Thursday, October 8, 2009

A Riding and Racing Weekend Away (from the vorb files)

I'd been getting increasingly excited about this weekend as it drew nearer - most unlike me...

The weather forecasts had been fairly changeable, and it was with apprehension that I monitored the big grey clouds over the Hutt Valley on Friday. Nonetheless, shortly after 3:30 I set off from my office near the Railway Station. I was riding my Specialized Roubaix, and had in my backpack a full change of clothes, bike lock, a novel, toothbrush, rain coat and spare riding shorts and jersey. As seems typical at the moment, I was wearing arm and knee warmers, and booties...

Despite the strong northerly, I made good time up the Valley. With the Round the Block ride coming up, and the Kiwi Brevet further ahead, I was concentrating on spinning, and I don't think I left the 36t chainring. The wind truly sucked after the River Rd bridge, but apart from that it had been almost a non-issue. About 1h10 after setting off, I was about to pass the Caltex at Upper Hutt, when I saw a familiar face waving at me from in front of a wee green subaru. A minute later, my bike was on the rack and I was tucked into the back seat surrounded by luggage, and Simon's family, feeling particularly fraudulent. My regrets eased somewhat as the drive progressed, and got wetter and wetter, and they virtually disappeared when a huge gust of wind on the Wairarapa side moved the car a good metre towards the armco barrier. At that point, I was very glad not to be on my bike.

I stayed in the car all the way to Martinborough, and we enjoyed pizza together at the cafe on the south side of the square. I then saddled up and rode for about 25 minutes out towards the wind farm, turning around at Ruakokoputunu Rd (?) - the turnoff for the Haurangi/Aorangi Crossing. I got to my digs a little later, pleased to have burnt off a little of the pizza.

I'd rented a cabin at the Martinborough camping ground. It was very nice, though barely large enough for the queen bed, and my bike and gear. Spot on though. I read for a bit after a shower, and then hit the sack.

On Saturday morning I walked into "town" and found a cafe for breakfast. After a coffee, some blueberry pancakes, and a session with the Dompost, I went in search for bananas (unsuccessfully) and some sports drink. Then, back to camp, and time to saddle up. The day was clear but cold, and so it was back into the Roadworks armwarmers again, and vest in the back pocket. I got myself onto the Martinborough-Masterton Road, which seemed to be pointing me in the wrong direction (?!) but was otherwise a glorious stretch of riding.

I ticked along again focussing on smooth efficient pedalling. Time ticked by nicely, and I started to recognise parts of the 2 Day Tour course of a couple of years ago, including the hill where I shocked a few folk, and then the rollers where I took myself out of contention for the second hill prime...

I turned off the Martinborough-Masterton Rd at Te Wharau, and enjoyed the steady climb to the high point. It was nice to be riding sufficiently gently to notice the slipways and associated hydro facility on both sides of the road. The descent down the other side was incredibly fast, but not too technical. At the bottom I turned north again, before making a poor choice - instead of following the main road towards the lime works, I went straight ahead hoping to connect up to the Castlepoint Road. Alas, after a few kilometres it turned into rather gnarly looking gravel, and I again decided discretion was the better part of valour and back-tracked (disturbing a local hawk feeding on some roadkill for a second time).

Soon after this, I began to regret not finding those bananas, and within a few milliseconds of that was buzzed by a magpie, and instantly after that reached a stretch where I'd have to grovel into a stiff headwind for what seemed like an eternity...

Finally, I was on the outskirts of Masterton, and ready for food. I made a quick stop at a dairy for a can of pepsi and a muesli bar, then cruised into the centre of "town" in seach of a proper feed. I was beginning to wonder if I'd find one, when a big sign advertising all sorts of prizes for baked goods caught my eye. Tada! Perfect! As I was pulling in, a local harpy hung her head out the window and shouted "nice arse" which cheered me up even more!

Lunch was good, and was just what I needed. It was about 2pm when I set off again, this time following SH2 through to Greytown (where I stopped for another coffee) and then the road between Greytown and Martinborough, which finally seemed to follow the wind. The evening was pretty hopeless really - I didn't enjoy my meal much, and was convinced that the "scotch fillet" was actually a piece of rump. I sat through too many boxing matches on the TV at a local pub before deciding to pull the pin shortly after 9. I slept well that night after about 5 hours of riding, and 130km or so. The bag was all packed, and clean gear laid out for the morning's race.

I'd arranged to meet Simon at the square at 8am, which would give us enough time to ride to Featherston to make the race start at 9am...

Sunday morning was pretty cold, but it was dry as we set off from the main square in Martinborough. I had all my gear on my back again, with a couple of full bottles on the bike, and dry pants, long sleeved top, and jacket on over my racing kit. The forecast said to expect the worst.

A few km out of town we passed a woman memorable for two things. Her bike was creaking and groaning as if it was about to fall apart, and she had a wacky party mask on the top of her helmet - kind of like a glossy John Key on cardboard, attached with some elastic. She said it kept the magpies away, though in hindsight, I reckon the noises emanating from her bike might just have done the trick unaided... Alas, shortly after passing her, Simon needed to tighten his seat, so after a brief pause, we had to repass her again.

It was lightly raining by the time we reached Featherston, but we were well warm. I had about 15 minutes to register, pop to the little boys room, and get to the starting line, all of which I managed with a minute or two to spare. We made our way off the start line through Featherston, before turning south and getting into our work. This leg was great, and I was feeling no ill effects from the day before. Since Taupo last year, I've really enjoyed riding in a big bunch, and despite the inclement weather this was no different. We had a lead car 100m or so up the road, and traffic was low anyway. The course circumnavigates Lake Wairarapa, with the south and north legs the longer ones. I would guess about 25-30km before the course turns left to cross below the lake. I was riding about 30 riders back from the start, and I'd thought there were another 100 or so right behind. We slowed for the 90 degree turn into a short climb, and as I accelerated out, I checked behind me to see empty road! At that point I realised I was in a bit of trouble, and as the climb leveled out, I got into the drops and started desperately chasing the bunch ahead, which had gapped me through the corner... I went at 100% for about a minute and had closed about 75% of the gap to the bunch. I had riders on my wheel, so signalled to them to come around. There were 2 guys and a young woman, the latter taking the first turn. As she started to tire, I was astounded to feel our speed dropping off, despite the fact that we were now almost back in the bunch. Having put so much effort in to help these guys (as well as myself), I felt I was reasonably justified in shouting "help her!" and within a short time, we were safely ensconced in the back of the bunch, the battle won, but certainly not the war.

I recovered reasonably from that effort, and enjoyed the next section. We were tooling along, nearing the turn to the north, when all of a sudden the pace cranked up. Someone at the front was using very fine tactics to reduce the bunch size. He'd gone about 500m from the left turn, making sure that everyone hit the corner with tiring legs. A second attack out of the corner and into some short sharp rollers did the inevitable damage to the weaker riders in the bunch, myself included. Well done to whoever was driving it, and well done to those who survived!

I ended up in a group of 5, and we worked together through to Martinborough, It wasn't the best functioning paceline I've ridden in, with at least one of the riders surging strongly to the front each time, really putting the acid on everyone else. I prefer a long steady pull, and after Martinborough, decided I'd be better on my own. I'd love to say I went of the front, but somehow it seemed more appropriate to drop off the back. I enjoyed the last 10km or so back to Featherston. The young woman who'd helped at the south end of the course was on my wheel for most of it. She made a couple of attempts to come round and do some work, but at about half my size, I indicated she should just enjoy the shelter behind, and we ticked along at a reasonable rate. We sat up 100m from the line, both politely easing to let the other in first. We almost lost 3 places as the leading riders from the second bunch were getting closer very fast. It was nice to have held them off.

I made my way back to the hall where my gear was, and managed to wangle a hot cup of tea, and a sandwich. That downed, I caught up quickly with Simon, grabbed my overnight gear and set off again. My hands were wet and cold, and I knew that if I waited around much longer, I'd be going nowhere...

A guy named Grant headed away from the hall at the same time as I did, and asked if I was going his way. I was, and so we left Featherston together. We didn't have much time to chat though, as about 2 or 3km out of town, Grant rode over a bit of glass which slashed his Conti tyre spectacularly (a cut of at least 3cm, right through the tyre). There was no hope of fixing that, so as he started making calls to borrow a rear wheel, I gave my commiserations and apologies and pressed on.

The very bottom of the hill had some difficult steep sections in it, and I was hard pressed to decide between standing in the pedals (with post-race legs, and a heavy bag onboard that was pretty unpleasant) and mashing while seated. Perseverance paid off though, and I slowly but surely cut through the 500-odd metre climb. The traffic was pretty courteous, and at one point I stopped in the gutter to let a large vehicle past, which the driver gratefully acknowledged. There was the odd toot from bike-laden vehicles, and I had a friendly "Hi John" and a wave from someone heading in the opposite direction.

At the summit, I popped my raincoat on over my racing gear and wind vest (I'd ridden up with waterproof overtrou) and I then carried on down to Upper Hutt. I was pretty wet, and happy to stop when I did finally arrive at the station. After checking the train timetable, I went to Maccas to get changed, then found a cafe for a quick bit of afternoon tea. As I settled into my seat on the train, it was incredibly satisfying the see the hail falling outside!

The stats for the weekend: just over 300km ridden, with about 11.5 hours on the bike.
1h15 to Upper Hutt, 34km @ 27.5 km/h
50 minutes after dinner, 20km @ 24km/h
3h20 before lunch on Saturday, 80km @ 24 km/h
1h40 after lunch on Saturday, 43km @ 26 km/h
4h40 on Sunday, 130km @ 28 km/h

Super.  One of the coolest wee bike trips I've had.

Originally published on vorb

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