Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Le Petit Brevet, and pardon my French

Fuck me, the hills are big, steep and plentiful on the Banks Peninsula!

Nonetheless, the second edition of my good friend Tim Mulliner's Le Petit Brevet was something I've been looking forward to for twelve months.  Last year, I'd been on course, but short-cutting like a mofo after inflaming my right knee.  The lead-up to this event had been a bit light on climbing, but I was fit and strong, and, just as important, enthusiastic!

The only real curve-balls of the event were bike choice and a riding buddy.

I'd cracked one of the seat stays on my carbon Giant XTC frame at the Tāwhio back in February.  Mostly, this was my fault and a bit of bad luck - I should have been more conservative mounting a freeload rack on a lightweight carbon race bike.  Live and learn though.  As November loomed, I continued to procrastinate about getting the frame repaired, and eventually realised I was fast running out of time.  In the end, I sold the frame to Simon (after filling the crack with a bit of superglue and hiding the damage with some of Kaitlyn's paints, shhhh!), and ordered a Yeti ARC from sponsor, Kashi Leuchs.  I'd had nothing but good experience on my Cape Epic race rig to date, and having another Yeti in the stable was an exciting prospect.  The cost of replacing forks and wheels meant I'd stick to the 26" format for now.  The frame arrived in plenty of time for long-time friend Oli Brooke-White to give it a bit of Premium treatment, and in the week leading up to the event, I was able to load it up, and give it a good shake-down.

Around the same time as I was deliberating on bike choice, Megan and I decided to do Le Petit Brevet together, thinking it would be a valuable experience in the lead-up to our South Africa mission in March next year.  We'd both need to make a few sacrifices for this, but the opportunity was too good to miss, we both agreed.  I tried to impress upon Megan the importance of travelling light - even more critical for someone 50kg.  My gear would be closer to 5% of my body weight than the near-10% Megan would have.  I curtly responded to the txt "Jandals?" a couple of nights out with "no, too heavy"!  Megan lugged all her overnight gear and spare tubes, though I had all our tools, sun and chamois creams, and map.  Not a huge amount of weight redistribution, but at least we had no replication.

I enjoyed getting my gear together for the event, as always.  I like the analytical side of it, and now have some experience pulling things together, as well as some flexibility of stowing options.  This time, I'd be rocking my 2.7L Ortleib saddle bag (enough room for woolen singlet, shirt, Ground Effect Baked Alaska, boardies - lighter than undies and shorts, and plenty comfortable - survival blanket, tools, GPS charger, an assortment of pills and tablets, and funky - but pretty useless (!!!!) - tiny disposable toothbrushes that Simon had found at a supermarket).  I taped a couple of tubes on the frame, and mounted my GPS unit and Ayup lights up front, a small red rear light, and pump in a bracket behind one of two bottle cages.  Also, a Bontrager feed bag, which is a little more stable than the Topeak one I've used in the past. I'd again be sporting my new Camelbak for extras:  jacket, map, beanie, suncream, Sweet Cheeks Butt Butter and lip balm, and food!

I had one surprise amendment to my gear list when I swung by to get Oli's expert torque into the bolts I'd loosened when reorganising the handle bar a little - I'd be running Black Ops in Banks Peninsula - an honour I'm humbled by...

Ready to rock and roll!
I swung by Oli's on the way to the airport, but he was on a school run so he'd have to wait to see me in my new jersey. I then popped into see Ma at Rongotai College - not the greatest photographer, but one hell of a Deputy Principal!!!!   (Nice shot of the buses Ma!)

One cause of nerves during the week was realising I'd booked the flight down with Jetstar, returning with Air New Zealand.  I arrived to check in 90 minutes before scheduled departure, and while the flight was all on time, I was told I needed the bike in a box.  I declined to purchase one initially, but after a quick visit to the ANZ desk, returned with my tail between my legs and handed over $20 to go with my pride.

I had the tools, I needed, and time, so calmly set about getting the bike into the box.  My ESI grips seemed like an excellent choice, as I taped one the left fork leg and the other to the top tube of the frame.  I marked the seat height with a bit of tape, and then taped it to the rear wheel in such a way that the saddle would keep the frame away from the side of the box.  Front wheel was also taped to the frame, and my two bags were also used as buffers.  After about 30 minutes, I was satisfied it was in pretty good shape, and got changed out of my lycra, before sealing the box up and crossing my fingers than the bike would emerge undamaged in Christchurch and hour or so later.

Ma and Pa swung by and we grabbed a quick coffee, though I was still a little frazzled about the box requirement.  Sometimes it takes me a while to "let go"!

I had a great window seat in an exit row with no-one beside me, making for a comfortable flight.  Tim and Megan were there to meet me, and we soon had my reassembled bike alongside Megan's on the back of Tim's car.  A short drive later, and we were getting stuck into a good feed of pasta, and catching up!

5:45am didn't take long to arrive, and after smashing down some cereal and a bit of coffee, we were rolling out!  I couldn't quite replicate the shot I'd taken of Tim and Simon the year before, but to be fair, I didn't bother to ask Megan to pull up alongside Tim.  In contrast to last year, Tim was rocking a freeload rack instead of a hefty backpack.
Megan and Tim heading to the start line
We arrived at Hansen Park shortly after 7, and it was a bit of a wait before people started to arrive.  I had the briefest opportunity to chat to fellow Wellingtonians Charlotte and Barryn, Peter, Ollie and Jasper from the Kiwi Brevet, Cape Epic vet Geof Blance, and Tandem exponents about whom I'd written a short piece for Spoke Magazine, Rose and Jackson Green.  Tim gave us a short briefing, and after a few photos, we were good to go.

Flogged from the Le Petit Brevet blog!
It was a little hard to watch the front half of the field ride away from us as we set off up Rapaki.  Instead, I concentrated on sticking with Megan, and kept an eye out for good photo opportunities!
Megan, and Karin, one of the many CXers
While I felt completely comfortable on Rapaki, I really struggled on the Mt Vernon singletrack.  The wind was strong, and Megan was getting battered by it.   I probably should have realised drafting was futile and just tried to find my own rhythm.  The cafe at Sign of the Kiwi was closed, so no opportunity for last year's silly coffee stop, and we jumped onto Bowenvale Traverse.  I think we rode an extra section of it, but it was nice to be in the relative shelter of the trees.

The summit road was exposed, and there was a strong, cold wind blowing.  Here, Megan had a much better chance of getting some protection from me, but still, it was hard conditions for her.

The descent from Gebbies Pass was a quick one, and before long we were at the start of the Little River Rail Trail.

Just as we set off, I saw four riders coming through the gate we'd bypassed by sneaking around the back of an adjacent building.   We didn't pause to say gidday.  We didn't see them again on the rail trail, but soon after, as we were fumbling around trying to pick up the track from Birdling's Flat onto Bossu Road they whipped past on a pretty solid 4WD track we hadn't noticed.  We got to Bossu Road eventually, but certainly not efficiently!

This second climb was my favourite of the event.  The gradient was relatively mellow, and the views over the Pacific Ocean and back along the Lake Ellesmere spit were spectacular.  My legs were feeling great, and I took advantage of my pace over Megan's to take plenty of photos...
Birlding's Flat, and the narrow gravel "bridge" we'd crossed over the lake outlet

The home of what, I wondered?

Lake Ellesmere Spit in the distance, a universally hated section of the 2010 course

The wind was still blowing cold, and at 600m asl, it was time to rug up before the descent into Little River.  This one was sealed all the way, and an absolute blast!  With my additional mass and fast-rolling Stan's Raven tyres, I had no trouble escaping Megan, but stopped a couple of times on the way down to make sure we didn't get separated.

The food quality in the gallery cafe at Little River would be pretty damn good even if you'd just got out of a car, but after two big climbs and a few hours of riding, it was out of this world!  I had a coffee, and a delicious bacon and egg sandwich.  Something sweet too, to chase that down, but I can't for the life of me think what.  I do remember it was hard to choose though!  I also stashed a double decker white chocolate chip cookie, lashed together with chocolate and peanut butter in a takeaway baggie for the afternoon!  No weight-watching on this gig!

When we set off up the biggest climb of the event, I had Megan's bottle of powerade in my pocket, in addition to my couple on the bike.  These would need to see us through to Akaroa, probably not too far shy of 1500m vertical climbing away.   I should have insisted I haul the thing all the way up, and hand it to her when she wanted it, but I wasn't prepared to argue the case and instead enjoyed climbing without an extra kilo!  Western Valley Road up to the Double Fenceline track was steep, and we did well to take time out of quite a few riders that had arrived at and left the cafe before us.  We didn't really pause once we'd left the road, and set off first along the only other bit of mountain bike track on the trip. 

A quick drink and we're off!
The numerous gates and styles didn't do us any favours though, and we got smoked by the group we'd set off just ahead of, a large number of cyclocross bikes among them.  Megan saved our bacon at the very bit of track we'd been briefed to avoid, and we only lost a few minutes with my navigational foul up.

Again, I had plenty of time for photos, and the clearing skies afforded excellent material!

Looking north into Pigeon Bay
South, over Little River and Lake Forsyth.  We climbed just behind the ridge on the left of the lake
We had no more blunders, and eventually we popped out at the top of Pettigrews Road.  We then spent a bit of time on Summit Road, complete with another few hundred metres of climbing, and one of the few parts of the course we'd do in both directions.  It was good to scope out the top of Middle Road, but not so nice to see the top of the climb from Little Akaloa... 

The descent to Akaroa Harbour was as you'd expect off a 700m asl ridge, and we were soon approaching Akaroa itself.  A couple of bumps later (the second of which was quite a grovel for such a short climb) we were starting to think about an early dinner!  We met CXers Julz and Matt leaving the superette (which closed at 8pm, they assured us).  We asked if they knew where to find a fish and chip shop, and were promptly invited for pasta at a friend's restaurant.

We accepted, and were treated to a delicious meal.  I really shouldn't complain, but, it was a driver's meal!  Delicious, and small! I imagined scoffing down seconds and thirds, and then we bade our cobbers farewell.  The meal had also taken quite a lot longer than we expected, but it had been nice to rest for a bit, and to enjoy Julz and Matt's company.  I'd also had a chance to fire off a txt or two.

Upon leaving the restaurant, we headed to the superette, and stocked up for supper and the next day.  I bought 7 packs of instant noodles, a loaf of fruit bread, some peanuts, OSMs, and a couple of bananas.  These all went in my pack, and we refilled our bottles with powerade.  Then, we made the left turn into Rue Balguerie, and onto Purple Peak Track.

Before we left the seal, we were both off our bikes walking.  It was so bloody steep, it hardly seemed worth riding away from my team mate on it, and so we walked together.

As we slowly but surely made our way back up to the ridgetop, I started to get increasingly nervous about Megan's energy levels.  I'd been pushing both bikes for significant chunks of this climb, and still, my offsider was looking very weary. 

Purple Peak Track out of Akaroa

By the time we reached the top, I'd tried to summarise our options, and in the end we agreed to split up for the run into Okains Bay.  Not before passing Hinewai Reserve (for which donations from riders in lieu of an entry fee for the event would raise $650) and watching the sun go down...

Hinewai Reserve
We stopped at the top of Le Bons Bay Road, and had a look at the map together.  We'd taken Okains Bay Rd from the summit to the harbour, so Megan knew the intersection she was looking for.  I showed her where Double Dutch backpackers was, and gave her a couple of packets of noodles to get her supper started.  I donned my coat, and started the descent to Le Bons.

A few minutes later, I pulled off the road to put my beanie and Baked Alaska on.  These did a much better job of cutting out the chill than my jacket alone had done.  So often the course went straight up and then straight down, and managing one's temperature had been challenging all day.

I still had enough light to see by, and was soon setting off up Lavericks Road, at full noise.  While I was totally cool with the decision to ride with Megan, it was nonetheless exciting to have the flexibility to ride at my own pace for a change.  And, I made the most of it.

The climb was steep to begin with, and I soon passed a dude struggling to keep his bike moving.  Another four riders came back to me near the top of the climb, one of them being Peter, another John McGrail who I'd chatted to on the Little River Trail at last year's event, and a third Greg Manson, who I'd ridden with a bit on Double Fenceline.  The fourth was a guy who'd quietly watched Megan and I take the wrong turn on Double Fenceline!

Despite being nearly at the top of the climb, I took almost 15 minutes out of these guys on the remaining run into Okains Bay.  I was hauling, and really enjoying my big lights, light setup, and relatively fresh legs.

When I arrived at the backpackers, I was on a bit of a high.  It was great to find Megan washed and looking happy, with some noodles stewing away. She showed me to the room we'd be sharing, and I too was soon showered.  Soon we were joined by the others, and it was a nice opportunity to swap notes from the day.  In addition, it was a good chance to do some prep for the morning.  I loaded my camelbak bladder with water, and mixed up some Replace for my two bottles.  I also took a leaf out of Simon's book from last year, and boiled up a couple of eggs for a snack for Megan and I the next day.  Our GPS units also got a charge, and I smashed back a couple of packs of noodles myself.  These positives were offset somewhat by the discovery of my 8mm Allen key - needed for pedal removal at the airport.  While it was nice to know I was a little more prepared than I realised, hauling the relatively hefty (80g) tool was annoyingly at odds with my travel-light mentality.  One of my (too heavy) jandals weighs 180g, so I suppose in the giant scheme of things the spare tool wasn't that bad!

The four riders I'd passed late the previous night were aiming to head off before 6, but Megan and I figured rest was slightly higher priority than being on course at sparrow's fart.  Instead, we set alarms for 6am, and it took us a full hour before we were on the road.  The others hadn't claimed any of the free-range eggs available, so we scrambled a couple, and enjoyed them with our fruit toast and some more noodles.  I had a cup of tea, too, but should have got stuck into the instant coffee...  I knew I hadn't fed my caffeine addiction well enough as we rolled out, but it was too late to do anything about it.

Adjusting attire a few minutes into the ride from Okains
We hadn't looked closely enough at the map, because we weren't expecting the climb out of Stony Beach, but it was well worth it for the views alone.

Stony Beach
Somewhere on Chorlton Road was meant to be a place serving Devonshire Teas.  I fantasised about these for a bit, but saw no sign of the shop.  Perhaps I was too busy thinking about jam and cream when I temporarily lost track of what was up and down.  We descended into a narrow gully and then descended out the other side, and while looking across at the far side of the gully, I swore it was a climb into the gully, and that I too should have been climbing.  I knew that I'd better trust the momentum of my bike over my eyes, but it was a fascinating illusion nonetheless.

Little Akaloa was looking gorgeous too, but the climb out of it would soon wipe the smiles off our faces...

The regularity of the swell rolling into the bay was very cool
I was quite out of sorts on the ascent back to Summit Road, and I was looking forward to seeing the road sign I'd eyed up the day before!

Steep?!  It sure was!

We spent a few kilometres on Summit Road, with stunning views over the harbour, laden this morning with two massive cruise liners.

Akaroa Harbour

The right turn onto Middle Road (nestled between Pettigrews and Pigeon Bay Road) came soon, and relatively painlessly.

While we had only two wheels each, we weren't the only ones on the steep, corrugated gravel road this morning.  I was coming into a sweeping left-hander when I spied an SUV on its way up.  I tried in vain to peel off as much speed as I wanted to, and in the end, gave up to concentrate instead on steering around the corner!  The metre between us was plenty enough to avoid an accident, and I was soon back to Megan and back on the seal!

After a bit of a cruise down-valley, we were soon at Pigeon Bay, and back on the gravel.

We met a girl walking down a steep bit of road.  As we passed her in our granny gears, we heard "It gets worse further up"!  Thankfully, it wasn't noticable, and soon Megan and I were at the top of overlooking Port Levy.  I was impressed with Megan's form this morning, and while I was leaving her to it on the climbs, I was only waiting for a few minutes each time for her to arrive.  My worst fears of getting stuck in Okains Bay were far from being realised, and we were looking good for a steady ride back to Christchurch.

The climbs were getting shorter each time, and the last significant one before Lyttelton, over to Purau, was sealed.  I took the opportunity to do the vast majority of this standing - a chance to not only give the muscles in my legs something slightly different to do, but it also eased a few hot spots on my arse!

While we climbed the short hill out of Purau, I coveted a small island in the harbour, imagining how cool it would be to live on such a place.  Somewhere in a parallel universe, I'm a lighthouse keeper I think...

One of the locals had warned us the dairy at Diamond Harbour was past the turnoff to the ferry (and over a couple of small bumps), so I was delighted to see a cafe half way down to the wharf.  We stopped, and soon learned that the next ferry was sailing in 10 minutes.  It was 12:20, and while the clock was ticking, there seemed little point in rushing.  Instead, we ordered a bit of food and drink, and enjoyed a quiet sit-down in the sun.

A coffee + extra shot, steak and cheese pie, and a three-scoop icecream later, I was returning the 600mL bottle of chocolate milk I'd bought, and trading it in for another coffee.  There was no way I could've finished the milk, and I figured it would spoil in the hot sun.

The ferry ride was cool, and I got the distinct impression the captain was a bit of a hoon!

Our bikes tucked in behind 5 MTBs fresh from a ride on Mt Herbert
We were soon disembarking in Lyttelton, giving us a close-up view of the carnage dealt to the area by several massive earthquakes and untold after-shocks.  There was one massive concrete slab in particular that hammered home the forces involved in these events. 

With all that coffee in my belly, I perked up immensely and became all chatty again!  Not only that, but my legs felt pretty much brand new!  The ride to the bottom of Dyers Pass Road was pretty straight forward, and it was one of the flattest sections of the course.  The climb to Dyers Pass itself didn't last too long, and while waiting for Megan at the top, I siphoned about half a litre of water out of my camelbak, mouthful at a time.  We still had 50m or so to climb, and it would be easier without the weight I'd just spat onto the hot pavement.

Megan had our first bike issue of the event only a few kilometres from the end.  Her rear derailleur shifter fouled, and she'd got her slightly too short chain stuck in big-big.  We eventually freed it by dropping the wheel out, but it wasn't until the bottom of Rapaki that we thought to undo the cable, dropping the chain into a much better gear for the flat ride back to Tim's.

Megan hits Rapaki for the blast to the finish
We were back at Hansen Park on the dot of 3pm, 31 hours after leaving, and a whopping 17 hours and change after Ollie, who'd "ridden through the night" so damn fast that he'd barely ridden any of the course in the dark!

Done!  (And, a tad sunburnt on the left!!!)
My GPS unit logged 17 hours of riding in that time, for a distance of 232.73km, and climbing of close to 8000 vertical metres (the gory details are here).  There were nine major climbs:  Rapaki, Bossu Rd, Western Valley Rd (Double Fenceline including Mts Fitzgerald and Sinclair), Purple Peak, Lavericks, Little Akaloa, Pigeon Bay-Port Levy, Port Levy-Purau and Dyers Pass.  The Summit Road bump after Double Fenceline (at just under 100km in the graphic below), and the two climbs out of Okains (at about 150km) barely rate a mention, but they're still roughly equivalent to three ascents of Mt Vic in Wellington.

It may not have been as much as my GPS unit recorded, but even at 7200m which some others had, it was a hell of a lot of climbing.  For a bit of fun, I looked up wikipedia, and with Garmin's Elevation Corrections enabled (which "cross reference the horizontal position (latitude/longitude) provided by the GPS with elevation data that has been acquired by professional surveys"), the 8007m ascended corresponds to just 20m shy of the world's 14th highest peak, Xixabangma in the Himalayas.  Not a bad effort for a couple of days on a bike!

I was very pleased to get through it without any real physical strain.  I'm no stranger to long days in the saddle, but this was the first time I'd encountered such a huge amount of climbing.  It was very valuable time riding with Megan, and I'm sure our team effort in South Africa will be a hell of a lot better for the shared experience at Le Petit Brevet.

I'll be back for another edition of this hard and cool event for sure.  It's always great to catch up with Tim, and the peninsula has more gorgeous views hidden away I'm sure.  For the next year, I'll ponder the merits of riding the whole course in one hit.  For one thing, I'm not absolutely certain my legs would hold up.  For another, it seems like such a waste of awesome scenery to ride in the dark, and I'm under no illusions about my inability to match Ollie's solution to that particular chestnut.  Finally, Double Dutch at Okains Bay is such a nice place to stay.  As I told the owner, "I'm always so pleased to reach this place, and so reluctant to leave".  There's one hell of a climb out of it, no matter which way you go!

Damn, it was good to get out.

PS:  The very same ride's also been described by Megan, and if you're curious about the line from Pulp Fiction which I said to her at the top of Purple Peak, it was what Mr Wolf said to Julz and Vincent at Jimmie's:  "let's not start sucking each other's dicks just yet."