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