Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Not so stoked at Taupo

The omens were never particularly good leading in to the Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge.

Several months ago, Captain Kennett asked if I would consider a crack at our 2012 tandem record.  Feeling a bit deprived of Simon's company, and keen to take advantage of some very good road-racing form, I agreed, and Simon set to getting himself in shape.  It seemed a good opportunity to wipe from the slate a somewhat testing time around the lake.

As the main event drew nearer, we made the point of entering a couple of local "fun rides".  Neither was...

The first was the Featherston Fun Ride.  I'd done it the year before and had experienced cross-winds from hell on the leg down the western side of Lake Wairarapa.  The forecast was for the same, and it was going to be very interesting on the long bike.

We were both very late getting there.  I'd been held up by a good samaritan, who'd stopped on a narrow stretch of the Rimutaka Hill Road - about 20m short of a blind corner - to pick up a couple of women who'd chosen to ride over in the gale force winds.  When I finally arrived, I realised the downside of putting my Garmin Vector pedals on the tandem without bringing a pair of MTB shoes too - I couldn't warm up without Simon.  He too had got stuck on the hill due to a problem with his car.  A stoker is not much good without his captain.

We managed a 30 second warm up, which wasn't nearly enough for me.  I'd been dropped by a rampant scratch bunch a month or so earlier with a similarly short leg-loosener, and was kicking myself for being so unorganised.  I hate making the same mistake twice.

We started at the back of the first wave, and when Dave Rowlands began moving towards the front, I urged Simon to go with him.  Worried about getting tangled up with the solos in the wind, he stayed put, and when the hammer went down a few minutes later, the bunch split all to hell, and we quickly lost track of the race leaders.

Being at the back of the bunch was annoying from the perspective of the race, but it was safe, and otherwise entertaining.  At one point, we saw three riders ejected out the side of the bunch by a gust of wind.  They were breifly off the road and riding in long grass, but thankfully none of them went down.

We started picking riders off, and before too long had a group following in our wake.  The wind was insane, and we were constantly leaning into it, to the extent that I felt more like a sailor than a stoker.  My legs felt sore, and by the time we turned onto the East-West Access Road, I was starting to fade.

The bunch took over at that point, and a couple of times we had to chase back on after a gap had inexplicably opened up.

Distance half-done, legs mostly-done.  Photo: Paul Davies, Capital Cycles
We worked far too hard over the rollers towards Martinborough, and basically dropped ourselves.  Having let go physically, my brain promptly followed, and in Martinborough I asked Simon to stop the bike.  We limped back to Featherston.

Finished, literally and figuratively.  Photo:  Paul Davies, Capital Cycles

Despite the first hour feeling horrible, I demolished my power curve - the first time I'd had power data from the tandem.   I figured that the complete absence of down-time in the cross-winds had meant I was constantly on the pedals, unlike my own bike where I must get a bit lazy!

Next up was the Tour de Whitemans - not a particularly tandem-friendly course - with a critical ascent of Blue Mountains on each of four laps, but otherwise a nice racetrack.

We were a lot more organised this time, and made good use of the base of Blue Mountains to get the blood flowing through the legs.  After a short neutralised loop on the flat, we were racing, and straight into the first climb.  We were at the back of a fairly large group, packed with very handy local riders.

About a quarter of the way up, we found ourselves moving quicker than everyone else, and for the middle half of the climb, we had clear road ahead. We'd lost a whole lot of places by the top though, and had to mount quite a chase to join the back of a depleted lead bunch.

We sat at the back for a while, which was a good opportunity to let the legs recharge a bit.  On a nice bit of false flat, we put the hammer down from the back of the bunch, and despite an earnest chase by a couple of riders, we quickly established a good-sized gap.  We rode hard, for much of it into a stiff head-wind, and by the time we looped around to the top of the Wallaceville descent, we had a couple of minutes on the bunch behind, enough that we didn't see them before disappearing down into the Hutt Valley.

We were still clear at the top of Blue Mountains the second time, and kept plugging away down Whiteman's Valley, oblivious to what was going on behind.

Plugging.  Photo:  ATPhoto
We had a bit of a mare at the Silverstream roundabout at the start of the third lap.  The lead-vehicle had given-way to a car which had entered the roundabout on our right, and everyone kind of stopped and stared at one another.  We took the inside line, and made it safely around the corner, but then dropped our chain, and by the time it was back on again, we were in a totally unsuitable gear.

Getting the bike moving took a lot of energy, and the tell-tale signs that we'd gone too hard in the first half of the race started to emerge.

We got a fright when Andy Hagan, who I hadn't noticed approaching us, came alongside. He said he'd wait for us at the top, figuring (a) the wait would be short, and (b) that we'd be a handy ally on the remainder of the loop.  No sooner was he out of sight, than we slowed to a crawl.  Brendan came and went too, looking like he might be able to catch Andy - I wondered if Andy waiting for us might be good for Brendan's chances.

We were passed by a few more, but managed to get up the hill in touch with  them.  Once safely in their company, I told Simon I wasn't prepared to help them chase Brendan and Andy.  So, we sat in until the base of the final ascent of Blue Mountains, and then immediately popped.  It wasn't clear to me that we'd be able to ride the whole climb, but we did manage it, much to my surprise.

The rest of the lap wasn't so bad, and we almost managed to pull back Jordan and Calvin by the end.

Out of focus, pretty much like the world was at that point.  Photo:  ATPhoto
We finished 8th overall, exactly six minutes behind Andy, who Brendan hadn't managed to catch.  I really struggled to put the high placing into perspective, and despite giving a couple of big climbs in the Wairarapa a good nudge the day before, was disappointed with my performance.

By this stage, I had two competing targets - the final two races of the North Island Series, and nestled in between, Taupo.  The 4th series race went well, which at least gave me some confidence that Taupo might too.  A short but intense ride with Simon the Sunday before the main event seemed to go fine, and beyond that there was little we could do.

I drove up to Taupo with Sarah (doing her first 160km Solo), and Khulan (doing the 65km Huka Steamer MTB event) on Friday afternoon.  Simon had taken the tandem, and we met up that evening, after the women had signed in.  It was nice to bump into Danny from Ultimo Clothing, and Dave Weaver, who has scorching form at the moment, and is a lovely guy to boot. I had a brief visit from Yancey, one of my North Island Series team-mates, who was grabbing some Roadworks kit to wear the next morning - hot off the ultimo press.

Despite a very warm evening, I slept well, which was a good thing given the five-something alarm.

We'd failed to secure a late checkout, so among my tasks for the morning was packing up the car, and moving it out of the motel carpark.  I'd brought my roadie, and a wind-trainer, but distracted by the morning's logistics, and getting Sarah ready for her start, had little time to make use of them.

I lost track of Sarah in between the car and the street, and spent a stressful 10 minutes waiting, before deciding I'd better head off to meet Simon.  He too was late, and so it was just as well I'd managed at least a bit of a warm-up on my Colnago.

Ready to rock'n'roll.  Photo:
We found our tandem bunch a few metres short of the start-line, and to my surprise, and delight, saw Sarah in the group ahead.  I left Simon with the tandem and gave her a quick kiss, before retreating.  Apparently a chap next to her was a bit perturbed I hadn't "wished him well" too!

Sarah started a few minutes later, and then we were moved up to the line. Simon wanted to go for a slash, and despite a marshall indicating he had plenty of time, I still had a nervous wait, wondering if I'd have a captain when they said go.

I did, which was excellent.  We started at the very front, and led the small peloton of large bikes - including two triple tandems, one of them towing a fourth rider on a trailer-bike, and about a dozen tandems - over the Waikato River.  A few metres short of the turn-off to Acacia Bay, I felt the bike move.  I shouted "GO STRAIGHT", but too late, and Simon, confused by a marshall's gesticulations, made the (wrong) turn.

Fortunately, only a few tandems followed us (and none onto the deck), and it was relatively easy to wheel around and rejoin the race.  Mid-pack, of course.

It only took a minute or so to get back to the front, and we had clear road by the time we made the correct left turn.

We had one tandem on our wheel, and we left them there for a while.  We were chasing the record, and so opted to keep the pace high.  After 10 minutes or so, Simon invited them to the front, but they very politely declined, blowing smoke up our arses with the comment "we're not in your league".  Whether they actually believed that or not, is another matter.  Simon was wearing my TT helmet - motivated more by the rainy forecast than its aero benefits - and we were both in skinsuits.  Who knows...

In any case, we left them there, and plugged on.  At that stage we were confident in our ability to shake these guys, and figured we'd start working together eventually, or we'd drop them.

Neither happened, and so we threw in a couple of big efforts to try to break loose.  One in particular was comical, and though well conceived, was very poorly executed.  We dropped behind them, let a gap open up, and then attacked in a massive gear.  Alas, we never really had the bike moving fast enough and they had no trouble closing us down.

Simon was royally pissed off by this stage.  He'd tried to encourage them to work with us, pointing out that we were aiming for the record, that they were at least as strong as us, and that we could make a real race of it.  They'd asked about the existing record, and we'd admitted we held it.  It was brought up again, and tensions only increased from there.  I'm a pretty non-confrontational guy, and it all made me feel incredibly uncomfortable.  I'm more of a "let your legs do the talking" kind of guy.

We'd also recently passed Sarah who'd been left behind by her start group.  That added to my emotional burden. 

Eventually, we realised that they weren't going to contribute at all, and that if we continued as we were, we ran the risk of towing them to a record time.  So, we slowed down.  It seemed like a smart thing to do, though in hindsight it reminds me of children fighting over a toy, and when one realises he can't have it, breaks it so that no-one can...

Despite dropping our pace considerably, they remained on our wheel.

We gave Kuratau a good nudge, and had a decent gap once the main climb had finished.  It didn't stick though, and despite us giving it everything, they pulled us back well before we began the plunge down to Tokaanu.

When the catch was imminent, we got stuck in a shitty gear, and I bellowed at the world.  They were surely in earshot, and when they slowed to slot in behind us, I called out "good chase fellas".  Their response was friendly, so maybe they were keen to race after all.

A little too much hooning for my liking
I didn't enjoy the descent  one bit.  The roads were wet, and Simon wasn't in a great mood, and was riding pretty aggressively.  But, he did an excellent job of getting us safely down the hill.  We had even opened up a small gap, but couldn't capitalise on it.

Things got really, really, really ridiculous over the next 30km to the base of Hatepe Hill, when not once did the other tandem leave our wheel.  On a couple of occasions, we stopped pedalling, and despite our bike losing most of its speed as we coasted, I could hear the sound of the disk-brakes behind being heavily applied lest they actually pass us.  RIDICULOUS.  I wondered what they thought would happen if they were in front.  They were certainly going to great lengths to avoid it.

We caught up to a bunch of solo riders, a rotated with them a bit.  I lost track of the other tandem for a while, and thought they might have sat at the back of the bunch without contributing at all.  Either that or they'd swung behind us when we pulled through...

Hatepe was our last chance to make something happen.  We hit the base of the climb at the back of the bunch (well, not quite the very back!), and started slogging away.

About half way up, I sensed a gap has opened up behind us, and asked Simon to change gear.  He misinterpreted my request, and for a moment things got easier, before a second request gave an opportunity to make the hilltop come quicker, and our advantage to grow.  I urged Simon to pedal harder, which he did, and we had a great gap at the top.

We passed a few solo riders, but about a kilometre from the start of the descent, I could see behind us an ominous sight.  I willed the figure to be that of the solo we'd most recently passed, but in the end was sure.  "THEY'RE COMING MATE"...

Drilling it.  Photo:  Bob's Bikes

By the time we got to the far end of Waitahanui, they were glued to our back wheel again.

At that point I actually felt really sad that they hadn't gone straight past us. They were quite clearly stronger, and it was disappointing that they weren't prepared to take the race to us for a change.

So we rode...

... and rode ...

... and rode ...

The stretch along the lake foreshore was into a nasty headwind, and I had no idea what Simon and I had left in the tanks for the finishing straight.  I also have no idea why I thought it would come to that, because of course they attacked well before the final corner.  I guess I should have been watching them, as on one of the very rare occasions when we'd been behind them about half way through the race, their stoker had been constantly doing to us.

They made great use of the width of the road, and the relative freshness of their legs.  And the race was done.  We chased for 15 seconds or so, but knew we weren't getting them back.

The finishing straight summed up the race perfectly.  It was no competition, just as the rest of the "race" had been.  I couldn't help thinking of the event three years prior which had been a race right from the get-go, and had been in the balance right 'til the end.

Done, like a dinner

We were a good 12 minutes slower than the record, which leaves me in no doubt that we could have beaten it, had the other tandem worked with us.  Which one of us would have taken it is much less clear to me, but it would surely have been fun finding out.

I was glad not to run into the other tandem after the finish.  Had I, I think I would have told them that they had really sold themselves short.  I hoped that at the very least, they were pleased with their performance, and the outcome.  At least that would be something.

I did see the Hagans, who had had mixed fortunes in their races, not that I was in any state to ask about that at the time.  Instead, I blurted out a 30-second summary of our event, before being moved on. 

Sarah finished soon after in a mighty fine cherry-popper lap, clocking in at 5:01. Very respectable indeed, though I reckon if she'd started 15 minutes back she would have been 15 minutes quicker!

It was a while before Khulie finished (mostly by virtue of her very civilised 9am start), during which time we were able to get changed and catch up briefly with Brendan, who'd enjoyed cruising around on his commuter/training bike.  He was fascinated by the tandem result, and was very surprised we were unable to get away from the other team.  He's seen plenty of me racing my own bike, and knows better than most how strong I am at the moment.

We hit the road pretty much as soon as we were reunited with Khulan - a hot shower was waiting for us in Carterton! 

* * * * *

As usual, this blog is a useful way for me to process an event, and it goes a long way towards getting it out of my system. But, particularly when being critical, it's hard to find the right words.

Chatting to Brendan just now, I admitted I was having trouble finishing this, and he reminded me of what Dan Waluszewski had told me after my Club Nationals TT: "There's either winning or learning", admitting it had resonated with him as it had me.

And there are plenty of lessons in that ride.  There are all sorts of things we might complain about, but really they were all things we could have managed better.  In short, tandem racing is a team sport, and a good team is much greater than the sum of its parts.

I admit that I'd focussed my attention on getting myself in the best shape I could, and assumed Simon was off doing the same thing.  To really do this tandem racing lark justice in the future, we need to optimise our performance on the tandem, which is plainly not as simple as jumping on your pre-determined seat, and pedalling as hard as you can.

* * * * *

As frustrated as I was about how the morning had panned out, the sight of the Kennett Brothers' triple tandem in the back of a trailer at the Shell station in Waiouru put the whole race into perspective for me.

While the race Simon and I had disappointed us, the three triathletes who'd been on the triple when the fork had collapsed had a much worse day.  At 60km/h they were very lucky indeed to get away with one broken collar-bone and some road rash between them.  (It still makes me a bit sick to my stomach thinking about it.)

There's a lesson there too, I'm sure of it...

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Holy Whaka 100!

Despite wondering about it for the last few days, I have absolutely no recollection of the circumstances surrounding my entry in the 2015 Whaka 100.

Jack Compton famously said a couple of years ago: "you're pretty much a roadie these days" - and he was dead right.  I last raced a mountainbike at Karapoti back in March, and did OK, all things considered.  Since, I've done a handful of family rides, only firing my legs in anger in a vain attempt to keep up with Khulio on one descent or another.

The Motu 160 was on the radar this spring for a little while, but things got a bit hectic in between the first and second rounds of the 2015 North Island Series, and it was sensibly erased from the calendar.  But it was not like I was scouring the country for a mountain bike race to replace it. 

In any case, the idea to race the Whaka must have got in somehow, and before long it had grown into a plan.  I'd done the event once before - back in 2010 - and had had a miserable time.  My depression was bad then, and the long ride somewhat out of my comfort zone terrain-wise had been tough.  In good spirits at the moment, it promised to be a nice opportunity to replace bad memories with good.   for better or worse, reading the blog was the extent of my specific training for the event!

Keen to make her own memories, Khulan was also registered for the event.  It had taken Sarah and I some time to convince her that the 100km was not a good idea, and she'd begrudgingly agreed to do the 50km event.  She's got plenty of years of riding ahead of her - hopefully step-dad riding faster than ever at age 42 is evidence in support of that - and at 15, needs to let her body strengthen slowly over time! 

This year's event was scheduled for the Saturday of Labour Weekend, so far from deserting my family to go racing, it was an opportunity for all of us to get up to Rotorua with our MTBs.  Sarah and Kaitlyn were disinclined to do the event themselves, but were looking forward to getting into the forest all the same.  

Being somewhat averse to the long drive, and knowing what carnage would descend upon SH1 south of Levin on the Friday evening, we wrote the kids a "sick" note, and were rolling out shortly after 8am on the Friday morning.

We've recently invested in a roof box for our trusty Corolla, so for the first time, there was room to burn inside the car - though not quite as much as our Queen's Birthday road-trip to the Timber Trail, where we'd decided to take two rather than cram in!  The girls had borrowed a talking book from the library, and that helped pass the time as we made our way north, mostly unimpeded by traffic.  

We stopped briefly at Otaki to visit the Icebreaker outlet, and then in Taihape for lunch at Subway.  Our drive time was about 3.5 hours to there (including about 15 minutes in Otaki).  We had a brief stop in Taupo, before popping in to Huka Falls to photograph the girls, extending my favourite time series by another observation.

7 January 2007

8 January 2010

22 January 2012

27 April 2014

23 October 2015
Just short of Rotorua, we stopped at the Waipa Mill carpark to pick up the two registration packs.  Not long after, we were unpacking the car at the New Castle Motor Lodge - our second stay here - and once we'd divvied up the beds, it was time for a ride.  

Just as we were leaving, I got a txt from Brendan, who was only just leaving his home in Lower Hutt.  He asked if I'd grab him a road tyre and a couple of tubes, so I went back in to grab a bag, and we all turned right at the gate instead of left.  

A small gouging later, we mountain biking! First on the gravel path adjacent to the road out to the airport, and then through the forest taking us through to Long Mile Road.  It was tempting to stop to buy a map, but it was more tempting to do some proper riding, and we headed straight up Nursery Road.  

We were on both the 100km and 50km courses, and we decided to follow them through to the end, hooking in to Rock Drop and then Rosebank before emerging back at the carpark.  A few Wellingtonians later, we shot into Tahi, then half of Creek before deciding that was enough and taking Nursery Road and the new Exit Trail back down to home.  

We all had a Pork Roast for dinner, and aside from a very lame Yorkshire Pudding - at the other end of the quality spectrum from Grandmother Randal's - the meal was excellent (and hopefully sufficiently calorie-laden).  We had time to do the grocery shopping and to drop the girls back at the motel before shooting out to pick up Brendan's wife, Jenny, from the airport.  

By this stage, Brendan had made it to Otaki - the road north out of Wellington was well and truly snarled up, and his progress was very slow indeed.  At least we were able to get his groceries sorted too. 

My race briefing was at 7:30, so after setting a 6am alarm, it was time for sleep.  In the wee hours, I heard Brendan arriving in the adjoining room, and I resisted the urge to glance at my watch (almost 2am for the record - not the best preparation for a 3-day road stage race, poor bugger).

I didn't much like the look of the motel's microwave, and besides, the girls were sleeping next door, so I decided to have muesli for breakfast instead of my usual porridge.  I chased that down with some toast, and a quick coffee.  

I was disappointed to see the ground outside was wet, and that there was light rain.  With rooms above us, there was no tin roof for the rain to rattle on, so it came as a bit a surprise.  I decided to go sans knee-warmers, but did don arm-warmers, and a merino vest under my Castelli Gabba (expensive, but worth every cent).  I'd stashed a tube and multitool in a small saddle bag, but while in fine weather, I'd have gone with a pump and some bars in my jersey pockets, opted to wear a bag.  In it were a jacket and waterproof 3/4 pants, as well as another spare tube.  If something went wrong, at least I'd be a bit more comfortable.

I stopped at the BP for a takeaway coffee, and then drove to the event HQ.  I checked in a drop-bag which would be waiting for me at the 50km mark - in it were four more bars (one square meals and a bumper bar), a second bottle, and a dry jersey - just in case the sun came out.  

The briefing was at 7:30, during which they mentioned that heavy rain was forecast.  Upon hearing that, I had absolutely no qualms about carrying my extra gear.

After a short warm up on the road, and a can of creamed rice (Watties, which I didn't enjoy), I went to the start line, only to find about half the field already there!  Rather than try to push in, I simply joined the back of the queue, figuring I had plenty of distance to make up ground if I was able.  

I found myself next to Charlotte, Kiwi Brevet veteran, and previous owner of Kaitlyn's cute little Yeti AS-R.  We chatted for a bit, and I ignored her advice to move up a bit!  Dave Sharpe cruised past looking resplendent in his Roadworks blue.  

Not exactly pole position!

We were soon underway, slowly!  We did a big loop of the large grassy area, and after a minute or so there was a bit of width and I opened the legs up momentarily.  Then, we were onto Tahi.  There was little point in worrying about the pace, and I actually did a very good job of coping with what might otherwise have been an incredibly frustrating predicament.  

I was near Mike Hunn, yet another who'd made the trip up from Wellington, and we exchanged a few pleasantries before getting separated.

Fairly clean, with Mike Hunn on my six

There was a little bit of a commotion a couple of bikes ahead, and I saw a woman riding with a saddle that, far from being horizontal, was pointing up towards the heavens.  Rather than stop immediately, she made the mistake of continuing, and a mere kilometre or two into a 100km race, her day was done. The loose bolts made their way slowly but surely out, and soon her saddle was on the ground too.  I gave her no chance of finding all the bits she needed to get underway again, but maybe she did...

The track was surprisingly wet, not a good omen!  After the fiddle-faddle of the second half of Creek, we had 30 seconds or so on a bit of double track.  Off the riding-line wasn't particularly smooth, but it was a golden opportunity to get past a few folk.  By the time we ducked back on to singletrack, I had clear space ahead, and set to reeling the next bunch of riders in.  

Visions of that taking ages were soon dashed, and within a minute I was at the back of another queue!

Five minutes or so later, we spewed on to Nursery Road, and that was another opportunity to make up ten or so places.  The course then doubled back on itself, albeit on the opposite side of Nursery Road, before hooking across into Genesis for a spell, and then up past the start of Grinder and in to Soakhole. There it was just a matter of following the arrows, and/or the rider ahead.  I didn't recognise Jeff Lyall when I passed him, but it takes two to tango, and once he called out, my ears filled in what my eyes had missed.  

We emerged on the far side of the block, and climbed up to the top of Tokorangi.  I passed a woman who was climbing in the bottom half of her cassette.  I felt like a bit of a dick after asking "have you lost some gears?" only to be told that everything was fine.  I didn't say that I'd last about a quarter of the race if I tried climbing like she was.  By that stage I was happy to keep my mouth shut.

The course was two-way for a brief moment, and I saw Edwin Crossling hurtling past in the opposite direction.  We hadn't been going that long, but it took me bloody ages to get back to that point!!  

There were a couple of sections of track put there only to make the course longer, and when I jokingly complained to one of the marshalls, I was told I didn't have much climbing left.  It wasn't the climbing I was worried about, and it required all my concentration, a fair bit of tripod action, and a small amount of walking to get through the next sections of super greasy singletrack in one piece.  

I very nearly axed myself of a slick off-camber section on the Tickler, which I felt sure I wasn't going to make it across, and soon after had a refusal at a bit of track that I probably would have managed OK had it not been for the recent fright.  I stopped and let a few riders past, only to get stuck behind them for the next 5 minutes as the trail tipped up.  

It was then into a long climb around and up to Frontal Lobotomy.  We didn't use Lentil Link, and instead went hooning in to a somewhat unexpected right turn.  I added to the multitude of skid marks through the corner, and heard the person behind me do the same.

I thought of Khulan and wondered how she'd be getting on in an hour or so's time.  At Frontal Lobotomy, our courses diverged, for 50km or so, at least.  It was nice to be climbing on singletrack again, and I actually felt like a capable mountain biker momentarily.  The slippy-slidey descent had been gross, and not the most confidence inspiring riding with plenty more of that to come.

Billy T was a mixed bag, and I let a couple of riders through, including Ian Paintin.  He wasn't looking that flash midway up the climb, but while I distanced him momentarily, by the top his legs had come back, and he was storming by the time we got to the top of Kung Fu Walrus.

Thomas Reynolds had asked the evening before if I'd ridden this track, and I knew from his reaction that it would be a handful today.  True to form, I had an absolute mare down it, being passed soon after Ian by Wade Jennings, who'd asked me "what are you doing back here?!"  "Mountainbiking like a roadie" would have been a good response.  

One stupid spill later, I was finally at the bottom, and actually riding again.  I pushed fairly hard along the gravel roads along the Blue Lake-front, but I'd haemorrhaged too much time in the mud to get anywhere Ian and Wade again.

I vaguely recalled that the 50km aid-station was near.  There were a couple of things I was really looking forward to.  First, I was going to ditch my wallet.  I'd discovered it on the Tickler when I'd put an OSM wrapper in my right rear pocket.  I'd obviously forgotten to transfer it to the glove box after I'd paid for my coffee at the servo.  I'd fixated on the various receipts that would surely be dissolving in the wet conditions.  Secondly, I was REALLY looking forward to a clean bottle.  The one on my bike was so covered in filth, it was both unpleasant to drink from and to handle.  Strangely, the mouth full of grit I got when I took a swig annoyed me less than the mud on my hand and glove.  My thigh was also very dirty, so the cleaning process was somewhat compromised too.

Mike's wife Karen was manning the aid-station.  I'd put my stuff in a yellow pak'n'save shopping bag, and sure enough, it had been a good choice.  Karen quickly identified it in amongst 150 other bags, and I was soon loading my pockets up with fresh bars. 

I gave her the filthy, and still half-full bottle, and also my wallet, which she promised to safeguard.  I helped myself a small handful of pretzels, which complemented the hunk of bumper bar in already in my mouth surprisingly well!

Kane McCollum had arrived at the aid station a little after me, but we left together, and chatted briefly, bemoaning our MTB abilities mostly.  The lake-side gravel road was virtually a road though, and probably my only comparative advantage.   As I pressed on, his legs must have sent him a wee warning, and he eased off, wishing me well. 

It was a shame Mossy Trail wasn't a bit more mossy, and a little less muddy.  I floundered around on it too, catching, and almost immediately losing again, a couple of riders.  I rode alone alongside SH5 for a little bit before turning back into the forest on Waipa Mill South Rd.  The course marking had been awesome up to this point, but the next intersection was a bit underdone (although still very well marked on the usual scale of things).  

I rode apprehensively along a bit of double track, scanning the ground for tell-tale signs of wear.  After 5 nervous minutes, I caught back up to the two I'd seen on Mossy Trail, and soon after the next onslaught of course markings began.  

I rode strongly up to the top of No Brains, and then like a novice down it.  Whatever advantage I was getting on the climbs was being demolished on the descents.  I wasn't the only one struggling - as I was picking myself up from a fairly heavy crash after clipping my right pedal on a tree stump, a fellow competitor flew by reporting three crashes of his own further up the trail.  Well, at least he was crashing  quickly...!

When I finally got off No Brains, I felt like the worst was over.  Though, things didn't actually get much better.  It was a long climb to hook into the top section of Split Enz, only to find the track was inundated with water, and what confidence I had left after Kung Fu Walrus was lying on a steaming heap somewhere on No Brains.  

I tried to make the best of a bad situation, and at least managed to keep the bike moving.  I felt lucky to get away with an odd manoeuvre, riding off the side of the ladder on Pondy DH.  The timber had looked slippery, and I had time to ponder my line choice with "what the hell are you doing?!", though no harm, no foul. 

The tracks started to blur one into another, and the course markings came and went.  I hadn't seen any arrows for quite a while, and I started worrying I'd missed a turn somewhere.  I kept moving forward, on Roller Coaster by this stage, and was somewhat thrilled to turn a corner into one of the most heavily marked intersections I've ever seen.  Top marks, and thanks.

I passed a chap somewhat forlornly standing at the side of the track.  I asked him if he was OK.  He said something about "hand pump".  Well, at least I didn't have that I suppose.

I think Old Chevy came next.  The were a couple of arrows pointing right, and then one on the ground came into view pointing left.  I went left, and ten seconds or so later saw some tape.  Then there was a rider, on the other side of the tape.  Damn.

I wasn't sure how much of the track I'd skipped.  Knowing the way these trails are designed, it could have been anything from 50 metres to 1000!  I slowed right down, and let the guy get away from me.  

The course ducked and dived, and there were plenty of "HEY - I was here 5 minutes ago!" moments.  I vaguely recall Ball and Chain, and Mad if U Don't.  Eventually though, it settled down and I was on somewhat familiar territory, and fairly clear about what remained.

Sweet and Sour lead on to Dragon's Tail, followed by Direct Road up to the top of Hot X Buns.  I passed a young chap, who had clearly run out of steam.  He was barely turning his gear over, and he made a whimpering sound as I rode by.  I couldn't remember how long the climb was, but was surprised that it wasn't so bad.  

Hot X Buns was bad, and I had one foot on the ground for far too much of it.  The young guy blasted past while I was washing my bottle at the bottom, and I grabbed some jet planes from the aid station before following him onto Be Rude Not To.  

I enjoyed the width and the illusion of speed on the top section - it was good while it lasted.  I saw the young chap on Lion's Trail.  He was really blown, and the whimper was replaced by guttural sounds that was slightly alarming!

I guess it was wishful thinking, but I lost track of the lap of Grinder and some of the Challenge network.  Dammit.  Yet another 10 minutes of humbling riding!  

Maybe one of the few preferring the uphills at this late stage

Then finally onto Exit Trail.  

Rockdrop and Rosebank were not at all pretty, but I emerged out the other end unscathed, on the outside at least.  The night before the bog at the end of Rosebank had looked imminently rideable.  It was looking very different this afternoon, and my brain didn't latch onto that until after I'd dropped my front wheel into a deep hole.  I guess I was going slowly, and managed to stop short of pitching over the bars into the mud.  Thank heaven for small mercies! 

I got a lovely reception at the finish line.  After being presented with a stunning medallion that any 80s rapper would have been proud to wear, I immediately had both daughters on hand, and then Sarah.

My race had lasted just a few minutes short of 7 hours.  While my bike hadn't skipped a beat mechanically, my body had been less capable.  My legs had gone the distance, but my upper body was shattered, and as I'd got more and more tired, my fair-weather MTB skills had all but deserted me.  

It was great to learn that Khulan had completed her event successfully, winning her category in a fine time of 5 hours 22.  She also acknowledged her parents had counselled wisely, and that she was rather glad not to have done the hundy in hindsight!

What a fighter!

Despite the conditions, Kaitlyn and Sarah had been out riding too, covering much of the 50km course themselves.  They'd even caught the eye of the event photographers, which was a surprise saved for later...!

I'd missed Khulan's prizegiving, but had over an hour until my own, so was able to go back to the motel for a shower.  Jenny had dropped my lovely ladies out, so packing the car was straightforward.

Cleaned up, and phone relocated from the bottom of the car - in my pooped state I was apparently unable to keep track of anything - we drove back to the event HQ.  At one point I feared I would have to stop clapping for the various prize winners - my arms were struggling to keep pace.  A highlight was seeing Jack and reminding him ow accurate his observation on my riding preferences had been.

The next day, Khulan's energy levels had plummeted and she was feeling quite unwell.  The sun was out though, and after a marathon bike-cleaning effort, the rest of us decided to head into the forest for a spin.

My legs took quite some time to warm up, and as we climbed out of Rotorua on SH5 (on that ridiculously mild grade), I was beginning to wonder if I should have stayed home with Khulie. 
They perked up a bit though, and I was astonished to find the tracks were virtually dry, quite in contrast to the unpredictable mire of a day ago.

We rode Tahi and Creek before heading along the gravel roads to the top of Dragon's Tail.  Sarah pulled out the classic "I'm going to smash myself up here" before disappearing up the hill and around the corner.  

Dragon's Tail was followed by a glorious run of Be Rude Not Too, and then Lion's Trail, Turkish Delight and Exit Trail for the third and final time of the trip.

There was no need to wash the bikes again - they were spotless - but nor were we inclined to ride again.  Instead, we hit the road early on Monday morning, wishing the McGraths a good final day of their holiday, and took the long way back to Wellington - first through Reporoa and the Taupo-Napier Road before having lunch at the Angkor Wat in Waipukurau.  I can confirm it still has the best custard squares (yes, plural) I've ever had.  I became somewhat incensed as we drove at 70km/h between Woodville and Pahiatua all on account of someone's unwillingness to pause for a minute to let the 50-odd cars behind pass.  

But, like removing a splinter, once it was gone it was gone.  We stopped at our new home in Carterton, did a bit of Briscoes shopping back in Masterton, left a note for the grandparents for when they next dropped in, and fired up the BBQ for burgers.  The drive back to Wellington was completely uneventful, and if anything, the traffic seemed lighter than usual.

After some reflection, I'm pretty pleased with how I got on in the race.  Not hurting myself was always the main priority, and despite the pretty foul conditions, I managed to "enjoy" most of it.   I was never cold, and while I started to really struggle with the unpredictable nature of riding in the wet, I didn't fall into the trap of wishing it would end prematurely.

Last time, I promised myself that next time I'd enjoy myself.  This time, my promise is to practice riding my mountainbike a bit!!!  In any case, it was good to get out, and lovely to spend a long-weekend away. 

The end

Sunday, September 20, 2015

A rainy Sunday outing with Kaitlyn

The highlight of just about every Sunday morning is picking Kaitlyn up from her mum's, and being reunited is usually celebrated by doing something as a family of four.  We've been on some cracker rides together, most recently on the Timber Trail, and I've also had some wonderful rides this year with just Khulan or Sarah's company.

Today offered a rare opportunity for Kaitlyn and I to do something together.  Khulan was signed up for the second race at PNP's Spring Series at Wainuiomata Trail Park, and Sarah was keen to get out on her road bike for a bit. 

Inspired by Roadworks team-mate Kerrin's recent ride out to the Wainui Coast and around to Eastbourne, I hatched a plan for Kaitlyn and I to emulate his ride (sans the nasty climb into Wainui!).  We'd deliver Khulan to her race, and do our ride from there.  Sarah could collect Khulie and the car at the tail-end of her road ride, and then meet us in Eastbourne.  Not at all complicated...!

The fly in the ointment was the weather.  Kaitlyn and I had a brief txt exchange this morning:  "How inclined are you to go for a ride in unlovely conditions?!" elicited the delightful response:  "I think I would still be keen to ride. Unless it's super duper unlovely".  And then it was off to pack the storm gear!

Not long after, the plan had mostly been enacted, though Sarah had sensibly pulled the pin on her ride and so we had a tweaked collection plan. 

We arrived at Wainui about 35 minutes before Khulie's race was due to start.  She got herself organised, while Kaitlyn and I cowered in the car for a bit longer.  We waited with her until she was set to go, and wished her a good race.

We were on our own bikes a few minutes later.  I had a few snacks in my backpack, but thought we should probably pick something up at the supermarket.  At the last minute, I changed my mind and we headed for the BP instead.  We ordered two hot chocolates (one with a double-shot of coffee), and I grabbed a couple of cookies and a small bag of chocolate-covered raisins.

When we'd pulled in, I thought there was a slim chance we'd go no further than the BP, but once our bellies were full of hot drink, the weather seemed slightly less bad.  A sign on our left suggested it was 20km to the coast, and our turn-off was a few kilometres short of that.  Not so bad...?

I had three layers on - a merino shirt with a fleece front, a short-sleeved Gabba, arm-warmers and my parka.  I was also wearing my Ground Effect overtrou, and my roadie booties.  I had my buff around my neck, a beanie under my helmet, and some neoprene gloves on.  The car thought it was 8-degrees when we left it, but the windchill was worth most of those.  It was bloody cold, though I was cosy. 

Kaitlyn less so, and at the Moore's Valley shops, she inherited my buff, and soon after that, she got my sunnies too - her wee face was looking pretty pink on account of the wind and drizzle, and I suspected she was also getting a bit of spray in her face off my rear wheel.

For the next hour or so we rode down-valley, enjoying the offsetting effect of gravity over the nasty headwind.  It was still hard work, but a damn sight better than it would have been on the flat, or heaven forbid, a climb. 

Despite racing along these roads quite a few times, and the occasional training ride, I didn't recall ever taking in the surroundings to the same extent.  From time to time I'd drift into the centre of the lane and ride alongside Kaitlyn for a bit, chatting briefly before the next car would force me back in front.  I told her how horrible it was to race here in a northerly wind.  "You get to the coast feeling like superman, and then turn back uphill and into the wind.  Bam, it's like you've hit a wall..."

At one point someone's driveway had belched a lot of gravel onto the road.  I held my line and shouted back "we're about to do some mountain biking!"  Sometimes it's bloody nice to ride on the road and actually enjoy the blemishes!

We passed horses and sheep, and the odd cattle.  They were clearly not enjoying the wind-chill either, and some had the common sense to hide behind something.  I found this increasingly endearing each time I saw it, and finally decided I'd better stop and grab the camera out.

Kaitlyn wrapped up warm, and a couple of sheep hiding behind a wall...
A sudden downpour made me regret the stop, but three or four minutes later we were sheltering at the Rimutaka Forest Park's information centre.  It was not only nice to have a roof over our head temporarily, but it was also a nice milestone on our slog to the southern-most point of our ride.  We celebrated by sharing a chocolate and apricot cookie, and continued to watch the rain fall!

We watched and watched, and though the rain didn't ease much, I decided getting wet was a lesser evil than cooling down too much more.  Both sets of legs were noticably sluggish after our break, and it seemed like the wind was picking up too.  I struggled to get my pacing right, often looking back to see Kaitlyn 50 metres behind, and was relieved when the bridge over the Wainuiomata River finally came into sight. 

I was still warm, with the exception of my right hand.  I couldn't operate my phone with the glove on, and every time I took a photo, the glove had to come off.  With the exception of my face and neck, and a couple of inches above my socks, this was the only skin exposed to the elements.  

I'd made the mistake of leaving the glove off for the duration of our rest at the visitor's centre.  The problem wasn't so much that my hand had cooled down, but that all the water saturating the glove had become cold, and the effect on my hand was not great.  The gloves insulate well when warm inside, but when a hand goes in cold, they basically function like a tinnie-cooler does.  Go figure... 

In any case, photos were more important than my comfort, so off and on it repeatedly went! 

The end of the road!
Immediately after the bridge it was a little unclear which way to go.  There was a sign pointing to the left that said "Main track", with arrows to various other things, including a trig and bunkers, but no lighthouse.  The gravel road went right, and we took this option over the indistinct, and decidedly less "main"-looking track.

With the exception of the very inside of the first and only switchback corner, which Kaitlyn inadvertantly chose to ride, the gradient was pretty mellow, and for the meantime, we seemed to be a wee bit sheltered from the wind.  Before long, we got our first glimpse of the ocean, and I think we were both glad that we hadn't stuck to the road below us.

We got a nice surprise as we rounded the corner soon after - we were at the top!!  We crossed the narrow ridge, and the road almost immediately tipped down.  And, it was nice to be riding our mountain bikes in terrain they were designed for!

We were soon at an intersection, and I gave Kaitlyn a choice:  grovel into the headwind for a visit to the Baring Head lighthouse, or save it for a warmer day.  She bravely chose the longer option, and so we started to grovel, as promised.

The climb onto the headland was mellow, but the wind was strong and cold, and we'd been out in it for over two hours by this stage.  It was taking its toll on Kaitlyn's energy levels and consequently her speed.  We decided to get off and walk for a bit, and when I stopped to take my damn glove off again, I suggested she keep going. 

Baring Head ahoy!

Rainstorms in the harbour entrance, and on the South Coast
The wet glove was getting harder to put on each time, and I fumbled around with it for quite a while.  I figured I'd be chasing Kaitlyn for a bit, but when I turned to go after her, I was surprised to see she'd stopped only a few metres beyond where she'd been when I turned away from her a minute earlier. 

When I reached her, I saw why she'd stopped.  There was a gate across the road, indicating private property, and the track to the lighthouse was indicated off to the left.  She'd sensibly waited for me at the intersection.

Despite now being on a barely-worn track on the grass, the going wasn't noticably harder than on the gravel road.  As a consequence, we soon reached the top of the cliff above the Cook Strait, and though the view east was spectacular, the wind was trying to tear my helmet off and I decided to keep my camera in my pocket. 

We made our way through a gate into what was presumably the lighthouse keeper's garden, and found a perfectly located picnic table.  It had a great view, but more importantly, it was sheltered from the biting southerly. 

Snack stop number two!
It really was cold, and the riding from here was all going to be not only wind assisted but we had elevation to peel off too.  I figured we were only going to get colder from here on in, and recommended Kaitlyn put her down jacket on under her raincoat.  My lightweight synthetic-insulation jacket went on too, and we enjoyed a One Square Meal bar each.  They weren't as soft and gooey as I was hoping, despite having been in my pocket for the duration.  They really are better in warm conditions!

I'd been surprised to hear my cell phone notify incoming communications just above the switchback on the climb out of the valley, and was surprised yet again when it rang now.  It was Sarah - she told me my parents had arrived to see Khulan finish her race, and as a result she now had a means of getting my manual car out of Wainui.  I imagined Khulie was in desperate need of a shower, so wasn't surprised that she said they'd head home.  I thought we'd be about an hour, and promised to let Sarah know when we got to the roadend, at which point she'd come to get us.

On a fine summer's day, it would have been great to wander around the grounds, and check out the lighthouse for longer, but we made do with a quick photo, and then it was back onto the bikes. 
"Strike a pose!!"
Having battled into the wind for so long, having it at our backs and a bit of gravity-assist was quite a treat.  We were soon on flat ground, but the wind alone was still excellent.

We passed a small quarry, a steep 4WD road to our right (which we both agreed we were glad not to be taking), and were ourselves passed by a couple of SUVs which had appeared out of nowhere. 

I'd expected it to take a lot longer, so was pleasantly surprised when the hulk of the S.S. Paiaka came into view (wrecked in 1906, and alongside the road since 1987, according to the memorial stone, which I read just now on the internet - it's a lot warmer there, and more suited to lingering).  We'd been here on a family ride with Brendan and Simon a couple of months ago, and I'm sure any nervousness Kaitlyn might have had about the remaining distance eased a little.  I was regularly checking in with her, but she was reporting being warm, and feeling OK, if not a little tired.

S.S. Paiaka
The scenery continued to be frustratingly good, and I'd long ago committed to putting some words to the images I was collecting, and so the glove kept coming off!
Pencarrow Light(s)
I was surprised to see Kau Kau sitting above Seatoun as we rode around Pencarrow Head - a fascinating reminder of how far south we were.   

Just north of Inconstant Point, we spotted half a dozen surfers, and we stopped to admire their fortitude.  No doubt the guy that waved to us as he made his way back along the beach to put in again was thinking the same about us! 

Surf's up!
We saw the surfers' bikes stashed in the bushes, and I wondered how on earth they'd managed to transport their boards into the wind.  Maybe there was some sort of a trailer apparatus that I hadn't noticed in amongst the bikes?

The road-end soon came into view, and I kicked myself for not telling Sarah I had a spare car key with me, and to ask that they leave the Corolla in Seaview.  Despite promising to ring at the road-end, I figured another 10 minutes waiting in the cafe at Days Bay was no bad thing, and opted to keep my hand out of the elements until we got there.

We rode the Esplanade path, and enjoyed some of the unique architecture we passed, including a house that was shaped like a boat.  I realised how much of my riding is done with my head down these days, and really appreciated how I'd been able to look around a bit more on this ride. 

Kaitlyn was enjoying doing the same, I think, and while she wasn't quite as perky as she'd been early on, she was still ticking along at a good pace, thanks to the wind, and her not inconsiderable fitness and tenacity! 

As we arrived into Days Bay, I got a lovely surprise, seeing a wee yellow car which I instinctively knew was my parents'.  A couple of parking bays down was our Suzuki, and just beyond that, the Corolla!  Awesome!

We headed straight for the cafe, and bumped into not only Mum, Dad, Sarah and Khulan, but my bro Ed, his lady Jean, and his mum, Linda.  What a small world!  After a whirlwind of hi's and bye's, we found a table close to a heater, and went in to order a late lunch!

The insulating layer we'd both put on under our coats, and the relative lack of rain since, meant we weren't actually too cold, and the hot food and heater meant we didn't become the shivering wrecks I'd imagined Sarah would arrive to.

It was lovely to hear about Khulan's race, and what Sarah and my folks had been doing, but eventually the draw of a hot shower became too great, and it was time to break into three lots of two, and drive back into town.

Despite the ridiculous conditions, Kaitlyn and I were both so glad we'd stuck to our guns and headed out, as we'd predicted not 15 minutes into the ride.  Despite barely touching her bike since the Timber Trail ride, being too busy with school, or football, or other weekend activities, or from aversion to riding wet singletrack close to home, Kaitlyn had once again risen to the challenge. 

Two Yetis, after jobs well done!
We covered almost 43km, spending about three hours on our bikes and close to four hours out in the elements.  We'd managed not to get too wet, nor too cold, and as a result were able to regard the ride as a roaring success.  

God-damn it was good to get out, and thanks so much to Kaitlyn for making it so (not to mention Sarah and Khulan for also facilitating it).  I'm sure we'd have found something nice to do while Khulie was racing, but cheating the elements in the way we did was something special. And, the foulness definitely added to the sense of adventure we both felt! 

I truly have a remarkable family, each and every one of them, and our time together, in twos, threes or four is often worth celebrating.  What a lucky and proud man I am.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

A weekend in Nelson

If the little arrival card in Nelson had asked the purpose of my visit, I would have ticked both Business and Pleasure...  This was a weekend of two halves.


The trip came somewhat out of left-field.  My new team-mate and friend, Brendan McGrath, had been invited to ride for Placemakers in the 5th round of the Calder Stewart Cycling Series (previously the Benchmark series), but as race day neared, the team was looking short a rider or two, and he asked if I was interested.  It would be a new experience, so after running the idea past my family, agreed.

Sarah initially decided she'd hang at home with Khulie, but once plans for a couple of sleep-overs were disclosed, I was back onto the internet to organise more transport!

The schedules were a bit awkward - I had a busy day at work on Friday, and didn't much like the look of the premium fares on the Friday evening.  Instead, I booked the first flight down on Saturday morning, due to arrive at about 8:30.

Brendan had taken advantage of Bluebridge's sponsorship of the WORD programme, and fewer work commitments, and had booked himself on the Friday morning ferry.  As race day drew nearer, his car filled up:  first with my race bike and kit, then with Sarah, and finally with Brendan's wife and son!  Space was soon at a premium!

I dropped Sarah off at sparrow's fart on Friday morning, a little bit worried that she might be in for a rough crossing - her ship's departure was delayed due to heavy seas meaning it had arrived late!  EEK! Khulie and I took advantage of the early hour, and grabbed breakfast at Fidel's before school.  There, we bumped into WORD founder, Ashley Burgess, who was very pleased to hear that the discount was being put to good use.

At work, I tried not to think too much about Sarah - trying to avoid both envy and concern.  She'd taken her own bike and had decided to ride from Picton to Nelson.  Shortly after 6pm, she arrived in Nelson, having had no problems knocking out the 110km from the ferry terminal to the accommodation we'd booked near the centre of town.   The weather had got a little inclement towards the end, but she'd taken it all in her stride, such is her way.

I had a bit of an early start on Saturday, but made time for my stock start to the day:  a big bowl of porridge and a coffee.  I said goodbye to Khulie, and had a quick drive across town to the airport.  My parents arrived soon after, and I handed over my spare car key, and let them know where I'd left the car.  Bless them, it was going to be waiting for us in town on Sunday night, saving Brendan dropping us home.

The flight was running to schedule, which meant there should be little stress associated with getting to the race on time.  After coffee number two with my parents, I boarded, and soon after was disembarking in sunny Nelson.  The strong southerly winds I'd been buffeted by on the way to the car were non-existent here, which was a lovely surprise.

Brendan's wife, Jenny, flagged me down in the terminal, and I was soon in the back seat of the car.  We didn't have a huge amount of time, so one of my tasks was to get into my riding shorts.  "Now would be a very bad time to look in the rear-view mirror, Brendan..."

They'd kindly organised coffee number three for me, and once I was suitably clothed again, that was the focus of my attention.

The drive to Upper Moutere took 20 minutes or so, and we arrived at about 9am.  The race was due to start at 10.  We quickly found our team-mates, and I was handed a Placemakers skinsuit by Peter Murphy, the third north-islander on the team.  Getting changed a second time was somewhat easier with everyone else out of the car!

We lined up for a team photo (minus one team-mate, and plus one photo-bomber), and then I was off for a warm-up.  I'd been shelled in a local handicap race two weeks earlier, having started with no warm up to speak of, and I was determined for that not to happen again.

L-R:  Brendan, myself, Peter, Justin and another Brendan
It was good to spend close to 30 minutes spinning the legs.  Just before heading to the start-line, I gave Sarah a quick kiss, and smashed back a tin of creamed rice.  Then it was time to line up.

Fortunately, one of my team-mates asked if I'd signed in.  I hadn't, and so the few minutes remaining before the start were slightly less relaxed than they might have been.  But, I was able to quickly find the table I needed, sign in, and then rejoin the bunch at the start line.

We were warned of a dodgy bridge we'd be crossing around the 30km mark, and then we were sent on our way.

I really enjoyed the first 30 minutes or so, riding near the front of the bunch for the most part.  My task was a relatively simple one:  help Justin, sitting in second place in the series, to finish ahead of Brent Allnut, the masters' (35-44 years old) series leader, riding for the Thule team.

Allnut was wearing the leader's jersey, so was easy to spot.  Between my height, and my somewhat upright position on the bike, I was able to keep track of who was up the road, and in particular the locations of Allnut and Justin.  We'd been encouraged to roll off the front in these first kilometres, to see who was up for what.

About 20 minutes in, there was a decent sized bunch up ahead.  Brendan and Justin were up there, but Allnut wasn't.  Nor was Dave Rowlands, who'd not started the first round, but had won the next three.  He started working his way up to the front of the bunch, and I gave him a good shout as I accelerated past. He jumped on my wheel, and we flogged ourselves for the next minute or two.  We managed to ride across the gap, but Dave's exit had sparked some life into the peloton, and they too had closed the gap.

We managed to find each other a few minutes later, and agreed that we'd wasted a hell of a lot of energy for no gain!

There were no real hostilities for the next half an hour or so, and eventually we came to the bridge we'd been warned about.  I was at the very front, and was slightly bemused to see the decking was actually in really good shape.  The organisers neutralised the race, and we slowed to a crawl.  It wasn't clear why, but they kept the speed low for almost 5 minutes, causing a bit of chaos at the front.  Sarah and Jenny, driving in the race convoy in support of our team, explained later that someone had crashed on the bridge, and the low speed was to enable them to get back on (to their bike, and then to the peloton).

Once the lead vehicle cleared out, the pace ramped up, and I found myself at the front.  I had team-mates immediately behind, and they urged me on.  We negotiated a tricky wee bridge, and I ramped up the pace again, "KEEP GOING, KEEP GOING..." ringing in my ears.  It was exhilarating drilling it into a light headwind at almost 50km/h, though after a few minutes (which felt like an eternity), I started to fade, and swung off.  1, 2 Placemakers came by, and then Allnut, and then another Placemaker.  He shouted "yep", and at that point I realised we'd gapped the peloton.  I swung onto the wheel, sucking in air, and was soon lapping through again.

We were in a great position, 4-on-1, and it was time to ensure that it stayed that way.  Everyone was working, though I was really struggling to roll through, still reeling from my big effort on the front.  I was very glad to have Brendan's company, and the presence of team leaders and series contenders Justin, and Brendan Akeroyd.  They were vocal, and it was good to know I wasn't going to have to think too much for myself.  Just the way I like it.

After 10 minutes or so, none other than Dave Rowlands arrived.  He later described the difficulty he'd had breaking clear of the bunch behind, only to then face the equally difficult task of riding across to us.

L-R:  Justin, Brent, moi, Brendan, Dave, Brendan A
No sooner were we six, than all of a sudden we were down to five again - Brent Allnut had vanished!!!!  Still not fully recovered, I momentarily let myself off the hook.  I eased off, subconsciously feeling like my work was done, and was instantly gapped by the others.  They had a quick meeting, and decided they wanted to keep me around.  I was told to hurry my arse up, and was soon taking turns again.

Things never really let up.  We rotated generally pretty well, but every now and then someone would skip a turn, and we'd reorder.  Sometimes I had trouble rolling through, sometimes not, but the scenario was a great one, and so it was just a matter of enduring, and working as hard as I was able.

And then there were five...
The race was 122km long, and we'd broken clear at about 40km, and as the kilometres ticked on, my legs started to feel more and more stuffed.  We'd had a few time checks, and our gap was well over a couple of minutes by the time we hit the two-hour mark.

Sarah, Jenny and Fletcher's view from Convoy #1
There were no real hills in the first 100km, and the few short climbs we had faced had been done in a somewhat gentlemanly fashion.  By the time we reached Neudorf Hill with a few kilometres to go, my legs were absolutely shot.  Looking down, I could see my feet going round, but I couldn't feel my legs at all.  Our gap was 3 minutes, and while I probably could have stayed clear of the peloton if the others had ditched me on that hill, I was glad they didn't.  As soon as gravity was on my side again, my strength came back and I again felt like I was actually controlling my pedalling!  It was good to have company, and even better knowing we were almost done.  I was REALLY looking forward to stopping.

With an eye on the series, Brendan and I were told we'd be finishing 4th and 5th, which suited us down to the ground, and we cruised the last 500m home, watching the other three duke it out for stage honours about 30 seconds ahead of us.  Dave took the win, with Justin 2nd, and Brendan Akeroyd 3rd.  Brent Allnut lead the bunch home, two minutes behind Brendan and I.

For the Placemakers team, the race had been a roaring success.  While we didn't get the stage win, Justin taking the lead in the series had been the primary goal, and by virtue of the three riders between him and Brent Allnut, he was now the series leader by 6 points, with one race to go.  Placemakers also strengthened their hold on the Team prize.

Unfortunately, the after match was a bit of a fizzer.   The local dairy/cafe seemed to be indulging in daylight robbery, so turned us off grabbing a coffee in there.  Also, the Elite race was longer than ours, and had started later, so there was quite a wait for prizegiving.  Half our team, Justin included, had imminent flights back to Christchurch.  So, our prizegiving consisted of a team photo, with Justin proudly sporting the leader's jersey!

In many ways, it was nice to be off the hook.  Sarah, Jenny and Fletcher had been very patient with us, and not having to endure a lengthy prizegiving was a sure bonus.

The McGraths dropped Sarah and I back at our accommodation, and after a shower, we went for a stroll around down-town Nelson.  It was surprisingly deserted, but we found things to do, including beer and fries at a pub (!!!), a trip to the supermarket - much more up my alley - and then an early dinner.
Not too smashed to smile for the camera!
After we'd had our dinner, Brendan picked us up, and we hung out with them for a couple of hours, reliving the race-glory, and enjoying apple pie, custard and ice-cream!  Then, back to town for a solid sleep.


Sarah and I were almost ready to leave when my 8:30 alarm went off.  I insisted it was to wake us up, not to send us on our way.

We'd already scrambled some eggs - not the same without a bit of salt - and knocked back a packet of English muffins with nutella.  Before dropping our bags off with Brendan, we found a cafe in town, and enjoyed a quick coffee to supplement the nasty instant we'd had in our room.

It was a little tricky deciding what to wear - we again staring down the barrel of a glorious day.

We didn't take a particularly efficient route out of town, and were lucky to see the McGrath family making their way into town for brunch.  They'd booked-a-bach opposite the end of a cycle path that took them straight into the city centre, and were making the most of the opportunity for a family ride.

We ditched our bags on the deck of their place, admiring the stunning views left and right, and then it was time to hit the road.

Looking west...
... and north

We stuck to the cycle-path for quite a while, but all the time coveting the relatively uncomplicated riding the shoulder of SH6 would offer.  Mercifully, the path came to an end after a few kilometres, and there was no further need to duck and dive, and cross roads, and brake, and accelerate, etc, etc.

A sign reading 141km to the "Wellington Ferry" gave me a bit of a laugh.  Being a Wellingtonian, I've only ever thought of it as the "Picton Ferry", and it was also amusing to think that cars were being encouraged to take a route 40km longer than ours.

My legs were feeling surprisingly good, miraculously good even, which was both a pleasant surprise, and a relief.  I really wanted to ride with Sarah, and would have done so come hell or high water, and it was nice to discover I wasn't going to have to suffer through it.

She's slowly but surely got the hang of drafting, and sat close behind me through to the bottom of the Whangamoa climb.  There, I let her take point, and enjoyed the solid pace she set.  Towards the top she faded a wee bit, but it was nonetheless impressive, and the thought of her collecting additional Strava trophies made me laugh a little to myself.

The descent was a rip-snorter, and before long we were into the second of two major climbs of the day.  Half way up the Rai Saddle climb I passed Sarah, and made the most of my climber's rig.  Despite buying this new race bike over four months ago, I've still only ridden it a handful of times, and it was nice to be clocking up a few k's on it!

Sarah atop Rai Saddle
The summit came quickly, and on account of Sarah passing this way a couple of days earlier, we negotiated the 100m unsealed section halfway down the descent without fright nor problem.

We had plenty of time up our sleeves, but apparently no inclination to stop at Rai Valley.  Instead, we pressed on to Pelorus Bridge, enjoying the stunning scenery both upstream and downstream of the bridge, before popping in to the cafe on the far side.

If only I'd packed my togs!!!
I really wanted a pie, but wasn't actually feeling particularly hungry or low on energy, so made do with a cheese scone and a coffee.  A big fat kereru put on a nice show for us while we ate, and we made use of the handy toilet before mounting up again.

My favourite NZ bird

And now a word from our sponsors...  Or a hat-tip to one, at least!
Havelock was the next stop, and en route I admired the new bridge near Canvastown, and remembered fondly the various times I'd passed through here:  on the Kiwi Brevet, a dirt cycle-tour with Simon, and another with Marjolein.  Simon and I would certainly have made good use of that bridge at the end of the Nydia day!  We made use of the first decent cell-phone coverage since Nelson, and I smashed back another cheese scone!

The short climb out of Havelock afforded us great views of Havelock itself, and up into the mountains south of the Wairau Valley.

Looking south
The views north were the best though, and posing several objects of my affection made the sights even better!

Once we'd descended towards Linkwater, we hit one of the worst bits of road I've ever ridden, and it brought back horrible memories from the Graperide.  Then, I wrote:

Life got temporarily quite horrible when we hit one of NZ's stretches of cheap seal.  I suppose Simon was able to observe the hit our speed took, while the only feedback I got was nasty vibration through my hands, feet and arse.  It lasted a couple of kilometres, and when we finally got to the end of it, I did divert enough energy to mutter "thank god".

Yep, the road is still bad, and apparently I said "thank god" at the end this time too!

Queen Charlotte Drive, though beautiful, and virtually devoid of cars, wasn't great riding.  There must have been frosts recently, because the road was covered in grit, and often the corners were chewed up and a bit rough on our skinny tyres and stiff frames.

I pointed out Peter and Erris's place, where Dave and I stopped for lunch on our cycle tour together way back in 2008.  It's funny how good memories last for years, and the brain promptly forgets the less fun stuff.

Unlike that day, I wasn't towing a load of gear, and we'd made short work of the ride.   We were just in time to see the ferry before ours depart, and it was nice to think that we hadn't had to rush for that earlier one.

Picton!  Just before our bikes fell over in the wind!

We spent the next couple of hours mooching around.  It was warm, and there was food to eat.  I tried to find someone to wax my legs, but being a Sunday afternoon (and in between ferries), just about everything was closed.  It wasn't as disappointing as finding the Dutch bakery closed, of course.

A well deserved salad.  Not that Sarah seemed to have exerted herself at all!

We retired to the Bluebridge terminal - the sun and wind combination became a bit much - to be warm we really had to be out in the sun, but I was starting to worry about sun burn.  We'd only been there a few minutes when Brendan, Jenny and Fletcher arrived, and we were then able to get changed.  We rode back into town, and after investigating a couple of over-priced offerings settled on a pub on the main drag.

Three Roast Lambs, a Steak Sandwich, and some Nuggets and Chips later, it was time to go check in, and before too long we were heading onto the boat!

We'd booked cabins, and I'd been looking forward to closing out the weekend in style.

The cabin costs a mere $40, but let me tell you a secret, the shower alone is worth that.   I took my time, during which I was able to reflect on an awesome weekend.  Good company, one of the best races I think I've ever ridden, stunning weather, and a lovely ride with Sarah to top it all off...

It's funny how things pop up when you least expect them!