Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Day-Night Thriller, Done and Dusted

Of all the events I've lined up for the rest of 2011, strangely the one I was most looking forward to was the Taupo Day-NIght Thriller. Last time I did it was with Joel Healy and Tijs Robinson as team JABOR (Just a bunch of roadies), and we took out the men's 2/3 team division after a ding-dong battle with a local team lead by Damien Steel-Baker. With fond memories of that race, it seemed like a perfect event to launch Megan and I as a team, and to kick-start our Cape Epic campaign.

As September drew nearer, various pieces in our exciting puzzle started to fall into place. Kashi Leuchs and Yeti NZ not only came onboard as a major sponsor for the Cape Epic, but also was happy to enter us as Team Yeti for the DNT. While symbolically it would have been nice for Megan and I do did it as a pair, my memories of riding with Simon as a duo at Wainui were not so good - there would be no real team-bonding opportunities for Megan and I if we'd only see each other at transitions. So, with Kashi's support, we enlisted local Yeti and all-round lovely guy, Alex Revell, to be our third rider - or more accurately our first rider!

A week and a half out, everything was looking fantastic - my form had been good at a couple of local road races and a cyclocross race, and I'd managed to slip in a bit of mountain biking too. Alex had been crook, but was quickly coming right, and Megan had done a bunch of MTB races with great results (well, apart from the one where she took a massive short-cut!).   Megan and I had also had more fantastic news on the sponsorship front, with Mitre 10 MEGA coming on board as a headline sponsor for the Cape Epic.

To keep life from being overly predictable, disaster struck.  I was just meant to be a sifty ride with a crew I head out with every week or two. This particular Thursday ride took us up Mt Vic. Jeremy had just recovered from a broken shoulder blade, and he, Rich and I were discussing the relative merits of breaks, dislocations and tears as we climbed to the top of the Super D course. I followed the other two down, but as I rolled onto the ramp near the top, I saw to my horror a rather large rock sitting in the middle of the track just beyond the ramp. I had no opportunity to stop, nor change line, and in my vain attempt to get around it, things went to custard and I flew off my bike and down the bank below the track.

I landed heavily, on my right forearm I think, and immediately knew I'd popped my shoulder. The good news was that it wasn't my left - dislocation number 4 for that one will see me straight into surgery. The bad news was obvious. I tried to relocate it myself using the strategy that works on the left.That didn't work at all, and eventually I gave up. I retrieved my bike and walked up to where I knew the others would be waiting, knowing that soon the muscles around the joint would start to tense, and that I'd soon be in dire straits.

The wait for the ambulance seemed eternal, and Rich and Jer, joined by Ranger Steve and Rod did their very best to keep me comfortable and suitably distracted. They were champions, but really were up against the growing pain and waves of nausea. About 4 hours later, Steve and I were sitting in my lounge, where I suspect he was waiting for the morphine to wear off sufficiently that he could confidently leave me alone. I hope never to have to repay the awesome company and care he gave me that afternoon, but would at the drop of a hat. He's been a hero of mine for a long time anyway, and come to think of it would have made an awesome substitute on the DNT team...

I was hoping the violence with which the shoulder relocated was a good sign, but on Monday I couldn't support my weight on it on a spin bike, almost toppling off at one point. I spoke with Alex and Megan, and they seemed keen enough to proceed with me in a management role. By Thursday though, it was feeling very stable, and I rode to work and home again. On Friday, I was still sitting on the fence, and when I dropped my car off at Alex's, my riding gear was in the car, just in case.

It almost became academic at the bottom of Grafton Road.  As I made the left turn just past the shops, I was confronted with a car, stock still in the middle of the lane to let an oncoming bus through a gap that wouldn't have taken both of them.  Not only did I manage not to steam into the back of the car, but found a wee triangle of life between the car and the moving bus, my injured shoulder mere inches from the colossus.  Surely survival was a good omen!  Besides that bit of providence, it was ace not to be back in hospital, or thinking about how on earth I'd replace my gorgeous race bike...

Alex and I drove together to Palmerston North, where we transferred all our gear into Megan's car before continuing the journey north.  We just made registration before they knocked off, and then had an awesome meal at a Thai restaurant on the main drag - I was suspicious I'd fallen asleep at the table the food came so quickly!  Apart from the unbelievably rude patrons mocking the uber-long surname of the manager, the experience was entirely delightful.

I'd grabbed the Yeti tent from Wellington rep Zeph Wadsworth, and when we arrived at our site in the morning, we got busy putting it up.  The amount of dust already floating around was a worry.  We got some team photos done before we were coated with the stuff, and besides, the only times we'd be all together over the next 12 hours would be at transitions, and then it would be all hands on deck!

Team Yeti, ready to rock and roll!

Alex was locked and loaded for the first two laps, and had disappeared before Megan and I headed down to watch the start.  I couldn't make him out in the mass of riders, but was certain he'd be there.  The field did a short loop of Spa Park before hurtling down past us to join the course proper!

Alex, squinting in the dust the photo doesn't do justice

Alex was near the front, and he, along with everyone else, looked to be struggling to see through the insane dust being thrown up by the riders in front.  He was clearly at the sharp end of the race when finished his first double lap, sending Megan off into the dust already a lap up on some teams.  I quizzed him about the course, and it sounded pretty benign.  When Megan arrived back, Alex was transferring the timing chip onto my ankle, not the other way around as she'd expected.  Call me an idiot, but I wanted in on this action!

I'd love to say I took it easy for a bit, but if so, it was only a few minutes, as "passing on your right... thanks" became the order of the day.  I was nervous, but felt in incredibly good nick, and my excitement almost completely overwhelmed any concern I had about my shoulder.  There was one hard/easy option on the course, and after checking out the "hard" line, decided that the second or two the easy line would cost were far outweighed by the consequences of crashing at speed.  There was one other short bit of track I was wary of - a gentle right-hander which was cutting out on the prime passing line...  As the day wore on, the blown out bit of track would widen each lap, and I was careful not to make any dumb moves through there.

And so it was that Team Yeti settled into our work.  We rode double laps, knocking out almost six laps every two hours, whereupon Alex, followed by Megan, then I would start again.

Alex, smashing it on his Big Top!

Megan, smashing it on her ASR 5!

And, me, smashing it on my ASR 5 Carbon!
It is usually after a few hours of these things that I can barely contemplate keeping going for 12 hours.  But, the team vibe was lovely.  Alex was knocking out his two laps in under 38 minutes, I was about a minute and a half slower, and poor Megan a few minutes slower again.  She pointed out she was not only riding the longest, but also getting the least rest.  I pointed out she was waiting least, and enjoying being out on the bike most, but in the end it was all semantics.

The double laps helped make sure we had time to eat, drink, and even be merry. Nonetheless, there was always someone on hand to write down the first lap time, and we didn't miss a transition.

It was good to see some familiar faces.  My good buddy from single-speed Nats, stealth mode, was doing a six-hour solo, and while I never saw him on course, he stopped by for a brief chin wag.  So too did Sepp - Wellington's loss has been Rotorua's gain.  Charlotte, one of the few hard-women from the inaugural Kiwi Brevet was doing the duo with her hubby, and Shane and Jude were in action, as pit-crew and 12-hour-solo rider extraordinaire...

Hey Jude, don't be afraid...
For our third doubles, Alex and I made the executive decision to grab a swift wardrobe change.  I was loving rocking the Yeti kit - black is very slimming after all - but it was a glorious as ever to pull on my beloved Roadworks jersey (well, one of my five!). I felt a bit bad I hadn't told Oli I was riding, but thought it best to save him worry!

Steeling myself for the worst bit of the course - I swear it got steeper!

Such a photogenic man!
True to expectations, it was marvellous to have Alex riding with Megan and I.  Not only was he the consummate team-mate, ripping around the course like he owned it, but it gave Megan and I a chance to hang out for a bit.  Not only do we live in different cities, but we only met back at the Tawhio in February.  So, heaps to learn, and it was great to further that process.

Megan and I, waving the flags of our two major Cape Epic sponsors
As the day wore on, it was clear we were doing well.  With each update of the results, we were extending our lead over the next mixed 3-person team.  We were also having a ding-dong battle with the leading 2 or 3 teams of three blokes.  That competition was going to go down to the wire.

At just after 6pm, Alex set out with lights on, and we switched to single laps.  I for one really struggled at night, though fewer teams on course meant lap times didn't drop that much (the 6-hour teams finished at 4pm).  The dust was catching a lot of light, and flinging it back into my eyes.  So too were the copious quantities of highly reflective trim folk were rocking on their riding attire.

A couple of hours to go, we did the math, and reckoned we were looking at 34 laps with around 15 minutes to spare.  There wasn't much we could do to squeeze another lap in - both Alex and I were riding over 20 minutes by this stage, so we stuck to our Alex-Megan-John pattern.  Alex had a blinder on his final and 12th lap, having enjoyed riding on Singlespeed Champ, Mikey Northcott's wheel for a decent chunk of the lap.  Luckily for him though, it wasn't enough to force him out again, and we knocked off with the predicted 34 laps. 

The time before prize-giving was well employed pulling down the tent and loading bikes and shoving everything else back into Megan's car.  Prize-giving itself was an efficient affair, and Team Yeti stood atop the dias momentarily, collecting gold medals for the mixed 2-3-person event.  A couple of days later, we'd learn we were 13th overall, beaten by only one other 3-person team - not a bad effort, if I do say so myself!

Team Yeti!
We drove back to Palmerston North that night.  Megan was the only one who could drive, on account the amount of stuff loaded against the back of the driver's seat!  While she had a power nap in Taihape, I supped coffee and read the paper at the servo!

We had a respectably slow start on Sunday morning, and shared brunch together before Alex and I coughed and spluttered our way back to Wellington - our bodies had already begun the process of expelling the massive quantities of dust we'd inhaled the day before. 

I could really have done without the craziness the shoulder injury caused, and while relieved that I didn't have to man up to the "I told you so" from all points in the compass, my overwhelming sense of the weekend was delight.  Megan and Alex had been awesome team-mates, not that I ever had any doubt of that.  I hope they'd enjoyed hanging with each other as much as I had with each of them.  The win was immensely satisfying for both Megan and I, and a small hint that we weren't the only ones who loved every bit of it was appended to an email from Alex today...

"When's the next relay?"

I recommend you check out Megan's awesome account:   hereAlex's to come!