I don't really mind the presence of the cars, and always enjoy getting onto the smooth surface along there with its decent shelter from the wind. It always also signals I'm goin' ridin' which no doubt adds to my enjoyment. We had plenty to chat about, with race tactics, the Makara Peak Supporters' AGM (Pete's treasurer, and I'm secretary), and KPMG's generous sponsorship of MPS on the agenda.

The ride along the Petone foreshore was pretty uneventful, and before too long we were grovelling up the Wainui Hill. I almost came a cropper blowing my nose and simultaneously dropping off the road into the gutter!!! Novice...

I think I have a 36-25 gear, and before too long watching Pete in his 39-?? was doing my head in, so I overtook him, and paced myself to the top. Scotty and Celia passed us on the way up the hill in the car. After a short pause, we rolled down into Wainui, and headed for the bakery preferred by the Wainui trail-building crew. It was about midday by this point, and damn hard to choose what to eat. There was plenty of delicious looking sweet stuff laden with cream and custard, but sense prevailed, and I stuck with a ham and egg sandwich (which I ate straightaway) and a bit of date loaf (which I ended up eating after the race).

We then rolled down to the registration trailer that PNP have recently acquired - an excellent addition to their growing list of race-related assets. I must say, they are a very impressive club which is clearly prospering. We then shot back around the corner, where I had a coffee and Pete a hot chocolate. After making use of the facilities, it was time to head back for briefing.

It was bloody nice standing around in the sun, surrounded by familiar faces, bling bikes, and interesting roadie outfits. It was great to see a young guy had turned up to ride on a pretty low-end MTB, though unfortunately he ended up riding solo for most of the way. After a good briefing by Mike Sim, it was time to race. It was going to be tough for my Break group - we were a little over half the size of Scratch, who we had a mere minute on, and there was no safety gap to put us out of sight.

We started off, and quickly got into a decent paceline. The rotation was pretty good, but it became clear that there were a couple of riders a little underpowered, and to keep it smooth, we had to drop our speed, and it soon became apparent we were simply going too slow.

From memory, Scratch caught us almost 10 minutes from the coast on the way out. Craig Lawn and Brent Backhouse seemed to have taken charge, and were doing a lot of the work. I was at the front of Break when they came to the front, and managed to find a gap just behind Craig, and then stay on his wheel. The last thing I wanted was to have Break implode, and then have to ride alone or in a small group into the pretty stiff northerly.

I ended up staying near the front of the combined bunch to the turn around, taking regular pulls - one of only half a dozen or so to do so. A few more chipped in after the turn around, which was essential if we were going to make progress into the wind. It was nice to see SteveC and Chris Kendall out there. A couple of times I was on Craig Lawn's wheel and got the old flick of the elbow. I felt duty bound to come by him each time, and usually could back that up with the necessary power. A couple of times I simply had to sit in, and mumble an apology.

And so we toiled on. I don't think I drifted back beyond about 12th wheel at any stage, and had no real idea what was going on behind. The riders in front of me were the usual suspects, and every now and then a new jersey would appear. ThingOne came to the front about a third of the way home on the upwind leg, and stuck around in the front for the remainder. There were a few accelerations which I really struggled to match, and there were a couple of times when I was really on the rivet and worrying that I was about to pop. Although in hindsight, I would have had plenty of shelter if I'd just stopped working, I didn't consider that possibility, and was able to keep rotating through good luck and timing more than anything.

I really enjoyed Craig Lawn's announcement at about 1500m to go... - something along the lines of "I don't want to see anyone contesting the sprint that hasn't been working." That probably was to my favour, as it might have intimidated a few of my limpet-like Break compatriots, and a few Scratch riders who I was competing against on handicap! The year before I'd blown spectacularly on the way out of the little dipper just short of the line. This year, I held something in reserve, and I was able to put in a bit of an acceleration, managing to hold Craig Lawn's wheel almost to the line.

Lee Evans came around us all - the first time I'd seen him all race! Apparently he got a spectacular scolding from some of the more seasoned roadies! I managed to pass ThingOne before the line (though apparently I cut him up a bit which was absolutely unintentional). Looking at the results, I managed to stay clear of Kevin McCormack who'd passed me at a huge rate of knots just before the line in BP2.

I finished with the sense that I'd been about 6th or 7th to the line, but the results showed 4th to the line, and 4th on handicap which I'm absolutely thrilled with. I keep improving each week, and it was great to have the opportunity to mix it with Scratch. I think if I'd started with them, my result probably would have been the same. I'm really surprised given the long injury lay-off I've had. I guess I timed it well, and it probably coincided with everyone's off season.

Pete and I rode home, joined by Perry. The legs were well and truly protesting by the time I got to Simon's in Northland for a debrief!

Next week, the race will be interesting with a few hills thrown in. At this stage, I'm leaning towards starting with Scratch...

Originally published on vorb

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

A local road race (from the vorb files)

It's been nice to feel a bit of power in the legs over the last few weeks, and it hasn't been hard to remember how wonderful it feels to be moving quickly on a bicycle.

I didn't do anything else last week but commute, though I really rate my two short rides per day. I am convinced commuting maintains my ability to get on a bike for a few hours, and hum along with very little "training".

I'd agreed to meet Monolith in Karori last Saturday morning, although I had an offer too good to refuse - if I was to drop my HDD recorder into work, a colleague would record the Olympic Road Race on it via his Freeview set. (I collected it the next day, and it clocked in at a mighty 19GB!) Hoping the Mono would either see my post on vorb, or understand, I drove into town, handed over my recorder, then dragged the bike out of the boot.

A southerly was blowing, but it wasn't raining much, and at about half eleven, Monolith, Slackboy and I headed north from the end of Thorndon Quay. It was my first time along the Hutt Rd since the Memorial Ride, and I missed all the space. The tailwind was nice, though the water on the road lead to some very chilly spots. The three of us rode at a steady pace, sometimes two abreast, and mixed up the lead a bit. At one point, Ricky and I let Monolith "steam" ahead at times.

Beyond the Silverstream bridge, we were able to admire all the snow on the hills behind Whiteman's Valley. The image conjured up a fair bit of concern as well. We were all pretty damp, and while it wasn't overly cold riding, we knew we were going to cool down pretty fast.

We'd planned to stop for a bit in Upper Hutt, and after circumnavigating H20 Extreme, we found a decent looking cafe, and Monolith picked up a bit of glass. We grabbed an outside table in a lovely, sunny and sheltered spot. I scoffed a bagel, and a bowl latte, Ricky a plate of bacon and eggs and a hot chocco, while Dave mended his puncture, and ate a banana. We finished, and with a bit of urgency, headed off. A quick stop at a nearby petrol station, and a call from Joel suggesting we get a wiggle on, and we headed over Mangaroa Hill towards the start.

After a brief pause to admire the storm passing through the valley, and all the snow on the far hills, it was a quick descent to the valley floor, and registration.

Despite the waiting being cold, there was a nice vibe at the start line. There was a decent sized bunch of people, many vorbers, and many otherwise familiar faces. People all seemed to be in a good mood, and there was plenty of chatting while we waited for the starts. Great to see the overlap between the Wellington MTB and road communities.

To the racing then... It's funny how I know the weather was shithouse, but it doesn't really seem like such a dominant aspect a few days on. Anyway, we rolled off the line, a reasonably quickly got a decent paceline going. The first corner, then the hill made it hard, but we communicated well, and most people pulled through. It was great to have Tom Paulin in the bunch, who never shirks work, and ThingOne and Monolith were both strong riders making their way up from Break 2 last week.

Just after the turnaround, it was a shame to see Joe Chapman with a wry smile on his face. He'd put in such a huge amount of work last week, I'd assumed he was just sitting in this week, but alas, he'd been shelled out the back. I almost came a cropper on a narrow right hander - I was in the outside line, and just as we moved into the turn, a car appear coming towards us. We all went wider, and I had to get through a pothole and then onto some wet grass. I then found myself safely back on the tarmac, but with my bunch accelerating away from me, and my bike in a shitty gear. I managed to limit the gap to about 30m, and decided against letting them know I was gapped. Instead, I put my head down, and worked pretty hard to get back on as quickly as I could. I took stock at the back of the bunch for a couple of minutes, and then got stuck into my work again.

Up cowpat hill, I found myself at the front of the bunch, and thought it was probably a good idea to go fairly hard up the hill, and reduce the size of the bunch a bit. There was another guy who must have had similar ideas, and I urged him on. A couple of glances at my speedo showed speeds over 40km/h on some of the flatter parts of the climb. If only I'd looked back, I would have seen the effects on the bunch, and the half dozen or so riders still with us.

Instead of surveying the damage, I simply put my head down, and put all my eggs in one basket. I was first to the left hand turn, though I didn't take a great line, and ended up worrying a little about the white center line. With little left in my legs, I stayed seated and pedalled as hard as I could, but with little intensity. Nonetheless, having clear road in front of me, at least I could just crank away. The inevitable happened, and a few dozen metres from the line, ThingOne came past me on my left. I could sense someone on my right fading, but then both he and I were overhauled by the eventual second placed rider coming at warp speed. I was good enough for third on the line. It felt good, though I was a little frustrated at my inflexibility to adapt to what was going on around me - indeed, in my inability to even check...

Soon after the finish, my body started to seriously complain about the cold. I had a mostly dry set of clothes to change into, and got a lift back to town with my parents! A bowl latte and a serving of apple crumble at Leuven was just the thing!

Wainui next week... Last year I went at a kilometre, and surrendered a decent gap in the last 100m to finish fourth. Sounds a little familiar...

Originally posted on vorb

Monday, January 28, 2008

Akatarawa Attack, 2008 (from the vorb files)

My day began at about 5:30am when my alarm went off. I scraped myself out of bed, put the jug on and chugged a bucket of tea and a few bits of toast. I was at Simon's by about 6am, where I'd left my gear and bike the day before. I helped load up the car, and we were gone by about 6:15.

I always seem to get Horokiwi and Korokoro confused, so it gave me a bit of a fright to see the sign about a detour at Korokoro. In the end it only cost us a couple of minutes. I'm pretty sure the footbridge they were lifting out at Korokoro lights is bound for the top of Wainui Hill.

The rest of the drive was uneventful, and we arrived at Karapoti Park just as Mike Wood was putting up a sign directing us down the driveway, 6:45 and we were comfortably ahead of schedule. It was good to arrive early, and have plenty of time for checking tyre pressures, putting bottles onto the bike, signing the registration form (!!!!), and doing a bit of eating (and the obligatory end effect of such... a couple of times...). We'd had a wee bit of rain on the way out, but it looked like the cloud was going to burn off. No changes to the anticipated clothing at my end: Tineli bib shorts, and my trusty Roadworks jersey. I'd also decided to go with a cap under my helmet, roadie styles, and sans sunglasses, and interesting conflict between sun protection and not...

At 7:30 sharp, we collected our maps. A quick survey yielded no big surprises: the big points were far away, and we'd seen a lot of the tracks in the last couple of years' Akatarawa Attacks, preparation rides, and the Cannons Point MTBO Event, which I'd helped organise, and Simon had competed in.

Our preparation for this event was in stark contrast to last year's. In 06/07 we'd had an awesome summer, building up slowly in November to full fitness by the end of January. We'd done half a dozen Tip Tracks each, a few 4+ hour MTB rides, and two or three 150km Akatarawa loops. I was lighter than I've been since high school (82kg) and relishing my new found form. Simon was also in cracking form, and would go sub-20 on the tip track, and top 10 at Karapoti in the following months.

This summer had been relatively light on the cycling front. Simon did the Taupo Enduro all on his own at the end of November, a mere 320km with no help, and had taken December off the bike. I inflamed my knee in late October, and had amassed a whopping 3-4 hours on the bike in November. I'd done a one hour race in early December, and virtually no riding until '08. January started in a somewhat misleading way - I'd been strong on a touring ride with my bro, and done a scorching time trial around Wellington's hills a week and a half ago. Despite this preparation, our aspirations were lofty. My bike had never been cleaner, thanks to a thorough going over by Oli at Roadworks, and it was sporting a brand new Kenda Nevegal rear tyre, and a Continental Vertical Pro on the front - a perfect combination.

While I measured up our proposed loop on the car bonnet with string - it came in at about 80km, excluding the maze, Simon filled in our intention sheet. As I took it to the tent, I noticed he'd crossed out the controls we hadn't considered going to: 11 in the east, and 36 and 45 in the middle of the western map. Gulp...

The start was a bit of an anti climax. Simon was putting on his helmet while five teams headed towards Karapoti gorge. We saddled up and started up the driveway and towards Cannon's Point. Just before the bridge over the Akatarawa River, we pulled right, and began the (one=way) climb up to 21. The road stretch was a nice way to start and a got a warm flush through my legs seconds before hitting the gravel for the first time. I was on point for the initial part of the race having mapped part of this area before. We made our way flawlessly between 21, then 40, out and back to 20, up the bank and overgrown single track to 31, then the loop 30, 22. We thanked our lucky stars we hadn't tried it in the opposite direction. All systems go, we fired down through 70, then to 41, and we hit 60 at about 1.5 hours. We'd done about 20km by this stage.

We made a small error at 32, trusting both the map, and disliking the look of the singletrack from below. We went in and back from the top, which cost us a few seconds. Then the Challenge loop in reverse. I came a cropper on the (steep) entrance to the singletrack at 23, and was lucky not to fall backwards off the bike. 13 and 33 were uneventful. Things started to change now though, and we entered the worst phase of the race.

SImon flipped his map to the 1:15000 enlargement of "The Maze", which interestingly was detrimental to his navigation. We haven't discussed this, but I think the change of scale was very hard to deal with mentally - all of sudden, after 2.5 hours of getting into the groove of 1:25000, things were happening much more quicky. In any case, we got to 50, then headed directly for 43. This was a mistake, and we had two very good clues - the map said "Very steep" and a sign at the top of the track read "The Widowmaker". We scrambled down a mossy rock chute for what felt like about 10 minutes. It was impossible to stand in places, and the rocks were just a little too jagged to slide down. It would have been much easier without the bikes...

After a short summit meeting at an intersection we found 34, then sidled around to 25. We had some respite now for a few minutes heading into 24 from below, and then switching onto the west map. Then, as if the Maze wasn't bad enough, we rode into hell... 26 was a piece of cake, despite me questioning the intersection below it. The single track to 44 was a steep, overgrown piece of shit. No rest for the wicked... As we made the turn off to 71, I had no energy to look at the map, and was fairly certain it was an out and back. I almost wept as I rode down a piece of 4WD track reminiscent of the tip track. Thankfully, we could forge onwards, and up up upwards. 35 done. 61 done. I was tired though, and had an off into a nice soft pile of pine needles. I'm pretty sure my front wheel got caught in a little rut which went thataway - I wanted to go the other way...

Still a bit out of sorts, I stopped to fix my map board, and lost sight of Simon at the stream crossing. I called out and it sounded like he was behind me, so I turned around thinking I'd missed the turnoff. Turns out he was above me, and we got back together in the end. Then, I gave him a real fright. We were well past half time, and running out of time, with some hard work still ahead. He looked back and I was walking on a middle-ring climb. My legs were just so dead. We'd had over two hours of intense riding, and I just wasn't finding time to get any energy out of my One Square Meals which had served me so well in the past. Simon insisted I chug one back, and drink, and after 10 minutes or so my legs started to feel a little better. We'd decided to forgo 37, and I was getting really worried about the climb up to 51.

While riding along, or was that walking, I was looking for an easier option. I thought long and hard about my sales pitch, and then finally suggested to Simon that we certainly didn't have time for the out and back to 81, and nor could we do 52, 101, 51 as we'd planned. This left us with a choice between 101 and 51 with a huge climb, or a relatively flat 52, 81 loop. At this point we made a choice which saved us the race and a great deal of misery, and went with the flatter option. We'll have to check out the other loop sometime! Thankfully the single-track climb to 81 was remarkably ridable (we'd come down it in '06). 46 was no problem to find, so it was next stop Dopers Hill.

My rear tyre had developed a leak, and so we stopped at the bottom of the climb to pump it up. I think we had just over an hour left, and some daunting riding left to do. I spent a bit of time on SImon's bike while he pumped up my tyre (and also put my seat up to a sensible height. God knows how long it had been too low for). More air at the top of Dopers, and we rearranged the maps, narrowly avoiding forgetting about 80. We would have cried about that, but we found it on the map, then found it on the ground. The descent to 91 was not too bad, so we decided to ride back to the 4WD road rather than carry on down as we originally planned. In fact, that little loop was probably what convinced us to do the course in the clockwise direction we chose...

It looked like we were going to make it back on time as we crossed the river. I'm convinced Simon's awesome knowledge of the gorge saved us from a tube change - I was sitting on his wheel as my rear tyre softened, and he picked awesome clean lines. He stopped just before a short climb, we filled the tyre, then straight into a very rocky section which would have spelt SNAKEBITE for sure. We picked up 12, and then onto the road. I managed to muster a 15 second pull, then Simon put his huge legs into full effect and blew past me, and all I could do was jump on his wheel. I was riding blind at this stage, and couldn't see the last control on my map, so I just followed. As we pulled off the road, down to the ford, the hooter sounded, and I yelled "TIME" to Simon. We grabbed 10, ultimately worth 6 points to us, rather than 9, due to the extra minute's penalty it cost us.

It was a glorious relief to be back at base, and to be able to stop riding. I hadn't ever experienced a race like this. I've bonked before in a two hour race, but never been so close to my limit for so long. I recommend that you never find yourself at the bottom of Dopers after the best part of seven hours riding, and with time pressure to get home.

We've had 24 hours to reflect on the day, and I think SImon and I both agree that awesome team work saved the day. We trusted each other, rode to our strengths (or is that weaknesses), and we didn't lose sight of the job ahead,

I have a list of things to do before the Cyclic Saga in March. I need to do some riding, which should help me lose some weight (I am 7kg heavier than this time last year). I need a tubeless rear wheel. I need to sort out my seat height, and I need to sort out my race nutrition.

Last year was a great victory - my first big one, and an absolute thrill to find that form, and cement an incredibly strong bond between Simon and I that only comes through overcoming adversity together, and supporting each other in a team environment. I think I might be prouder of this win though. Damn, we did it tough...

Thanks for reading.

PS: This day has an amusing postscript which I initially forgot. Simon and I won a bottle of "Crossroads" 2002 Hawkes Bay Cabernet Merlot each. Simon generously presented his to Michael Wood, who is the master map-maker, and is behind many of the fantastic Map Sport events held in the Wellington region. I got mine safely to my doorstep, and while the bath was running, went to pick it up and rather clumsily knocked it over, smashing it all over my doorstep. I was just a little bit too tired for such intricate jobs. I hope Mike enjoys the other bottle...

Originally posted on vorb

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Div buys a house (from the vorb files)

I just got back from a 350km cycle tour with my brother. We left Wellington on the ferry on Wednesday arvo, and rode helter skelter from Picton to Blenheim that evening. I was on my Giant CRX commuter bike, towing a Bob Yak trailer, with all our gear on it (sleeping bags, tools, lock, 3 spare bottles, jackets, dry clothes, all up about 20kg including trailer). Dave was on my Carbon Giant XTC with lock out on the Reba fork, and slick tyres on it. He's been in Europe for the last four years, and hasn't done much riding apart from a spot of commuting in Wellington, last 4 years ago. His training included a lap of Makara Peak, and a Wright's Hill, Long Gully, South Coast loop. We knocked out the 30-odd km to Blenheim in about 52 minutes! Hard to beat the enthusiasm of the beginning of a ride!

The next day we had a cooked breakfast in Blenheim, and then headed off up the Wairau Valley with the wind right up our jacksies. It couldn't have been more perfect. We started fairly quickly, but slowed progressively through the day as Dave tired, and the climbing kicked in. His previous longest ride was a 40km section of Taupo, so he did damn well to cover the 105km journey to St Arnaud! He even closed a property deal on the way...

The next morning started with a 5km climb back to the Tophouse turnoff. I'd promised him 85km of downhill to Nelson, but had got it pretty damn wrong. The day was hot, and there were a couple of decent climbs. Nonetheless, the XTC had a great range of gears for him, and he hung in there on the longest climb, making his big bro proud! I had a bit of a fright on a descent as the trailer started fishtailing when I tried to crouch down over the bars all aero-like...

We made a 15km detour to visit a friend just out of Richmond, so this day was 105km in total to back up from Dave's first ever ride over 40km the day before.

By this stage I was very nervous about the last day, which promised a few hills. I thought Dave was going to kill me when he saw the posted distance from Nelson back to Picton of about 140km - we were intending on taking the shorter route via Queen Charlotte Drive. Whangamoa Hill was a great climb. The 36-27 gear on the CRX was OK with the trailer load, but 36-25 would have been a damn hard workout. Most of the climb for me was done out of the saddle. Dave toiled away and we regrouped at the top, where I handed him another full bottle! The climb up the Rai Saddle was another bottle's worth, and we were both happy to reach Rai Valley. Our guts were both giving us a bit of trouble, and I struggled to get Dave to eat anything.

Leaving Rai Valley we had our only technical of the trip. I punctured my rear tyre on some glass. It was a pain in the arse of course because of the trailer, but soon we were underway again. A couple of kilometers later, the replacement tube failed at the valve, and I repaired the original tube and put that back in.

Soon after, we reached Havelock, then after a short climb, were cruising through Linkwater, past the Anakiwa turn off and onto semi-familiar territory. We stopped for dinner and a shower at a friend's place near the top of the climb, and had only a 15 minute ride back to Picton for the late ferry. We were told it took them 10 in a car!

It was fantastic to find Mum and Dad at the ferry terminal with two cars, so I didn't have to ride up to Karori with the gear at 1:30 in the morning!

So, three 100km days for my bro, with no training. I reckon if I trained him up he would put the fear of god into some of Wellington's roadies! He's nice and wide like me, and I was going through a fair few lead-out fantasies in my mind during our ride too!

We had great conversation, particularly on the Blenheim to St Arnaud day most of which we were side-by-side for. Most of the time I set the pace though, so he wouldn't cook himself before lunch. It seems he rides the same way I do, just with less miles in his legs...