I'd only met Megan once before - she'd fronted up to the Tāwhio O Whanganui which I'd organised in February of last year. I'd said gidday to her at the start, as the organiser of a low-key event is able to, and noted she had a lot of gear. The same subject came up that evening at the Lodge in Raetihi, from where Megan had posted a bunch of stuff home. I didn't see her the following night in Whangamomona - her day had blown out due to a slightly premature route through the work in progress that was the Kaiwhakauka Track, but I was relieved to learn she'd shown up after I'd headed to bed. I don't recall seeing her in Patea, nor in Whanganui before we departed in opposite directions to our respective homes of Auckland and Wellington.
So, I wasn't sure what to make of her suggestion that we team up for the Absa Cape Epic in 2012. Over the next week or so, I read up a bit about the race, and about Megan, and did a few back-of-the-envelope sums to see whether I could run to what Megan had described as "a bit of personal financial outlay". Once I'd ascertained getting away from work in late March was not out of the question, the idea snowballed, and before I knew it, I was accepting Megan's offer.
The event looked totally appealing. I'd never ridden, let alone raced, overseas, and the thought of doing so was thrilling. The event was expensive, and not something I foresaw Simon wanting to do any time soon. Also, it's over-subscribed, and Megan had a guaranteed entry, a carry-over from the balloted spot she'd got in 2011 but was unable to use. It was good to know once excited about it, it wasn't going to be whisked away. Finally, I think I saw it as an opportunity to prove to myself that I could ride a bike. Sad, in hindsight, but a factor nonetheless.
Within a fortnight we were locked and loaded.
The only thing immediately on the agenda was recruiting some sponsors. Megan had a long history of 24-hour World Champs campaigns, and had an impressive list of personal sponsors, iincluding Adidas eyewear, Icebreaker, Ayup Lights. She sent me a sponsorship proposal with her palmarès listed including a whole bunch of wins in stage races, 24 solos, and top 10 placings in a couple of 24-solo WCs.
I was intimidated by her success, and at first struggled to write anything about myself. I had to though, and on reflection, realised I had a bunch of stuff I too could be proud of.
Racing Career Highlights: 1st Place Team 8 hour Akatarawa Attack, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011; 1st Place 12 hour Team Day Night Thriller 2008; 1st Place Tandem Karapoti Challenge 2008 (current record time); 1st Place Wellington Mountainbike Orienteering Series 2008, 2009; 2nd Place "Old Bugger" Single Speed Nationals 2011; 2nd Place 12 Hour Team Moonride 2007; 3rd Place Masters Men NZCT National Hill Climb Championships 2008; 4th Place Expert M30-39 Karapoti Classic 2011; Finisher 1100km Kiwi Brevet 2010 in a time of 4 days 12 hours.Not bad for a weekend warrior. I was more confidently proud of my other riding activities though, and was pleased they too would feature in our proposal.
Other cool stuff: Father, Cyclist, Writer, Event Organiser, Volunteer (Chair of Makara Peak Mountain Bike Park Supporters, 2006-2010), Freelance publications in Spoke and Endurance magazine.Megan asked me for a photo for the cover page, and I gave her one of my favourite race-shots ever.
I love it because the intensity surprises me. That's not how I think of myself riding a bike.
Having filled in the form, I sat back and let Megan work her magic. We got some good feedback on the proposal, but plenty of "nice one, but no thanks" responses.
Atfer a few months, during which I was amazed by Megan's energy and persistence, we were thrilled to receive a concrete offer from Kashi Leuchs, New Zealand importer of Yeti bicycles. We didn't hesitate to accept Kashi's support. It was a relief on the one hand, spelling an end of an emotionally difficult search (for Megan more than me), but also marking the beginning of an exciting new relationship.
It didn't take long for my race-rig to arrive on the scene, though a supply snafu saw Megan's uber-rare XS frame not arrive until after Christmas. That aside, Kashi made us feel very welcome, and we've already had some great experiences as Team Yeti with a win, with Alex Revell, at the Day Night Thiller a highlight for me.
By the time we'd ridden at DNT, Megan's employer, Mitre 10 MEGA, had also come on board as a sponsor, and it was time to call the search for title sponsors done. We'd be riding as Team Mitre 10 MEGA - Yeti NZ at the 2012 Cape Epic.
Less generous, but nonetheless fantastic hookups continued to come in though, and we were lucky to gain additional support from Camelbak, Cycletech (importers of Louis Garneau and Stans, among other fine products), and Christchurch company Blox agreed to give us a pretty sharp deal on jerseys. I also just recently got a sweet pair of Adidas specs from Megan's sponsor - in orange, to match our MEGA jerseys.
And, as always, I had Oli Brooke-White in my corner, and I was very proud of the way he offered his amazing service to Megan as well. If I was a tattooing sort of guy, I'd have the Roadworks logos on my shoulders in a flash. They're kind of there already.
I love riding my bike, and though I'm learning not to rely on it, I'm a damn sight better when I'm riding hard regularly. Being fit and strong on the bike is a critical part of managing my mental health, as well as the obvious physical well-being that comes part and parcel with it.
From the outset I decided to approach preparation for the Cape Epic as if I were riding with Simon - someone who I'd be unable to keep up with on his best days. There'd be no "so long as I'm faster than Megan" cop out. That's put a lot of pressure on her, I suspect, but it's made the preparation a lot more interesting for me.
Simon is more a mentor than a coach, but I'm sure if I was totally screwing things up putting together my own "training program" he'd sit me down coach-styles and set me straight. Now that I think about it, he did sit me down, but it was to tell me I needed rest, not a bit more of this or a bit more of that.
The springboard for the year really came from spin classes through winter. My friend Ash was leading the classes, and had suggested I go along. I hadn't anticipated enjoying it, and certainly hadn't anticipated the benefits to my riding. But, while I have some disdain for those who choose to exercise inside, there were aspects that totally made sense to me. It was sheltered from the elements, and while the ride home from the Newtown spin studio always occurred in the dark, it was often wet, and was even snowing for the duration of one class! I was tapping into time I wouldn't otherwise be using.
For the first time, I was able to exercise to music, something I've avoided not for safety reasons, but for the longevity of my hearing. That was cool.
The single most important aspect though, was being able to totally tap myself out. I'd find myself pushing against massive resistance, until my muscles were so empty I'd almost fall off the bike. Then I'd have a short breather, sometimes ignoring Ash's instruction, then do it again. I had no fear of crashing, nor of getting stuck out in the countryside with no energy to get myself home. I got stronger.
I think I hit a peak in November, and almost had a perfect ride at Taupo. Not quite though, but the training miles were in the bank. Megan and I had ridden together at Le Petit Brevet a week earlier, and the void between our riding abilities had been apparent. These two events had been something I'd targeted with long hard road rides. She'd been racing short XC races, and it showed. It was a good kick in the arse for her, and a useful heads-up for me.
December and January were a mixed bag, and while I didn't feel like I got much "training" in, there was quality there, if not quantity. The Waitangi21 Orienteering events were a good opportunity to do hard back-to-back rides, and the St James Epic a couple of weeks earlier was what I expect Africa to be like. I hadn't fired there, but it was a useful experience nonetheless.
It's hard for me to know quite where I'm at currently - school holidays, a busy work-load at university, general stress, and pre-race nerves have all been far too prevalent for me to be firing on the bike - but I've got just under a month to build confidence in my skills, speed and endurance. They're there, I'm sure, I'm just too busy to realise it.
I've owned my race bike for a while now, but I've only recently put any thought into how it's been specced, and what goals I have for it.
Since the Karapoti Classic and Perverse Reverse double were announced, I'd committed to them as the last big hit-out before Cape Epic. What a perfect opportunity to do two hard races in a row, and hopefully earn a bit of exposure for our Cape Epic sponsors by riding our race rigs in our team kit.
Being new to the whole sponsorship game, I've had my XTR equipped bike in cotton wool pretty much since I've had it. I've never owned such bling before, and I didn't want to wear it out before the event. Novice mistake, as T-Rex pointed out to me at the top of the Tip Track after a disastrous attempt at a fast time.
I'd done a reasonably quick time on my hard-tail a week earlier, but had been critical of how I'd ridden - I knew the fully would have been quicker. Consequently, I'd set off from the bottom with high hopes. After less than a minute into the climb, I knew something was wrong, and, totally blown to bits, I limped to the top. The double crankset was to blame, 40-28 I thought, but 42-30 on closer inspection. Great for South Africa perhaps, but no good for confidence inspiring Tip Tracks, which I'm used to spinning my way up, and certainly no good for the steeper Karapoti.
I headed up again, and with better pacing got close to the time I'd done on the hardtail. 22:57 followed by 24:17, then back down to 23:08. Finding I could manage the gearing wasn't totally helpful, and made it harder to decide what to do. In the end after a few weeks of indecision, I took the 3x10 plunge, and ordered a new crankset, chain and front derailleur. Karapoti is a valid target after all, and as for Africa, Megan's running a triple up front, and given we've got to ride together at all times, it make sense for me to have the same gearing.
I should be rocking the new setup by week's end, with luck, and Oli's sublime skills.
Perhaps it's all sounded pretty straightforward. Get an entry, find some sponsors, buy a swish bike. Relatively speaking, that stuff all was straightforward. The devil's in the detail though.
Here's a list of most of the things I've been dealing with in the last few weeks (many of them still unresolved):
- race insurance - simple enough, but requiring a BikeNZ International License in advance of purchase. Well done to BikeNZ though for providing the bundled travel + bike + health (including during the race) insurances. That's made life a lot easier.
- transponder deposit
- massage package. Including a booking form, whereby we indicate preferences for which half-hour slot we want. Sometime after we finish would be nice, but when exactly that will be is kind of unknown. I can't even find the time the stages start, let alone begin to work out when we'll finish the hundred-odd kilometres to the finish
- mechanic package. Relatively expensive overnight service, but no doubt worth every cent if something goes wrong. Simply fill in a form listing all the parts on the bike, and deposit some Rand in to a SA bank account. Still on the list.
- compulsory rider survey
- rider indemnity form
- rider health form. Heart rate, weight and blood pressure must be signed off by my GP. To do...
- bus transfer from end of prologue to race village at start of stage 1 booked
- bike transportation - to box or to bag, that was the question. In the end, I went with a bag...
- GST and inspection fee on bike bag
- Racing Ralphs with Snakeskin sidewalls. Not available in NZ, and currently somewhere in between the UK and Wellington.
- excess baggage charges. I booked flights some months ago with Qantas, which seemed like a good use of some airpoints I had, and besides, the travel via Australia was 10-odd hours shorter than the competition flying though Asia or the Middle East. I have a 23kg baggage allowance. Not much change from a well-packed bike. The pile of OSMs on my dining table look increasingly likely to stay there. Solutions considered included freighting stuff to South Africa, at about $100 per 5kg, and some risk of them arriving late. At-the-airport excess baggage looks to be the absolute worst option, and could be over $60/kg for the NZ-Sydney-Joburg legs alone. Prepaid 10kg drops that somewhat, but at a few hundred per flight it was still looking like over a grand for the return trip. In the end, joining the Qantas Club an upping the checked baggage allowance to 32kg seemed like the most economical solution. I'll be sure to eat plenty of club sandwiches between flights. I'm also going to re-order a spare tyre and Stan's fluid, and get them sent directly to South Africa.
- race nutrition. See above. Something out of Chain Reaction's extensive selection yet to be confirmed, and the OSMs will live to fight another day. Besides, the organisers say "each morning at breakfast you can make sandwiches to carry for the ride." I ain't stopping for no picnic, FFS...
- jerseys. Took so much more time to nail down than we ever expected. But, we settled on a sweet design, and the dye's probably drying as I type. I look forward to rocking a couple around Karapoti. I'd like to think I was difficult about only one detail through this whole mission, and its those shoulder panels. Thanks to Megan for realising it was important to me.
- ASR5C master rebuild kit. A great recommendation from Kashi, and all the specific and hard-to-get bits we might need in case of emergency. Hopefully it's not too heavy! Or necessary, for that matter, but better to be safe than sorry...
- Race gear, including sun sleeves, butt butter, sun screen. Spare tubes, which I think we'll preload with jizz once we're over there.
- Non-race gear. The organisers provide a tent and mattresses. We're on the rest. All yet to be pulled together.
- print and laminate stage profiles, and get a bike computer onto my bike. GPS units are a no go - much of the course is on private land, and people were uploading to the internet routes of essentially illegal rides.
- blogging apparatus and camera.
Thankfully, my passport's still got a year to run, and I don't need a visa for South Africa. My brain's sore from thinking about all that stuff above though, and I'm not done with it yet. I tell ya, it makes going on an unsupported event like the Kiwi Brevet seem like a walk in the park!
- vaccinations. But wait, there's more. Fuck. Now added to the "to do" list.
- set recorder for Sons of Anarchy!
I shouldn't complain! The adventure began months ago, and the climax is not far away now. In four weeks time, I'll be waking up for the first time in South Africa. In five, I'll be riding Stage 3, and in six, I'll be meticulously cleaning my bike, and wondering whether or not to throw out the tyres lest MAF have conniptions about what I've been up to.
When I finally get a few more of the pieces in place, I expect the excitement will start to build in earnest. At the moment though, I'm going through the process of stressing about everything. It is a process that I understand, an essential one, and the outcome of it is preparedness.
I'm guessing the Karapoti blog will mark a turning point. There shouldn't be too many things on the list once that's done. At least, I hope not!