Thursday, December 27, 2012

West Coast or bust! Longest Day 2012

Over the last few years around mid-December, I've had pangs of guilt about not taking part in Tama Easton's brain-child, the Longest Day Ride.  The reasons have been simple - at this time of year, I usually want a bit of a rest, and even though what you do is up to you, riding from dawn to dusk will be a tough day regardless.

Leap to 2012, and the short-list for tandem challenges had the Longest Day right near the top.  Simon had done Nelson-Christchurch with his Bros on the triple a few years (decades?) back, and knew what a pleasure riding a very long way on a tandem could be.  Ha!

We figured Top-of-the-South would make a nice location for a ride, and with Picton so handy to Wellington, we started investigating options for a point-to-point ride from there.  Somewhere on the web we discovered dawn in Blenheim was soon after 5am, and dusk was just after 9:30, giving us 16 hours and change to play with.  But, how far could we travel?!  I had visions of us riding to the West Coast until the official knock-off time, and then turning around and riding back to the place we'd most recently passed through.

We soon ruled out aiming for 500km, and as humans are wont to do, we pencilled in the next obvious choice, 400km.  Lo and behold, Picton to Greymouth via Queen Charlotte Drive and Punakaiki clocked in at 396km, so this became the incumbent plan.

I described this to Dave Sharpe on one of our regular rides, and he wondered outloud if he'd be welcome to join us.  "Wonderful!" was our response.

In the meantime, finding transport back from Greymouth was proving next-to-impossible.  The various rental companies had a hefty vehicle relocation charge, and that aside, there didn't seem to be anything we could fit a tandem inside of.  Flying was never considered for similar reasons.  At one point we were thinking about hiring a regular car and buying a cheap mattress to line the car roof with and just strapping the mofo down.

We considered asking friends from Nelson to do the shuttle from hell for us, and also to recruit a driver from Wellington, but even getting a van in Picton was proving difficult.  Finally Simon hit the jackpot, the scheduled 9am St Arnaud to Picton shuttle would pick us up in Murchison at 8am on Sunday morning.  Now, how to get to Murchison!

The most direct route from Picton is a "mere" 187km, but if you chuck in a side-trip to Westport it then becomes 383km.  By the time we added a visit to the Pacific Ocean at Rarangi, and the Tasman sea in Westport itself, google maps had us at 400km on the dot (literally!!!!).   Plan H was a go!

We were now only about a week out from the event, and we managed a 100km ride with Dave in the Wairarapa.  It was meant to be 200km, but even half the distance had been hard.  Had I been riding my roadie, I'm sure I would have been feeling much more confident, but the prospect of such a long tandem ride was stressing me out immensely.  I don't think I've ever been so nervous about a ride.  No backing out now...

We were on the 8pm Interislander on the Friday evening.  I met Dave at Revolution, and we rolled down the hill to the Railway Station, where we collected Simon, and were soon all checked-in.

Dave's lovely wife, Keryn, was there to see us off, and farewells made, it was time to board.  

We were fortunate to have a very smooth sailing, and we emerged from the stern of the ferry shortly after 11pm feeling well.  Soon after that, we were checked-in at Atlantis Backpackers, and setting our alarms for sparrows'-fart.

I could hear Dave up and about before my phone rudely went off at 0430.  A Longest Day event surely followed The Shortest Sleep.  Dave had not slept well, by virtue of Picton's rail activity through the night.  I collected all my gear and relocated to the kitchen to get ready to ride.  Dave had thoughtfully brought some espresso along to share, and I'd made up a loaf of bread with various combinations of peanut butter, nutella, honey and jam.  

We fired our stuff into a locker, and at about 0510 we were rolling out, only 10 minutes behind schedule.  We rode out of Picton in a light rain, though I was distracted by a hot spot on my right sit-bone.

Simon and I got ourselves in a bit of a tizz on the merits of a second pair of shorts that I didn't have, and the less said about that, the better!  (Sorry mate...)

We were pretty wet by the time we reached Tuamarina.  I was on front of the tandem by this stage, largely to try out the different saddle.  Consequently I made the casting vote to stick with our plan to visit Rarangi Beach by swinging left over the railway lines.

It was about 6km out to the coast, and Simon and I walked the final 200m along a gravel road.  Dave had ridden and he and I watched Simon head down the beach to dip his fingers in the ocean. 

Coast #1
We were back on SH1 briefly before making a right turn at Spring Creek onto SH62.  This spat us out on SH6 a kilometre or so from Renwick.  It had stopped raining, and we now had pretty much perfect conditions: overcast, cool, and a sweet tail-wind.

We didn't need to stop in Renwick, and were soon plugging away up the Wairau Valley.  Dave was able to ride alongside us quite a bit due to the virtually non-existent traffic. 

It didn't seem too hard to ride at 40km/h in these conditions, and consequently we were making good time.  I enjoyed passing through the corner at which my bro had bought a house a few years back.  We'd spent almost an hour there waiting for his real-estate agent to call in an area with patchy cell-phone reception!

By now, I'd switched my cell-phone/camera from a plastic bag in my pocket to Simon's pocket sans bag.  After years of riding with him, I know he barely sweats, let alone works up a lather like I regularly do!

Coats off, but arm-warmers still on

The first real hint that this was no cruise in the countryside came when we zipped past the Argyle Power Station.  Usually I'd have doubled back to get a decent shot of the cool canal leading from the dam, but had to make do with a lame shot which would remind me of the loss!

Dave boosted once the road started to kick up out of the Wairau Valley.  For the first time, Simon and I grabbed the 36t chainring that had caused so much  difficulty!  The climb was over fairly quickly, and after a quick photo-stop at the first Tophouse turn-off...

... we were underway again.  Dave was sitting in the shade waiting for us not long after.

The cloud cover had gone now, and it was quite hot sitting in front of the General Store at St Arnaud, home of huge carrot-cake pieces.

On account of the tailwind up the Wairau, we were ahead of schedule, so enjoyed a nice break.  Jackets and arm-warmers were now stowed in my Revelate saddle bag, and we all applied sun-screen to necks and arms before setting off.

After only a few minutes' riding we crossed the Buller River, itself only a few minutes old, for the first time.

The road through to Murchison was great tandem country, and Dave occasionally had trouble holding our wheel.  To add to his frustration, every now and then we'd stop to swap seats, mainly to give Simon a break from captaining.  My bum issues had eased, strangely, but it was nice to have a spell on the different front saddle.

We were still ahead of schedule when we hit Murchison, which allowed us to get stuck into a list of tasks.  First up we went to the 4-Square, not only for our next lot of snacks, but to get something for the evening.  Simon dropped that at our room at the Mataki Motel while Dave and I set up camp at a nearby cafe.

Dave had sent a parcel to the motel, and I ducked back there to move it and its precious contents - a change of clothes for each of us - into our room.   That done, it was time to hit the road again.  I was surprised that leaving Murchison was easy - I'd expected it to be psychologically very difficult, but my brain had obviously committed to our plan, and it might as well have been a straight line.

The road between the Nelson and Lewis Pass turnoffs was busy, and there were some idiots driving.  We got tooted at by a campervan, who just happened to have a queue of six cars behind him (it must have been a male, right?).

Crossing the Buller again
Dave stopped for a slash immediately after the Lewis Pass intersection, and Simon and I cruised while he caught us up.

 We continued to collect kilometres, with Westport getting ever closer. 

We had a great stop in Inangahua, where I had a very nice ice-cream and a bottle of powerade.  The store owners were happy to natter and fill our bottles with spring-water.  We also met a cycle-tourist there and chatted to him for a bit.
I jumped on the front and found that each time I did so, I felt more comfortable there.  We'd had a headwind since St Arnaud, and I enjoyed pushing into it knowing how useful it would be on the return trip.

We passed the very cool Hawks Crag overhang...

... and generally enjoyed the stunning scenery on offer.

Slowly but surely the gorge opened up and we knew the coast wasn't far away.  The wind became a cross-wind near the Greymouth turnoff, and was actually behind us for the last stretch into Westport. 

We rode straight through town...

... and after a bit of ducking and diving, picked up a rough gravel road out to the beach.  Again, Dave and I watched Simon take a hit for the team.  (His) fingers duly dipped in the Tasman Sea, it was time to find some kai!

Coast #2!
We were soon waiting on greasies, and not long after, our bellies were full.

My fish and chips were already salted, but I had a supply waiting just in case.

Miraculously, we were only 20 minutes or so behind schedule by the time we were Oscar Mike.  Getting going after a break is always hard work, and the headwind through to the Greymouth turnoff made it worse still.  But, we knew the shape of the road, and as we swung around to the northeast, the tailwind we were expecting kicked in!

The wind gave us a welcome boost, and it helped to offset the greasies sitting uncomfortably in the bottom of my stomach.  Despite that, our legs were holding up remarkably well given we had travelled over 300km already.

The sun was also at our six, and the light conditions in the gorge made for some stunning sights.

Lower Buller Gorge
The local light conditions weren't so good though, and Dave ended up with a nasty jolt through his wrist.  I asked Simon to call out impending bumps as early as possible, and I'd relay this to Dave.  It was odd to be literally stuck in the middle of all this.

Warning is good, mkay!
We made great progress through to Inangahua, but were slightly disappointed to find the shop closed.  It wasn't the end of the world though, and great for our schedule as we didn't stop for long.

We'd remembered some nasty bumps lay between us and our beds, and it seemed to make sense for Dave to ride at his own pace back to Murchison while Simon and I cruised after him.

We literally had to cruise for a bit, because no sooner had we farewelled Dave, than we got stuck on a stretch of road that was perfect tandem territory.  We trailed him 100m or so back until the first incline of any note, at which time he was goneburger.  

It turned out the hills had been much steeper in the opposite direction, and consequently the distance was ticking by.  We started trying to predict when we'd finish.

Another missed photo-op on the outbound journey had been a very rustic stables.  I asked Simon what he thought about stopping.  He wasn't keen, but slowed right down so I could get a snap.  The photo's terrible, but it reflects how I imagined I'd feel so late in the day.  On the contrary, I was feeling pretty damn good, and now with many hours of tandem riding under our belts, Simon and I were functioning really well on our long bike.

Near the top of the Buller Gorge was a rather battered sign reading something like "if you don't fit under this sign, turn around".  The sign north of the bridge just ahead was in pristine condition, but this one looked like it had been smacked by a vehicle just a little too high.  Presumably moments before it turned around, bound for Reefton and Rahu Saddle! 

As the kilometres passed by, we started to enjoy our almost complete achievement.  We weren't even going to need to fire up the lights!

About 5km out, with 395km in our legs, I had a look at my GPS unit, and reported to Simon that we were riding at 45km/h.  Astounding, since we were still riding upstream.

For 9:20 on a Saturday evening, Murchison was looking very quiet indeed. There was certainly nothing open that would have been worth a stop on our way to the motel.

Dave met us on the doorstep of our room, and he reported he'd only recently arrived back.  I celebrated our arrival by taking my shoes and helmet off, and emptying my pockets.  Some chocolate milk and peaches, and then a hot shower followed soon after, and then a deep sleep that comes easily after a long day in the saddle.

Soon after we'd surfaced in the morning, Simon got a phone call from the St Arnaud shuttle, asking us where we'd been the previous morning!  How the booking had been screwed up remained a mystery for the timebeing, but we were very relieved to learn that they'd still come to pick us up.

I'd developed a sore throat the previous day, and I was pleased to note it hadn't worsened overnight.  Presumably it was dehydration related rather than being the onset of a cold.

We had a fretful wait on the main road, especially as we weren't sure what would happen with our connection through to Picton. 

Toothpaste and Fisherman's Friend
Eventually a van showed up, and while the driver fuelled up, we loaded the tandem and Dave's bike onto the bike rack at the front of the trailer.  The van returned just as we were finishing, and we piled in.  The driver was a friendly man, despite his wild goose-chase the previous day (during which he'd locked himself out of the vehicle).

The St Arnaud transfer was a piece of cake, and the trailer was simply hitched onto another van.  Simon chatted with the driver, while Dave and I had our own conversation rather than strain to join in with the one occurring at the front of the van.

The drive to Picton didn't seem to take long at all.  Relatively speaking, we made rapid progress.  We disembarked outside Atlantis, and retrieved our gear from the locker.  Then we made for a cafe, and enjoyed a late breakfast.

I guarded the bikes outside the superette, and was quite amused by the "No Bikes" sign in the window.  Not for the next day or two, at least.

We'd brought our original ferry booking forward to 1pm, which meant we didn't have long to wait after swinging past the bakery.

I was shocked when Simon, a teetotaller, grabbed a table in the bar on the ferry.  The air-conditioning was tip-top though, and it made a nice spot for another very calm sailing.  I treated myself to a beer, and enjoyed the cold, savoury drink.

Most of the crossing was through a very thick fog, but the captain knew where he was headed.  Keryn collected Dave from the ferry terminal, while Simon and I were riding after Sarah had discovered a flat tyre.  We spun away up Glenmore Street, though I wouldn't go so far as to say merrily.  Simon stopped abruptly after the Karori tunnel, and announced he'd walk from there. 

I jumped on the front, and it was nice to be able to stand on a whim!

Ash and Steve, and then Jolene and Kaitlyn, visited that evening, and it was nice to describe some of our day, all 400km and just over 16 hours' duration of it.  It was nice to reflect on the brilliant time I'd had with Dave and Simon, who'd made wonderful companions.

Just before going to bed, I really loved seeing Simon's comment on one of the photo's I'd posted to Facebook during the day.  I know his benchmark of a good endurance event is to not be physically destroyed.  And we weren't.  I'll let him  (almost) finish this story off:

Thanks, mate. Sharing a bike ride that long requires good company, most def. Sharing it on a tandem, wrenching saddles with every pedal stroke and barking instructions for 16 hours - that's like testing a friendship to destruction! Having succeeded, it feels like brilliant madness. But I never want to do that again, this year.

PS:  as of posting this, the fundraising page for the 2012 Longest Day Ride is still open.  If you enjoyed this blog, one way of recognising this entertainment might be to drop a dollar or two into the coffers, which will make their way to Arthritis New Zealand in due course.   Here's the link.  Cheers!

Going big in 2013

A couple of months ago, I decided I needed a new challenge. In the space of an hour or so, tossing and turning, unable to get to sleep, I came up with "Le Cycle-Tour de France".

The route below is just under 3700km including a couple of short transfer rides.  Each day I will replicate a past stage from an actual Tour de France, or, in three cases, a future stage!  Many complete maps are available online, and I've been having fun digging up details on the pre-internet races.  I've picked stages from 12 different Tours, and achieved a near-continuous route briefly touching both the Atlantic and Mediterranean.  Voilà...

The planning has been fun...

Handy use of tandem packaging!

... and I'm slowly but surely accumulating what little gear I'll be taking with me. 

The route above includes five stages in the Pyrénées, taking in many of the classic climbs, including Col d'Aubisque, Col du Soulor, Col de Peyresourde, Luz Ardiden, Plateau de Beille, Port de Pailhères, Col d'Aspin, Ax-3-Domaines, and the grand-daddy, and most-climbed "hill" in the history of the Tour de France, the Col du Tourmalet (assuming it's not covered in snow...).

I'll be replicating the 2000 Ventoux stage where Armstrong and Pantani duked it out, though I won't be fuelled by anything more illicit than caffeine.

A brief visit to Italy marks the first of five Alps stages, which include an ITT up Alpe d'Huez.  Along with stages 9 and 14, this will be one day I can ride with no gear at all.  Notable climbs in the alps include Sestrieres, Col d'Izoard, Col de la Madeleine, Col du Glandon, Col Agnel, Col de la Croix-Fry, Col de la Colombiere, and the behemoth Galibier, which is a 2000-odd-metre climb.   

Apart from the official site and, and CyclingFever have been really useful, with the odd bit of wikipedia thrown in.  I've also picked Ollie Whalley's brain about gear. 

Another Oli, this time of the "Oli" and "Brooke-White" variety, has been living and breathing Tour de France for almost as long as I've been living and breathing, and he will form an integral part in my preparation.  These beautiful wheels were a Christmas gift from both Oli and my dear parents.

Bike prep will be safe in Oli's hands, while rider prep will be more the domain of Simon Kennett.  He's taught me pretty much all I know about myself as a rider, though more recently he's been delegating a bit of the working-over to Dave Sharpe and the Wednesday Worlds bunch.  It's all having an effect, and I've now got six years of some good hard riding under my belt.  I'm pretty sure I've never been as strong as I am now, but you can rest assured I won't be resting on my laurels.  With Simon's help, I'll fashion a schedule for the next six months to make covering that distance and getting over all those massive climbs an achievable goal.

In the meantime, I'll be trying to find out as much as I can about the stages I'm replicating, not to mention honing my writing skills.  The fruits of which can now be found at, thanks to my lovely brother!

Merry Christmas y'all.  I gave myself one hell of a trip away.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Short and sweet: a Wairarapa weekend

A couple of months ago, while waiting to register for a PNP race in Whiteman's Valley, I was nabbed by Steve Chapman and ended up on the volunteer's list for the Rice Mountain Classic.  I don't really like waking up, so heading over on the Friday evening seemed a good strategy.

In the interim, I asked Dave Sharpe if he'd like to join me, and when Sarah's new MTB arrived early from Nelson, Simon too was keen to come over, though not until the Saturday afternoon.  Martinborough was full up, due to a Saturday afternoon concert, so Dave and I booked lodgings in Greytown.

I was tied up until 5pm on Friday, but was ready to roll from Revolution Bicycles just before 5:30pm.  Dave had suggested I look at the weather forecast earlier that day, so I had storm gear packed.  I was on my Colnago, but with the fron wheel swapped out for one off my commuter bike which would not get knocked around by the wind.  I had my new Revelate seat bag with a full change of clothes, and odds and ends in my jersey pockets, but no backpack.

As we looked south from Jonty's shop door, we faced a wall of black cloud sitting over Island Bay.  Actually, "sitting over" is probably not what it was doing - "slowly marching up" is probably more accurate.  I may have raised the subject of catching a train to Upper Hutt, but within minutes, we were on Thorndon Quay, and heading along the Old Hutt Road.

The wind had already turned to the south, so we made great progress up the Hutt Valley.  I had a fluoro vest on, and that gave me a great excuse to draft Dave for the first half hour or so, until the shoulder widened just south of the Haywards turn off.

The riding conditions were great, and my "fully loaded" bike didn't feel like it was loaded at all.  The short steep pitch past Te Marua was over pretty quickly, and it wasn't until a few minutes into the climb from Kaitoke, that we felt the first raindrops.  About 10 seconds after agreeing that a coat stop was imminent, we were stopping to put our coats on.  I'd also packed my Ground Effect overtrou, and put those on for good measure.  The rain had a touch of sleet in it, and the temperature had fallen a few degrees.

By the time we'd reached the summit, Dave had stopped again to put more clothing on, and we were both pretty wet, at least on the outside.  I'd been looking forward to the descent into Featherston for ages.  I'm not usually one for favourites, but I'm happy to make an exception for this stretch of road.  The surface is smooth, most of the corners can be taken without braking too heavily, and it's not hard to travel at the same speed as the traffic.  On Friday night though, it was pretty miserable.  I rode the brakes most of the way down, both to limit the build up of water on the rims, and to keep the wind-chill down.

Dave had waited for me at a sharp corner near the bottom, and so we crossed the first big bridge together.  I was considering letting out a "YEEEEEEEHAH!" when I heard the very same from Dave up ahead.  Spooky!  We agreed that far from suffering, being on our bikes in these conditions or any others, made us feel more alive.  

We didn't stop at Featherston, and I left the far end of the small town with an unindulged hot pie fantasy.  We rode through to Greytown with a 20m separation - any benefit of a draft was more than offset by the face-full of water that would have resulted.

As (bad) luck would have it, 33 Main St was at the far end of town, but it gave us a good opportunity to scope out dinner options.  The supermarket closed at 8:55pm (?!), so we had about 45 minutes to play with.  Thanks to the tail wind, the 75-odd kilometres had taken not much more than two-and-a-half hours. 

We "checked-in" at the modestly, but nicely appointed Greytown Hotel.  This process mainly consisted of taking off all our rain gear and shoes and socks, and standing at the bar for a few minutes!  After stowing our bikes in the shed a hot shower was the next priority.  That done, we set to rolling our wet gear up in the various towels, facecloths and bathmats our room had come with.  Then it was time for dinner!

We had a short walk in the rain to get back to the shops, and we didn't hold back at the supermarket.  That done, we went to investigate the Chinese Takeaways a little further down, and were soon back in to our room getting stuck into a Goreng each - Barmi [sic] for Dave, and Nasi for me.  They were very different - we'd asked how they differed, and were assured it was a simple choice of noodles vs rice!

After a good long yack, my eyes started drooping, and it was time for actual lights out, to go with my figurative ones.  It was nice to be warm and dry, and the single bed I had was nice and cosy!  Sleep came easy.

My alarm went off in the morning a few minutes before a decent earthquake.  Up on the second storey, we enjoyed the gentle sway of our fairly old timber building.  It seemed to last quite a while, during which time Dave asked "Do you think we should get up?"  I replied, "it depends on whether you're wearing underpants!"  He was, but we didn't.

I slammed down the cheese and date scones I'd bought the night before, and was pleasantly surprised at their freshness.  I chased those down with a "double shot" instant coffee, before wishing Dave a good morning, and busting a move out to the shed.  The roads had been drying out nicely after overnight rain, but just as I set foot outside the shed, the heavens opened again.  I put my overtrou on to supplement the coat I was already wearing, and dejectedly rolled out.

Within a minute or two the rain had eased, but the cold southerly I was riding into made me glad for my storm gear and I left it on for the duration of the 20km ride to Martinborough.  It dragged on and on, but I arrived feeling glad that my shoes hadn't flooded again.  I had no dry ones, and it would have made for a long, uncomfortable day.

I found the race manager apologised for my 20-minute lateness.  He didn't seem fussed, and after receiving my instructions, I made for a local cafe.  While waiting for my very delicious plate of French toast, I was joined briefly by Steve and Oliver, who'd both be starting in B grade.

I'd been told my spot was about 6km out of town, so didn't linger once I'd eaten.  Expecting to be out on my own for close to four hours, I quickly grabbed a copy of the Listener from the nearest supermarket, before jumping on my bike again.

The 6km seemed to take a very long time.  It felt a lot more like the 11km it actually is to the Martinborough-Masterton turnoff!  Someone had already laid the road cones out, and I had a stop-go sign waiting for me as well.  Luckily I'd not dilly-dallied over (my second!) breakfast and it was still before 10am, the scheduled start time of the A-grade race.

It was nice to get some dry clothes on.  It hadn't rained for a while, but I started off with most of my stuff on: skins leggings - worn for their insulation properties rather than any miraculous healing powers - went on over my damp bibs, then a pair of shorts and my overtrou.  Up top I had a woollen t-shirt, Ground Effect Baked Alaska, then my riding jersey (to dry it out a bit), and over all that, a couple of new garments - a MontBell Ultralight Thermawrap jacket, and a Gore Bike Wear Fusion 2.0 jacket - both highly recommended by Ollie Whalley after his experience with them on his record-breaking Tour Divide race.  I also found a woollen beanie in my bag, so on that went, and for the meantime, I left my riding gloves on.  Despite my damp shoes and socks I was impressively toasty!  After a quick time-check, I grabbed a couple of surplus cones, fashioned myself a chair and started on the Listener.

Before too long, the lead vehicle of the A-grade race arrived, promptly followed by Tristan Thomas and the evergreen Brent Backhouse.  They looked to be riding at a deliberate but sustainable pace.  The peloton soon followed, and a minute or two later, Brad Chandler came through, eager to know how much he was down.  B-grade arrived before too long, then the combined C & D-grade bunches, and then it was time to hunker down with a magazine.

An hour or so later, the race manager and another marshall pulled up, and I was given a bag of lunch goodies and a fluoro jacket which was soon put to good use as a cushion for my makeshift chair.

I entertained myself by reading about Marilyn Waring and disease over-diagnosis, and tried to work out why my cell-phone had been taking such shitty photos recently.

Exhibit A

Exhibit B
Eventually I diagnosed a badly scratched lens, no doubt caused by negligence on my part sometime in the last month or so.

It was a nice surprise when Dave arrived some time later.  He organised himself a road-cone/armchair, and the Listener made way for conversation.  The next couple of hours passed much more quickly than the first two had, and by virtue of the bunches being blown apart as the races developed, I was regularly up on my feet waving the lollipop around.

It was great to see Andy Hagan hammering down off the Hinakura hill on his way to a fine win, beautifully captured by Adrian Rumney, the long-standing master of photographing races in the Wairarapa.

Andy Hagan, thanks to Adrian Rumney
Before too long, the B-grade sag-wagon told us our job was done, and while Dave packed up the cones, I got my warm clothes off and stowed.  With our relatively fresh legs, we passed a few racers on the way back to Martinborough, testament to the toughness of the Rice Mountain course.

We said a quick gidday to Jase McCarty, whose interest was piqued by the smiles on our faces and minimal gear, in stark contrast to the ashen faces and no gear of the riders around us!  We were about half-an-hour behind schedule, but Simon seemed in good spirits when we found him at the school a few minutes later.

Our original plan had been to set off from Martinborough, and take in a 200km figure-eight course, through Masterton and north as far as Eketahuna.   Time wasn't really on our side though, and combined with the very grey skies to the north, we decided to shorten the ride somewhat.  By half, to be precise!

In anticipation of leaving the car for a bit, we loaded my Colnago inside, and then stowed the tandem and Dave's bike on my rack.  Upside down, and on a slight angle, the Robusta didn't protrude too much from the sides of the car, which was pleasing to see.

We stopped at Carterton New World for some supplies.  I made the mistake of buying a fluoro green drink because I thought "mango" flavour would be nice.
We had a few spots of rain leaving Carterton, but it didn't amount to much, and by the time we were ready to roll out from outside the superette on Te Ore Ore Road, we agreed that coats wouldn't be necessary.

We were Oscar Mike!

The intersection with SH2 was nearly our last, but we managed to weave away around a car that had bailed on its right turn at the last minute. (Mum, I've embellished, don't worry...)

We spent 10 minutes or so on SH2...

... before making the right turn onto the Mauriceville Road.  There, traffic volumes dropped off to nothing, and Dave was often riding alongside us.  Tandem perk #1 = three-way conversations!

The road was basically following the disused railway line, and at least one house we passed had a few metres between it and the road, and another few between it and the railway.  Cheap, perhaps?!

We had a welcome stop in Mauriceville.  Mostly it was nice to be off the saddle.  Tandem perk #2 = sore bum.  We read a little about Maurice, admired the limeworks, and then it was back on the bikes.  

Much of Mauriceville
We'd mapped out a back road to Eketahuna which would avoid a few more kilometres of SH2, but it turned out to be unsealed, and we didn't want to risk puncturing, so the highway it was. 

Say cheese!
Dave popped into the store at Eketahuna, while Simon and I sifted outside.  A kid walked past with a couple of amazing looking ice-creams, and I quietly considered heading inside for one.  A local stopped to chat, keen to tell us about his cycle touring down south on a Morrison Monarch, a bike which Simon had coveted back in early 80s but which I'd never heard of!

We swung past Joe Sweeney's place...

File photo:  Queen's Birthday road trip!
... but the hedge had seen better days, and we didn't stop!

Our return route was via Alfredton and "Route 52", the latter turning into Whangaehu Valley Road before spitting us out a kilometre or so from the car.  This was great tandem country, and Simon, keen to avoid my whimpering, was shifting like a boss.  The tandem was purring too, now in resplendent with a mint chainline, by virtue of the 36t chainring Oli put on for us earlier in the week.  The traffic had also remained non-existent, which made the whole experience even better.

With our Longest Day ride looming, I thought it might be a good time to try out the captain's seat, and so we stopped and swapped.  Mostly it was OK, but I was surprised how much we wiggled around!  It was good to see what it was like anyway, and swapping saddles for a few minutes also offered some butt-relief. 

Yes, Simon's holding onto the top tube!
All three pairs of legs were definitely waning, and it was very nice to suddenly arrive at the intersection with the Castlepoint Road.  The riding had been sweet, but it was also some relief to stop.  Dave and I had clocked up about 225km over the past 24 hours, in a few sittings.  Simon had been generously riding at my cadence for the last few hours, so his legs needed a break too!

We loaded the bikes back onto my car, and made our way back to Wellington, only stopping in Greytown for a bit of kai.

*  *  *  *  *

Tired, but happy.  And, with all of Sunday to enjoy yet.  Somehow, it seemed a lot to pack into basically one half of the weekend.

Dave's company had been a real treat, and despite our 10-odd years' age difference, our similarities are many.  He's also pretty damn handy with a camera (thanks heaps for the photos, Dave!).  And, it's always great to ride with Simon, even on the tandem, which is becoming less like an instrument of torture with each ride.  

The logistics of the "trip" had been remarkably simple, and I was very pleased with the setup of the bike, and the gear I'd had.  It was all an interesting tester for a big mission I have planned for next June.  I look forward to sharing the details of that in due course.

I have a distinct aversion to both seasickness and car sickness, and between these two ailments, both the Wairarapa and Top of the South are destinations which I've neglected to take advantage of over the years.

I now realise that what's an impediment to me driving a car over is actually something quite special on a bike.  The ride to Featherston or beyond could easily be shortened by an hour by using the train to Upper Hutt, and some sweet riding, or even just relaxing, awaits.  There's damn good French Toast available in Martinborough too. 

Got amongst it (a reminder for me as much as anything).

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Taupo Tribulations of Captain Kennett and his Rear Admiral

I've pulled off some good races in my time, but I don't think a happy ending has ever been more unexpected than the one which Simon and I experienced at the 2012 Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge.

Way back in March, we first put the feelers out about acquiring a road tandem.  There looked to be very few options for getting a bike large enough to take the both of us comfortably, but, as luck would have it, Co-Motion, tandem makers out of Oregon USA, exported their bikes to New Zealand.  The local agents are Cycletech, a great company who had supported both Simon and I on previous ventures.

A tandem seemed a nice way to set ourselves a new challenge.  We already knew we enjoyed riding together, but as the years pass, and our daughters grow up, finding motivation for a season just like the last is increasingly difficult.

The project was on the back burner for several months, but in the depths of winter, without anything else to do, we locked and loaded on a Robusta - a tandem in Co-Motion's "Race" range.  We filled in a comprehensive form with various measurements from our road bikes and bodies, and got advice back that a custom frame design would suit us best.

I'd heard lousy things about the shifting on tandems - due to the very long cables to the derailleurs - so on a whim, asked about whether or not the bike could be specced with Shimano's Ultegra Di2 groupset.  The response from Co-Motion:  "sure thing" though they warned us we'd lose the triple crankset as a result.  Oh, and a few extra dollars!  You only live once, right?!

It seemed to take a while, but there were plenty of distractions to stop us pining for our Ferrari Red Robusta, and in mid-October, we got an email from Cycletech:  "Great news.  Your blinging tandem has arrived."  The next morning, I was firing up the jug and enjoying a personalised delivery from Craig Madsen himself.  I wasted no time in getting the frame and bits across to Oli Brooke-White for a premium build which would end up testing all our patience, and then some!

The short version is that the Di2 spec had really put the cat amongst the pigeons, but Oli slowly but surely overcame the various issues as they presented themselves.  Cycletech too were awesome when called upon, but at times we all felt a very long way away from Oregon!  I was nervous about the burden Oli was bearing on our behalf, but was relieved it was in his hands, and not anyone else's. 

A couple of weeks ago the call finally came, and Simon and I hopped into a cab to Berhampore to collect the bike for its shake-down ride.  I left with a smile on my face, but that didn't last long!

Ready to roll!
Simon has had a lot of tandem experience, racing back in the day with Tim Galloway, the first Karapoti winner, amongst others.  He knew we were short a whole lot of practice rides, but instead of starting at the beginning and seeing how far we could get in the week or so we had, his plan was to leap into the training schedule at -1.5 weeks, as if we'd had the tandem for a month or more...

It all felt OK as we rode up Constable Street, bound for Alexandra Road along the spine of Mt Vic.  Then we turned off, and I heard "standing, one, two" from up front, and all of a sudden I was in a strange world being subjected to all manner of unfamiliar, and frankly, frightening sensations, the worst of which was a horrible lurching-to-the-left feeling.  Such was my panic, we were soon stopping to level and centre my handlebar after I'd almost torn it from the captain's seatpost...

Things didn't get any better, and by the end of our three intervals from the saddle to the summit, I was nearing the end of about the worst ride I've ever had.  Simon's email later that evening made things worse rather than better, and I awoke the next day feeling like a bit of a freak.

Our next outing was with the Wednesday Worlds bunch, and it seemed Antosh had finally been heard, and we'd go anti-clockwise for the first time ever...! As we rode up Taranaki St, any significant power through the pedals brought back that same lurching sensation, and when Simon peeled left onto the cyclepath at Karo and Cuba, I nearly lost it.  Feeling like the bike was lurching to the left and then having it actually do so was about the worst disequilibrium I've ever had on the bike.

I was feeling out of sorts all the way up Brooklyn Hill, but was pleased not to be shelled by the bunch.  I actually quite enjoyed the run down Happy Valley, but as soon as we put the power down by the bottom of the Tip Track, the lurching came back, and I whined sufficiently that Simon felt compelled to stop.  I don't remember exactly what I said, but probably something along the lines of "STOP THIS FUCKING BIKE. STOP STOP STOP...  FUCKING STOP"  Simon suggested we swap seats - would you believe we run exactly the same seat height.  We cruised a kilometre or so, and both felt totally fine.  Yes, I'm a freak...

This was achieving nothing, so we stopped.  I was desperate to find something wrong with the bike, and was rather relieved when we noticed the rear cranks were off-centre.  We mounted up, and ten minutes later were knocking on Oli's workshop door.  He explained that the off-centre cranks were an unfortunate side-effect of the Di2's front derailleur limits, and while he could do nothing about the position of the cranks, did space out one pedal and move the opposite cleat, reducing the offset by about half.

Simon needed to be in Karori, so we left Oli's fairly deliberately, and I was pleased to note that the left-lurch had diminished, and that I could finally deliver some power to the pedals without feeling like I was tearing myself in half.

The next day I was still emotionally in a bad way, and I forced myself to drag my beloved Colnago out for a blast around the bays.  I rolled past Freyberg hard, starting my stopwatch as I did so.  It was a fairly strong northerly, and I took full advantage of it, probably averaging close to 50km/h through to Evans Bay.  I was so damn upset, and I took it out on my pedals.  I eased up enough to chug a mouthful of water at Breaker Bay, and allowed myself to glance at my watch at Owhiro Bay: 42 minutes something.  I felt the end was near, and figured I'd better know how well I was doing before the wheels fell off up Happy Valley somewhere.  They almost did, but not quite, and I stopped my watch up by the lights at 52:42.  I figured that wasn't bad, but it wasn't until I got home that I realised I'd been confusing my bays time with my Tip Track PB.  I'd just gone 1:45 faster than my previous best, and in less than favourable conditions...

Knowing my legs were good was a small consolation, but I feared the next tandem outing.  I delivered it back to Oli the next day, and he converted it to 1x10, with the 52t chainring mounted in the middle ring position, and the cranks at dead centre.

That evening, Simon and I rode a wee way around the bays.  I was dismayed to feel some of those same horrible sensations.  Simon's insistence that it was ALL in my head was starting to gain some traction.  He stopped and offered to switch seats.  I snapped "what the fuck is that going to achieve" or at least thought it, and we were soon rolling off again.

With the realisation that some, if not all, of this was in my head, I decided I'd better do something about it.  The solution seemed to be closing my eyes.  Rather than look for a centre line through Simon's back, or down towards my feet, I shut my eyes, and tried to let my body feel where it needed to be.  It helped, and when we retraced our steps, we made the thing go very fast, and it was exhilarating.  What an emotional roller coaster!

The next morning I picked up Simon with the Robusta in the back of my 'Rolla.  The rear triangle was resting up on the front seats, but Simon coped nicely with the rear mech in his face, and the chainrings just behind his head.  We were pretty convinced they couldn't go anywhere nasty in the event of a crash...

It was dry until we got to within five minutes of Otaki - the scene of the Kevin Smith Memorial handicap race.  We holed up in a cafe for a little bit, and I picked up a new pair of woollen undies from Icebreaker, would you believe before I'd realised that I'd forgotten to pack a pair to put on after the race.

We couldn't hide indoors forever though, and soon we were registered and doing a cruisy lap of the course.  We discovered the short climb and rollers after it would be manageable with our 1x10 gearing, though we were keen to avoid our 52x28 gear as much as possible, not wanting to stress the nasty chainline any more than necessary.  We were pretty excited to be in the mid 40s on the way along the back straight with no apparent effort.  On the downside, the wet course had no less than seven shitty corners, so Simon would be earning his keep up front.  I'd spent a good few minutes with my eyes closed again, and seemed to be finding my equilibrium.

We started in a Break bunch of about a dozen, with Scratch setting off 4 minutes behind us.  We didn't crash on the first lap, and were able to hang with our compatriots on the climb.  On the second lap we were hurtling down the back straight when someone missed a wheel, and we were down to five (six if you counted me).  Among the group was Steve Chapman, a shrewd and strong racer whose company I've enjoyed in many a bunch.  He told the others to keep us around for the massive speed advantage we'd give them on the back straight.  They waited for us a bit on the rolling section, and it took scratch four full laps before they started eating into our lead.

L-R Ollie Jones, Vaughn Pretorius, Tighe Nutsford, JR, SK, Steve Chapman

A few extremely dodgy corners aside, Simon did an awesome job keeping us upright.  With half a lap to go, we drifted back behind a somewhat larger bunch.  We attacked hard from behind, but alas, we hadn't quite hit full speed by the time we passed the front of the bunch and they were able to jump onto our wheel as we accelerated through to about 63km/h.  On my own bike I've been told I'm like drafting an "apartment block" so I can't even imagine what it must be like behind the tandem.  We had no chance of dropping them.

We hit the final corner in about 7th or 8th spot.  By the finish line, 100m or so later, we'd mowed down all but two riders, and in the interim, I'd driven the pedals as hard as I've ever pedalled a bike.  Later, Kevin Smith's daughter Rachel, told us that she'd decided to award the trophy for the first vet racer across the line to Steve despite the fact that we'd been just ahead of him.  We totally agreed with the decision - it was nice just to be in one piece!  We'd generated a lot of interest, and in his victory speech, Steve was very complimentary about our pacing down the back straight!

While we'd coped with the Otaki course with the 1x10 gearing, it wouldn't do for Taupo.  We had nutted out a couple of solutions.  The best one, we thought, was the 36t TA chainring that could mount on the 74mm bolt circle inboard of the 52t in the middle ring position.  But, the chainring was coming from Australia, and Oli wasn't certain it would work with the front derailleur which in theory would only cope with a 14-tooth spread in the chainrings...

Solution numbers two and three were winging their way to us from Oregon - a tandem specific mount for the Di2 derailleur, and a specially machine part which would offer slightly more range.  By Wednesday evening, neither had arrived, and things had become somewhat stressful.  When I checked to see if Co-Motion had sent a tracking number (they had) upon inspection it seemed the parts had been delivered the day before!  With no sign of the chainring, Simon agreed to get the bike to Oli's to be refitted with the 39t chainring we'd taken off prior to the Otaki race.

I was somewhat crestfallen to learn that in the interests of a decent chainline (as opposed to a totally indecent chainline) the cranks were again off-centre, but Simon stressed that moving my left cleat inboard again would offset this.  Okay...

The logistical hurdles didn't end with getting an operational bike.  We also had to get the damn thing to Taupo and back!  While my Corolla would've coped with Simon and I, we had another two Kennett Bros, and a few boxes of their many fantastic publications, along for the ride.  And, it was either have the tandem inside, or not at all...

Wide load!

The solution to this particular conundrum came in the form of the lovely Ashley Burgess, who agreed to swap cars for the weekend.  Her Bike Wellington people-mover would accommodate us and our gear.  By 11am on Friday, we were loaded up, and were soon Oscar Mike.

Bros, books and bikes...

The drive seemed to start very slowly, despite the traffic conditions being excellent.  We had a couple of short stops en route, but all in all, we made good time and reached Taupo around 4:30 whereupon the Simon, Jonathan and Paul set up a book stall for a couple of hours pimping their wares.

We were staying with friends of Jonathan's and they treated us to a whopping feed - the perfect thing for the next morning's races.  Jonathan would be doing the Huka Challenge while Simon and I were out on the tandem.  We spent the even chilling, and ensuring we had everything ready for the morning.  I was particularly pleased that my shoes were equidistant from the bike, even if my pedals weren't.

Alarms went off at 6am.  I had an uncharacteristically small breakfast - only a couple of pieces of toast and a "double-shot" instant coffee.  Simon had some clothes on to ditch at the start line, but I left the house with only my racing kit on.  Simon was worried about me overheating, but I'd opted not to ride in my sleeveless jersey.  I'd be going Black-Ops, over my Yeti shorts, a tip of my hat to the kind support I've had from Kashi and Yeti NZ.

I had a bottle each of water and powerade mix on the bike, and a 3/4 full bottle of coke in a jersey pocket, along with a couple of one-square-meal bars.  In the end, I'd have one of those bars, and almost the entire bottle of water left over.

The front tubing of the Robusta makes for awkward access to the front bottle cages, so Simon was rocking a small camelbak, in which he also had a pump.  Somewhere or other we had a couple of tubes, allen keys, a tyre lever, and a banana...

It was time to rock and roll.

There were about 20 tandems entered, and we slotted in towards the back of the pack.  Our bunch would set off soon after 1F (the slowest of the predicted sub-4:30 groups), and just before group 2.  I had time for a quick yarn to Jack Sowry who'd I'd ridden with ever so briefly in the Enduro in 2011.  He was resplendent in his GMC kit, and alongside him was none other than the People's Champion himself.  Gordy asked after Oli, and told me to tell him it was time for another AGM...

I knew a couple of the other tandem riders:  Wayne McDermott, whose son Luke is a regular terror at Wednesday Worlds, riding the tandem with Luke's younger brother, Cade; also, Ken Bailey, whose brother Stu was one of the first WCC Park Rangers at Makara Peak.  There was another tandem with a young fella on the back with a third BB half way up the bike to accommodate his short legs!

After a few minutes waiting under the start line, we were off...

Simon and I had talked a little bit about tactics, but never really settled on any particular strategy.  We both wanted to win though, and with that in mind, we figured gauging the strength of our competitors early on would be a good start.

As we crossed the Mighty Waikato and the road tipped up, we watched one tandem ease off the front of the bunch.  By the Poihipi Road turnoff, they had a hundred metres or so on us.  I said to Simon:  "I think we'd better shut that down, mate."  He agreed, emphatically, and we started chasing the bike up the road in earnest.


There were crowds on the side of the road who clearly enjoyed the novelty of the tandems.  I was surprised by the number of single riders we were passing already, before remembering that some of the very slowest riders start early in order to get back into town at a respectable hour.

Shutting the gap down was much easier to say than do, and it took us the best part of half an hour before we were on the wheel of Captain Paul Miller, and his stoker, Glen Carabine, riding as Cycle Obsession from Mount Maunganui. 

We had a brief natter - I guess we figured we be smashing the living bejesus out of each other for the next few hours. I don't think we introduced ourselves per se, but we certainly talked about our bikes.  Paul and Glen were definitely very strong - they'd been hard to catch, and Simon and I had needed to work a little too much to do so.

The back half of the lake was a bit of a blur for me.  I do however vividly remember losing the plot with Simon, much to the amusement of the other tandem.  It turns out:
  • I'm very sensitive to pedalling cadence
  • when I'm pedalling hard but too slowly, I get tired
  • when I get tired, I start to feel desperate
  • when I feel desperate, I tend to snap.
  • Oh, and I'm a bit of a control freak to boot...
Poor Simon can see neither the crankset nor the rear cassette, so was relying on me to tell him what gear we're pushing.  In our practice race, we only had one chainring, so reporting the gear was as simple as reporting where in the cassette the chain was.  Here, Simon had two chainrings, and expected to know where we were sitting in both.

However inexperienced I am as a stoker - I think I've clocked up about 7 hours by now - I've about 2 minutes captaining under my belt, and I wasn't particularly empathetic to Simon's plight.  Pathetic would be closer to the truth.

Our squabble went something like:
Captain Kennett:  gear?
Rear Admiral:  3
CK:  what chainring?
RA:  what chainring do you think?!  My legs are blowing to bits in this bullshit gear.  When was the last time you changed down?  How can you not tell?!?!?
CK:  I can't see
RA:  Yeah, but your legs?!?!
CK:  what gear?
Paul and Glen:  Hahahaha!

How embarrassing.  For the next while, I dutifully reported both chain positions, often with a bit of sarcasm in my voice.  "4 AND YOU'RE STILL IN THE BIG CHAINRING".  Oh, how embarrassing.  I guess I've never experienced the stress of responsibility of captaining a tandem, and my fatigue was not affording me the calm I needed to think about it as we rode.

The two tandems continued to lap it out.  Simon and I were slightly quicker on the descents, and Paul and Glen simply looked quicker everywhere else.  The cracks were starting to show, with major differences in Simon's and my pedalling styles, and inexperience contributing to a challenging time.

Watching Paul and Glen up ahead
By the time we'd reached Kuratau, we'd swept up some riders capable of hanging with us.  Simon had warned me all year that we'd likely get shelled on the climbs, but the opposite seemed to be happening, and on the longer climbs, we actually seemed stronger than our opponents, tandem and solo alike.

Putting the hurt on up Kuratau
We caught a massive bunch on the descent into Tokaanu.  Unfortunately, there was a van between us and the bunch, and while some riders managed to sneak down the left while the van was straddling the centre-line, we passed just before a line of cones in the middle of the road, presumably there to prevent riders from cutting the corner that followed.  I was glad not to hear any carnage behind me...

I was really looking forward to passing through Turangi, though the bunch dynamic for the few kilometres into town made the wait verge on excruciating.  Mum and Dad had left Wellington on Friday afternoon, stopping at Simon and Sarah's well appointed bach in Rangataua, just short of Ohakune.  Even better, they had Kaitlyn with them, and the plan was for them to be in Turangi by the time Simon and I passed through.

Waiting patiently, shaker in hand, and tunes by the Mapei-kit-clad one-man-band
Waving, in case they didn't notice us!
The ride out of Turangi was incredibly frustrating - as usual in a big bunch, there are those keen to work, and those who are happy to sit in.  There are also those who roll through smoothly - the minority, unfortunately.  There were a couple of guys in the bunch who had been with us before Kuratau, Paul Struthers and Josh Harding, who seemed to share our pain, but apart from friendly interactions with them from my back seat, this stretch had few other highlights.

Poor Simon was in a bit of a jam - the surging in the bunch was continuously opening up gaps, and he was the only one who could see this happening.  He'd have to try to shut the gap down himself by pedalling harder.  I'd eventually sense this through the pedals and ramp it up myself, but then we'd end up with too much momentum, and Simon would have to haul on the brakes...  His preferred coping mechanism was to roll back a bit, and with a bit of clear road, aim for a more constant speed.  Problem was, back seat driver didn't like the extra effort riding without a draught off the wheels in front - extra effort which resulted in extra fatigue, and, you guessed it, more grizzles.

Finally, Simon had had enough, and we went to the front on the rollers along the cliffs.  We took a good long pull, and we both enjoyed setting the pace for a while.

We were near the front of the bunch at the bottom of Hatepe, both with an expectation of losing ground on the solos around us.  Like Kuratau though, we shined on the climb, and not only rode away from our bunch, but caught and passed another.

Peter James:  "wait, what?!  Tandems can't climb..."
By the middle of the climb, we had a good lead on the other tandem, and Simon was keen to make a race-winning move.  I asked for a gear change, and he went the other way.  I complained - a groan was about all I could muster - but appreciated what he was trying to do, and dug a bit deeper, hoping I could get the cadence back into my sweet spot.

Nearing the top of Hatepe, Paul and Glen right on our wheel
By the top, a small group had clawed their way back to us, including the tandem of Paul and Glen, my new buddies, Paul and Josh, and Peter James.  We were together after the fast descent into Waitahanui, and managed to sneak past a stray dog without incident.

This select bunch worked better together, and Paul and Glen, perhaps chasing a target time, did more than their fair share of work at the front.  I was well and truly over making suggestions to Simon, and I'm sure that he was well and truly over listening to them, so for a change, I kept my mouth shut in the back, and let him control our position in the bunch.

Getting close to home
Simon had told me on Hatepe that it was all or nothing there, and that he didn't think we could beat Paul and Glen in a sprint.  I was less sure, and had been hogging the bottle of coke Simon and I had been sharing.  He asked for it just out of Taupo, and I felt a little guilty about how little was left.  I was keen to earn my keep though.

Peter James, who told me I should never get a road bike after a few outings with his Freyberg bunch on my flat-bar commuter bike, asked me along the waterfront, "are you guys going to sprint?"  I replied, "fuck yeah we're going to sprint", to which he said "I'll keep out of your way then".

Simon could feel me twitching in the back, and he put in a couple of small back-pedals to make sure I toned it down a bit.  We'd both noticed we were a little faster out of the corners than the other tandem, and we stuck to their wheel into the final turn onto the main drag of Taupo.

As soon as we hit the apex of the turn, I unleashed in the back seat, applying as much power as I could muster to the pedals.  Simon was doing the same in the front seat, holding only enough in reserve to manage the gear shifts and steer.

For almost the first time in the race, I was totally thrilled with Simon's shifts, neither too early, like we'd had in Otaki, nor too late.  As we accelerated past Paul and Glen, I heard them both groan - they knew they could not match our sprint.  As we powered away from them, they might have heard me calling Simon down through the gears.  The Di2 earnt its keep as well, and every shift was perfect, and under full power.

Heading for home, almost bent in half
The finish was exhilarating.  Actually, making a road bike go fast is something I always find exhilarating, but this was something else.  We had clear road in front of us, and even the solos had left us to it...

Well done mate!
As soon as we crossed the line, I sat up, and put my hand on Simon's back.  He knew it wasn't just a celebration, but also an apology.  In fact, the whole finish straight had been an apology, and it was such a relief it had paid off.  Without it, I'm not sure either of us would have ever wanted to go near the tandem again.

We were getting stuck into the pineapple when the other tandem pulled alongside and we congratulated each other on a brilliant race.  Mum, Dad and Katy were there too, and it was mighty fine to see them, and to be off our instrument of torture.

So good to celebrate with my baby!
As we made our way back to the Kennett Bros' book stall, we bumped into various friends from Wellington and beyond, and we swapped notes about our respective rides, before hitting up the massage tent together.

By the time the prizegiving was on, we'd seen a provisional result which had our time as 4:09:41.  Not only had we won the race, but it appeared we'd done so in a record time; the fastest tandem previously had been 4:12 in 2009.  Kaitlyn pointed out I was now the joint holder of two tandem records!  She and I still hold the Karapoti Challenge best, after our storming ride back in 2008. I love it that she'd remembered, and reminded me.  She's impressively sharp, and is turning into quite an astute cycling fan. 

I was glad we didn't get called up on stage at the prizegiving - Simon had opted to stay at the book stall, since they were doing a roaring trade, and his signature was often needed and appreciated - it would not have felt appropriate to be up there without him.  It was damn cool to see our names in lights though, correctly spelt and all...

We all retired back to Rangataua for the night, and it was great to be all together.  The Kennett Bros make fascinating and fantastic company, and I absolutely loved having Mum, Dad, and Kaitlyn along once again.  Breakfast in Taihape was followed by lunch in Otaki, and we were all home by mid-afternoon, chuffed with the success of the weekend.

Simon and I have got a tandem mission planned for the Longest Day Ride, a fundraiser organised by Vorb founder, Tama Easton.  I think many of the frustrations of the race situation will be mitigated somewhat without the same sense of urgency.  We've definitely got some work to do on the race front though - I'm not sure either of us will be prepared to jeopardise our amazing friendship with too much more of Saturday's carry on!

Thanks a million Simon, for putting up with my shit through one hell of a race...