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