Sunday, January 31, 2016

Introducing Roadworks Reparto Corse: The 2015 North Island Series

Not everything deserves careful analysis, but I've been fascinated to trace back the outcome of this year's North Island Series to the local Vet's club two-day tour.

There, a couple of things happened.  First, I met Brendan McGrath - one of those chaps that oozes "bike racer".  I didn't know his face, nor his name, but recognised the tanned skin, cut legs, position on the bike, and immaculate sock game.  I'd been in a good mood in the opening stage, and had managed to get myself in a breakaway with Brendan and local legend (and first-year vet) Andy Hagan.  I'd struggled, being by far the junior partner in the trio, and was dislodged by Brendan on the final roller 10km out from the stage finish in Martinborough.  It had been great racing!

I had a crap time trial that afternoon, riding to a power target that didn't take into account the morning's stage, and didn't look after myself particularly well in the final race the next morning.  I'd started in 3rd overall, but my Rivet team-mate, Ben Storey, had laid down a solid attack on the ascent of Hinakura, and I couldn't pull him back.  It had left a sour taste in my mouth, and was an experience I couldn't bring myself to write about.  Had I, it might have purged it from my mind, but instead it festered...

On the other hand, I'd spent the last 15 minutes of the tour chasing Ben, Brendan and Andy, and had admired the way the other two had left Ben on the front.  They'd known what was at stake, and had ensured the result came down to whichever of Ben and I were stronger - Ben, as it turned out. 

A bit of internet research later, I knew a bit more about Brendan - he'd won the first race of the North Island Series the year before, having ridden clear in the first few minutes of the stage.  He'd just moved to Wellington with his family.  I reached out, and we rode together a few times - I enjoyed showing him a few roads that it might have taken him a little while to find on his own:  the Makara loop, Horokiwi, and the road up the back of Korokoro.  We clicked instantly.

I've only ever lived in Wellington, so have never been in a position where I've needed to settle in a new place.  So, I was impressed at how Brendan was tackling it - while contacting local riders seemed an obvious way to make friends, I wasn't certain that I would have done it myself.

Another he introduced himself to was my good friend, Rivet team-mate and coach, Joel Healy.  The issue of Brendan joining Rivet was soon raised with the wider group, but the already-large team was hesitant.  Joel and I both wanted to race with Brendan, not so much so we didn't have to race against him - though that would have been a good reason - but due to the clearly positive approach he had to the sport.  Rivet's demographic, and the NI Series roster limits weren't a great match, and so Joel and I dusted off an idea I'd failed to bring to fruition in 2014 - a Roadworks team.

Joel's a forthright chap, and much less manipulative than I am, and so before I knew it, he'd declared to the Rivet team, that he, Brendan and I were going to be the nucleus of a Roadworks team.  Despite most of the Rivet guys knowing Oli well, and this being a sound solution to their over-subscription in the 35-44 year bracket, this caused a right shit-storm!  But, like Caesar crossing the Rubicon, the die had been cast.

The three of us put our thinking caps on, and the recruitment began.  Brendan contacted a few out-of-towners he'd raced with over the years, and Joel and I got to work on local riders.  We also bank-rolled the team-entry, and with Oli Brooke-White's unequivocal blessing, Roadworks Reparto Corse was born.

Our prospects took a sad turn not long after, when Joel had had an horrific accident playing at home with his son.  He'd fallen and shattered his elbow, a trauma he is still recovering from today.  Completely aside from the sadness I felt for my friend, it was a blow knowing Joel would not be out on the road.  We'd lost a massive asset - Joel's not only a great rider, but also an excellent road captain.

But, the show must go on, and it was pleasing to note that while Joel couldn't be out there with us, he was going to play as full a role as ever behind the scenes.

With Race 1 looming, we were looking good, literally and figuratively.  Local riders Kerrin Allwood, Callum Kennedy, Mark Donald, Brendan and I, would be supported by Yancey Arrington and Scott Macdonnell from Christchurch, Glen Carabine from Tauranga, and Peter Murphy from Gisborne.  On the management side, we had Joel and Dan Waluszewski, and of course Oli, one of the finest mechanics you'll find. Ultimo had done a fine job with our team uniform too, a slimmed-down version of Oli's shop jersey. 

Race 1

The wait for the first round was a long one, and we went into it with high expectations.

Brendan and I had been training hard over winter, riding most Saturday mornings, rain or cold, windy rain.  We had also raced well in the Kapiti Winter Series, placing 2nd and 3rd to Vaughn Pretorius in Race 2, and 1st equal in Race 3.  We'd keyed off each other, capitalising well on my power on the flat, and Brendan's ability to bridge gaps quickly and alone.

Jorge Sandoval had listened thoughtfully to feedback after the 2014 Series had concluded, and one of the innovations had been to split the massive master's bunch into two.  So, the field in the first race was much smaller than it had been the year before, and as a result, much more pleasant to be in.

Gruppo compatto.  Photo: Di Chesmar

It was cold, but dry, and after a few gentlemanly kilometres, Roadworks started trying to light it up.  It was an absolute train-wreck.

Brendan and I were both neutralised, but in different ways.  He'd been clearly identified as the man to watch, and was given a very short rein indeed.  He'd break clear, and then those with him would refuse to work.  I was guilty of not going all in, and after opening a gap, would ease off too early, hoping that Brendan would jump across, as he had at Kapiti.

There's winning, and there's learning (thanks to Dan Waluszewski for that gem, now etched into my mind), and this was certainly a learning experience.  The striking message was the strength of a coordinated team.  Months on, I can still see Rivet's road captain, Chris Stevenson, marshalling his troops.  Chris is the best race-reader I know, and regularly punches above his weight, due to his excellent ability to put himself in exactly the right place, at the right time.  And he was making good use of his skills as a road racer to ensure his team kept the race together.

Towards the end of the second lap of three, I had a bit of an epiphany moment.  I was about two-thirds of the way back through the bunch on a downwind leg, and I was astounded at how easy it was.  We were hauling along at around 50km/h, and I was hardly having to pedal at all.  The other side of the course was a block headwind, and I knew even a few wheels from the front was similarly easy.  I decided at that point to stop trying to get off the front.  I had a lap to restore some real strength into my legs, which hopefully I could use at the end.

I didn't communicate that to the rest of my team, though...

Mark and Yancey made a bold attack going over Millar's Road with half a lap to go.  They got a good gap, and with only a few kilometres to go, the race was in the balance.  I had a good spot near the front of the peloton, and was willing them on.

With only a couple of minutes left to race, the gap evaporated, and with less than a kilometre to go, as Mark and Yancey were absorbed into the bunch, Kerrin attacked.  I wanted to go with him, but find it very hard to break clear at obvious points in the race - I don't have a sharp acceleration, and I cut a mighty fine wind shadow - so, I sat tight.  "GO KERRIN, GO"

Alas, he was caught in the last seconds of the race, still finishing a solid 5th.  I had checked out, not finding the jostle for the line pleasant, I focussed on trying not to go backwards too much, but more importantly, not to go down.  Hannes Venter made his first appearance at the front of the bunch count, and won the race outright.  

Hannes takes a fine win.  Photo:  Di Chesmar

We were bitterly disappointed, and unfortunately let some of that creep out into the public arena.  It stuck in our craw that Rivet had apparently succeeded only in shutting us down - Chris was their highest placed finisher, one spot behind Kerrin.  Brendan's been racing a very long time, and has always actively raced, i.e. he rides to win.  He took it particularly hard, motivated in no small part by how shattered I'd looked at the end of the race, and blasted out a facebook rant in the Rivets' direction. 

Before leaving for work on Monday, I commented on Rivet's own summary of the race, complimenting them on their team work.  We'd got a bit of a bollocking from Dan, and this seemed a step in the right direction.  As luck would have it, I bumped into Chris on Lambton Quay an hour later, and was able to provide a bit more context to Brendan's comments and my own.  It was great that we'd met, and I think it helped both teams clear the air a bit.

Despite our disappointment, we hadn't come away completely empty handed.  We were in second in the team's competition - we'd had the highest placed third-finisher (our third rider beat all other teams' third riders), but had missed out on bonus points for the first three across the line.

For the moment, it was back to being fathers and employees, the start of a long four weeks until we'd line up together again.

Race 2

We made good use of the time, both physically and mentally.  There was a lot to analyse from the first race - we certainly hadn't won, so needed to learn.  We'd seen how powerful a team can be, and we'd also seen how closely Brendan had been marked.  It wasn't going to be easy for the two of us to go anywhere together.  That was an important lesson for me.

We were light-handed leading into this race, which made for some late scrambling to put together the team on the day.  Dan introduced us to Jono Leonard, a big, strong ex-trackie who was keen to join us, and we welcomed him onboard.  Cliff Clermont was also in town, visiting from California, and liked the idea of racing too.  He had only a mountainbike with him, so Oli set up my Colnago to Cliff's liking.  We'd been ably assisted by CJ as DS in race 1, but Dan was available this time, and was keen not to have a repeat of the first round's on or off road activities.  Finally, Mark had given us some disappointing news, and was having to withdraw from the racing side of things, but was very keen to remain onboard, and was Dan's driver for the day.

So, we lined up with Callum, Brendan, Kerrin, Jono, Cliff, Peter, and myself.  Dan laid down the law, but constructively (I was expecting a lot worse), giving Kerrin and I free reign in the early stages.  We were soon underway, and on the long straight road leading from the start at the Masterton airfield, Peter sat on the front as if he was leading out the final sprint.


The bunch strung out, and Kerrin shouted at me to grab his wheel.  We went up the outside from about a dozen riders back, and as the pace eased off every so slightly, I put my head down.

It was great to find Jase McCarty on my wheel - I had a hunch Rivet were going to ride much more positively this round, and knew he'd be keen to work with me.    We were soon joined by Chris, Ben Knight, and a guy I didn't know - Todd Carpinter, riding for Jeremy Vennell's squad. 

In the same position in Race 1, I would've eased back, but this time, I knew establishing the break was the right thing to do.  The five of us worked well together, though before long, I caught sight of Brendan and a few others coming across to us.  This was good news.

No sooner had Brendan, Andrew Young, and Hannes Venter joined us, than I heard a loud bang, and a loud "FUCK" which I knew had come from Brendan's bike and Brendan, respectively.  This was not good news.

Road racing comes down to many split-second decisions, and I made one then and there.  I didn't like the fact that Hannes had joined us, and while the finish line was still a couple of hours away, didn't particularly want to be outsprinted by him again.  I hit the next roller hard, and this had the effect I was after.  Andrew and Hannes disappeared as quickly as they'd appeared, though it was a shame to lose Jase as well.

I got told off by Chris, which was fair enough.  While he was right that "we could have used them", I didn't apologise!

It was now just four of us, and we worked together really well.  We soon got a time split from the commissaires, and found we had a buffer of over a minute.  We passed Gladstone Hall, and turned towards Martinborough.  It was nice to be in a small, constructive group, and we rotated well, and at a solid pace.

Ben, moi, Chris and Rod's bum.  Photo:  Jorge Sandoval
As the kilometres ticked by, it was interesting to size up the other guys.  It was clear that Todd and I were stronger.  We were taking longer turns, and not missing any.  At one point I needed to play peacemaker as Todd took umbrage to something Chris had done.  We were driving it hard, and both riding lines and tempers were getting a bit ragged.

Shortly after Martinborough, Ben started swinging off the back, and fell victim to one of the short rollers after the Hinakura turn off.  Chris also stopped taking turns, much to Todd's annoyance.  I sensed that this Chris was genuinely on the ropes, and because he wasn't slowing us down, took no steps to dislodge him.  He took a turn once in a while, mainly to placate Todd, I think!

After the rollers, we received an interesting message.  Mark pulled alongside, and Dan let me know that Brendan and Callum were on their way.  I was told to stop working, which I kind of did.  While I was very happy with the prospect of their arrival, the time gaps we were getting suggested the bunch was not that far behind them, and until it was clear that we were not going to get swamped at the end, I was happy to keep the pressure on a bit.

They did finally catch us, near the place that Brendan had punctured on the out-bound journey.  I'd enjoyed a bit of a rest, and thinking that Brendan was our best bet for the finish, started working again to ensure the main field wasn't going to be a threat.

In the long finishing straight, I made a few attempts to break clear.  I figured Brendan and Callum would then be able to keep their powder dry while the opposition scrambled after me.  My last effort took me to within coo-ee of the line, and I was surprised to be passed only by Todd.

I was so surprised to finish second, I didn't dwell too much on losing first.  But, I will now - Brendan, Callum and I had a strong advantage, but didn't talk with one another.  We should have, and I should have won the race.

Andrew Young was credited with third place, and following his 4th in Race 1, took the leader's jersey from Hannes. 

2nd!  Andrew Young (c), Rod Carpinter (1st, r).  Photo:  Jorge Sandoval

The race had an interesting postscript, when someone posted a finish-line video to facebook.  Kerrin was the first to notice that it looked like Callum had beaten Andrew to the line.  A short while later, he'd put together a document complete with screenshots, and fancy terms like "parallax".  We submitted this to Jorge, and Andrew was soon relegated to 4th place.  He kept his leaders jersey though, with Brendan, Chris, Lyle Cumming and I eight points back on second equal.

Roadworks raked in the points in the teams competition, claiming the highest-placed third rider again, and bonus points for 2nd and 3rd.  We were considerably happier with our performance this time round.

It was back to being middle-aged men on Monday though.  

Race 3

There was some apprehension leading into the third race, due to a short section of gravel road which we'd race through five times.  We'd checked it out, and while the road surface itself was pretty benign, there were two 90-degree turns we'd have to negotiate.  These were nicely cambered, but both had a fair bit of debris which we'd need to be careful of.

There were murmurings of dragging out B-bikes and wheels, but in the end, we all started on our best gear.

Peter, Yancey, Kerrin, Jono, Callum, Brendan and I were all riding again, and we were joined by Glen for the first time.  He'd driven down from Tauranga on Friday, and overnighted with Brendan and I in Carterton.

On the start line, it was nice to see Jeremy Vennell himself lining up.  He and I had done some night-time mountain-biking together one winter in the late 90s, and I'd enjoyed following his successful career in the US since.

By the time we got onto the Carrington circuit, we'd been fairly active, but the bunch was almost all together when we hit the gravel for the first time, aside from Brendan who had attacked drawing out Ben Storey for company.

Backing myself to be able to close down a 20m gap once we were back on the seal, I was last onto the gravel and hung back to watch how things went in the bunch ahead.

Cautious, lap 1.  Photo:  Ricoh Riott

Mid-pack, mid-race.  Photo: Ricoh Riott

Lap 4, driving it.  Photo:  Ricoh Riott

Near the end of lap 3, it was clear Brendan and Ben were going to be caught.  Before that happened, I tried to get across to them to see if we couldn't get away together.  I made the bridge, but not alone, and ten minutes later, when we crossed the start-finish line at the start of the penultimate lap, I was surprised to see the relatively large size of the bunch.

I went off alone about five minutes away from the base of the short climb.  Sitting on my saddle, I simply pedalled harder, and without any visible "attack", I attacked nonetheless.

I wanted to get to the top of the climb alone, hoping that Brendan and Callum might attack on the climb, and come across without the majority of the bunch.  That didn't happen, and with the whole peloton snapping at my heels, I eased off, had something to eat and drink, and fumbled around for some matches to put back in my box.

I attacked in exactly the same place on the last lap, this time followed immediately by the ever attentive Jason McCarty.  As the course ducked and dived through a series of 90 degree turns, we had good visibility behind us, and I was surprised to see no response from the bunch.

Brendan describes that moment in very entertaining fashion.  Joel is privy to my power numbers, but Brendan had seen more of me on the road than anyone else leading into these races, and knew how hard I'd been working.  He knew in those early seconds when the field didn't react, that they'd just lost the race.

Jase and I weren't so certain, but we worked very hard to make it so.  We knew our own teams would not be chasing, and knew Andrew Young had little support with which to defend his jersey.  It seemed likely that there was going to be little coordinated chase. 

Jase and I traded turns, not quite in equal measure, but fairly, nonetheless. 

Last lap.  Photo:  Peter Moore

We were soon approaching the finish line, and I was increasingly conscious that one of us was not going to win this race.  Had it not been a team series, I would have gladly ridden across the line side by side, but knew I had to try to deliver for my guys.  A kilometre out, I couldn't stand the tension any longer, and swung off Jason's wheel and attacked as hard as I could.

It has instant effect, which in some ways made me feel even more of a prick for doing it!  I reached the line alone.  Despite having all the time in the world, I mustered what Kerrin rightly described as a pretty lousy victory salute.

Jase in the near distance, and the main field at the other end of the straight

Inside I was elated, outside, not so much!  Photo: Ricoh Riott

I've had some decent results on the road - a few tandem records, and line honours a couple of times in club races - but this felt very special.  And it got better.  Andrew had finished 5th, behind Jason, Hannes (who'd got the bunch kick), and Callum.  His resulting 9-point deficit to me had cost him the leader's jersey, by a mere point.

When I was announced as the winner of the stage, there was a lovely cheer from the crowd.  I've been road racing on and off with many of the guys in both masters fields and in the open grade, and I think they were conscious both of how hard I've worked over the years, and how little I've had to show for it!  I've been told sitting behind me is like drafting an apartment block, and I suspect those cheering the loudest had all enjoyed that at one time or another - to their advantage and at my cost.  It meant a great deal.

Race 3 podium:  Jason (l), moi, Hannes (r)

Another touching gesture was from Brendan, who admitted that he'd never been happier to lose a race!  We both knew that he'd set it up, by breaking away with Ben early in the race, and I think we'd both realised after race one that how ever hard it might be for both of us to break clear together, separately was another matter entirely.

Race 4

I've never regarded myself as a particularly competitive man, loving the thrill of the chase more than the result, the journey rather than the destination.  But, over the period between races 3 and 4, I was shocked at how much I'd enjoyed winning.  The buzz took a long time to die away, and I realised I wanted more of it.

At 85kg, the parcours for the next event was one I was ill-suited to.  After one lap of the (Race 1) Millar's Road circuit, we'd head over Kourarou, Limeworks, and then up the infamous Admiral's Hill.

Brendan and I had ridden the final climb one weekend earlier in the season.  Despite having the course profile accessible from our phones, we'd turned around at the first summit, discovering only once it was too late, that the stage would finish at the high-point of the road, a few kilometres after our turn-around point.

The weekend before the event, I headed out on my own, and hit both Kourarou and Admiral's pretty hard.  I was doing the Tour de Whitemans with Simon on the tandem the next day, but wanted to get a feel for Admiral's with heavy legs.  Some of the Rivet boys had been out there the same day, and before Joel instructed me to pull my file off strava so no-one could see how quick I'd gone, I was pleased to note I'd done well.

The Tour de Whitemans had been incredibly tough, and I spent the days before  race 4 really stressing out.  Andrew Young in particular had finished in front of Simon and I, and I found it impossible to infer from our placings how I might have fared mano-a-mano.

While I was concerned about my own capabilities, I had absolutely no worries about our team.  Kerrin and Jono had designated responsibility for the Millar's lap, at which point, Yancey, Glen, Callum, Brendan and I, supported by our final rider for the series, Scott McDonnell, would take over.

Mark was feeding us on Kourarou, and Oli and CJ were in prime position in the race convoy.

It is hard to imagine a team's race going any better.  Kerrin and Jono executed their roles to perfection, and for the first 30km or so, the rest of us were able to keep our powder totally dry.

We rode a solid tempo on Kourarou, with Brendan at the front for just about the whole climb.  I wasn't far behind him, and loved seeing how at ease he was as he regularly checked behind him to see how everyone was doing.

Te Wharau Hill.  Photo: Jorge Sandoval

Jorge Sandoval posted an amazing video to facebook the next week - it lasted about a minute, but as he drove past the main field, we were able to witness the moment each of a dozen or so riders lost touch.

Brendan's suffocating tempo had so effectively thinned the bunch out, there'd been no need for an attack of any sort, and after grabbing a bottle from Mark, and successfully negotiating the short, fast descent, and the nasty left-hander at the bottom, we were able to take stock.

Six of us had made it over, accompanied by Craig Chambers, Ben Storey, Matt Webber and the ever-impressive Jase McCarty from Rivet, one of Jeremy Vennell's team, Chris Clark, and Andrew Young himself.

As Callum, Yancey and Glen took control of the bunch, from relative shelter a few wheels back, I had the opportunity to lean over and say to Brendan, "what a team..."

Limeworks was negotiated with little fuss, aside from Callum shouting at me that I was dropping Brendan and should go faster (I wasn't, of course).

So, with just the main event to go, it looked like it was all coming down to Admiral's.  Andrew hadn't had his nose in the wind at all, happy just to sit in the wheels, watching his jersey on my back.  I hadn't fired any bullets either, and I was very uncomfortable putting all my eggs in the Admiral's basket.

So, I attacked - at full gas for a few seconds, and then easing off in the hope that Andrew would somehow burn more matches getting back to me than I just had luring him out.  I projected it a little too much, and I think he knew something was up and had moved up from the back of the bunch when I first launched.  Otherwise it felt like the right thing to do.  And a couple of times more for good measure.

Scott and Matt Webber took off soon after, and with them 30 seconds or so ahead, we ten remaining made the left turn onto Admiral's.

The first kilometres are not at all steep, but when it kicked up, things got interesting.  Brendan immediately vanished up the road ahead.  Perfect!

I did my very best impression of the incredible riding in the mountains we'd seen from (large for a pro-cyclist) Dutchman Tom Dumoulin in the Vuelta, and tapped out the highest tempo I felt I could cope with.

Callum rode alongside me for the most part, and behind, I could hear Andrew, or at least, Andrew's bike.  I took it as a good sign that every few seconds, he would change gear.  He was uncomfortable, and I made every attempt to keep him that way.

The three of us endured "The Wall" and after a very short descent, started climbing again.  The next section was a lovely gradient, and I really pushed hard - no sharp accelerations, but more of an asphyxiation.  About half way up, I heard Andrew falter.  I had no capacity to attack, but nor was I about to ease up.  There was more work to do, but this was an excellent start. 

Callum and I crested the first summit together, and he took point for the fast descent that followed.  We'd seen no-one else on the hill as we'd come up it, so got a hell of a fright when an SUV appeared from nowhere.  On a fairly sharp right-hand bend, I had to come off my line, and thought I was going to end up in the fence.  Somehow, I managed to keep it all together, and then turned my attention to catching back up to Callum!

We had a few minutes of relatively flat road before the road tipped up again for the final push to the line.  We could see Andrew behind, with company, so drove it hard.

We passed Matt Webber, and were now in 3rd and 4th places!  Nearing the line, I eased off - Andrew was well back, and while Callum probably would have let me take the final podium spot if I'd asked, I had a pretty sweet photo in mind...

Oli and CJ were waiting for us at the top, and this time I allowed myself a small celebration at the line.  Yancey was just behind me, having drafted Andrew to within a few minutes of the line, before attacking mercilessly to push him another couple of points back in the series!

Celebrating a job well done.  Photo:  Kirsten Hagan and Wheelworks Racing

Glen arrived soon after, in a fine 9th place, with Andrew, Matt Webber and Ben Storey between he and Yancey.  Jase was 14 seconds back, and it was amazing to think that our 6th rider had beaten every other team's third.

We were still celebrating when the leading open riders arrived, and it was a surprise to see Kerrin too, who'd ridden alone from Kourarou, stubbornly refusing to sit up.

Sarah and Khulan had ridden up the hill, and we kind of rolled down the hill together, and then back to the Gladstone Hall. 

I took the leader's jersey off, and took it to Jorge for the ceremony.  He laughed at me, and with scorn in his voice, said "this is not PNP"!!!  It was his way of saying I'd get another and could keep the one I'd worn!

The podium photo I'd imagined was everything I'd hoped for.  After Scott, Brendan and Callum had gone up for their top placing's, I was summoned to collect the leader's jersey, and for a brief moment, half the team was up on stage together, brogues, aviators, and all!

Jorge grabs the official podium photo, which could be mistaken for a team's presentation.  Photo: Oli Brooke-White

Our deeds had certainly not gone unnoticed, and we were soon treated to Dirty Nomad's glorious account.  Rereading it just now, makes we want to delete what I've just written, and apart from my beautiful and innocent daughters, send you all there...!!!  It was very nice to stumble upon a comment buried in Wheelworks' photo album of the day: 
"A huge ask for Roadworks' big unit John Randal at race four - hold the leaders jersey up Admiral's Hill, the nastiest and longest climb around. So how did he do? Roadworks took all five places on the day with John fourth. Best team tactics I've seen in a long time in Masters"
That generous endorsement of our ride meant a lot, and capped off a magic day nicely.  With one race to go, we'd carved out an insurmountable lead in the team series.

Race 5

The lead-up to race five featured a somewhat unlikely "training" session.  One arithmetic-laden hour, crunching the various permutations so that we fully understood what implications our finishing order might have.  Things were going to be interesting!

I was sitting 5 points ahead of Andrew, Brendan 4 behind him, and Callum another 4 adrift, with daylight between Callum and Chris Stevenson in 5th.  I sent an email around team management, describing how we might knock Andrew off the podium - if Callum and Brendan were 1st and 2nd, and Andrew as far back as 5th, I'd need to muster 3rd, 4th, 6th or 7th to determine where on the podium I stood. 

Brendan's response was interesting.  We'd both ridden for the Placemakers team in the South Island's Calder Stewart series, helping put Justin in the leader's jersey for the final round.  Things hadn't gone to plan, and on account of some bad luck, but also some bad management by his team on the day, the jersey had been lost.  Brendan was adamant 1st place was the only important one, and that we'd be best not to lose sight of that.

My take on it was different.  Andrew had the unenviable task of needing to contain three of us, since any one of us would be able to beat him in the series.  I was firmly of the view that our best chance of winning the series was to attack the living bejesus out of him (a technical roadie term, I'm sure), and that our strongest defence would be our collective willingness to see a team-mate win the series.

We had a three week gap, and it was a mixed bag, training-wise.  I had a confidence inspiring session on the wind-trainer, where I scored a PB on Sufferfest Revolver, followed by a not so inspiring ride at Taupo.  The weekend prior I went and rode the course at pace, just to get a feel for it.  The parcours was not hard, so we'd need to rely on our legs to put people under pressure.

We had a full house, which was great.  Scotty had asked if he could join us again, and although we had to ask Jonathan to step down, Jorge opened the race to all and sundry, so he was able to ride incognito.  Kerrin, Yancey, Glen and Peter made up our eight.  Dan was able to DS, and even Oli had managed to clear his decks, and would be there for what would hopefully be a glorious day for the Roadworks team.  We were also blessed with CJ's presence once more.

The wind was up, and once we were racing, it was coming left to right across the road.  The pace went up, and the ensuing shambles was pretty embarrassing.  It was a great shame it took a nasty crash in the right hand gutter (of all places) to bring us all back into line. 

We were neutralised for quite some time, with the commissaires trying to allow those caught up in the crash (whose bikes had come through relatively unscathed) to be paced back up to us by their team cars.  This all took so long, we actually started to wonder if the Masters Two peloton would be snapping at our heels.

Eventually we were cleared to race again, and boy did we.  I don't think I've ever spent so much time out of my saddle in a race as I did over the next hour or so.  There was barely a moment when one or other of us wasn't going off the front. And time and again, we'd be brought back, often by Andrew himself.

Kerrin leading the way, something Callum was clearly enjoying!  Photo: thanks to Di Chesmar

Despite the aggression, nothing was visibly happening, and the peloton was largely intact as we approached the turn at Alfredton.  Things were happening under the hood though, and when it was full gas out of the turn, the bunch got cut in half. 

We were well represented - only Peter and Kerrin (and Jono!) were caught behind the split - while Andrew had only one team-mate with him.  Jase, Ben Storey and Grant Perry were there from Rivet, and Ben and Kevin from Tararua Builders.  Judging by their faces, they were enjoying themselves, following wheels and watching the fireworks as we incessantly tried to break Andrew. 

And failed for the most part.  It was actually amazing what he endured, time and time again winching himself back up to whichever Roadworks wheel was up the road. 

We kept trying, and the inevitable finally happened.  Brendan unleashed, and it was as if the bunch breathed a collective sigh of relief, and watched him go. Saying they let him go wouldn't be quite right - it implies not doing so was possible.

At that moment, I knew we'd won the series.  I've heard plenty of tales of Brendan's racing career as we've enjoyed the countryside together, and I knew this man was no stranger to riding to the line alone.  He had 20km or thereabouts to ride, but I knew he was not only in his element, but had a strong desire to perform.

Perhaps it was effect of the dozens of attacks dulling my analytical mind, or maybe it was just inexperience, but I made a serious tactical error at that point.  Despite my fatigue, I didn't change what I was doing to reflect that Brendan was up the road, and without him, simply tried to keep bludgeoning Andrew into submission. 

Nearing the finish, it was clear that this wasn't going to work, and I started trying to gather myself for something different.  Dan rolled up alongside, and told me where I'd need to place to keep the jersey.  It was far from certain, but also not out of the question. 

I'd checked out the course, and had deliberately ridden hard.  I knew that the last stretch would be tough, but thought that maybe, just maybe, I'd manage to get away.  I figured I'd have one chance down on the flatter, and if that failed, I could completely empty the tank on the climb to the line.

My first attempt, following Ben Knight, failed, and while it had seemed promising for a few moments, that glimpse had probably doomed it to failure as I'd gone slightly harder than I could cope with.  Immediately others attacked, and while Andrew was still here, and Brendan's spot above Andrew was secured, I was now fairly certain I wouldn't be taking the jersey home.

The nail in the coffin came somewhat as a surprise.  Despite the course map and elevation profile showing a 90 degree turn and a climb to the line, the finish-line was down on the flat!!!!  It took me half of the finishing straight to comprehend that it wasn't where it was supposed to be, and by the time it had registered, I was almost dead last in the bunch.  I'd not only run out of road to recover from my most recent effort, but also to get a decent position organised. 

For the next few minutes, I was in emotional turmoil.  I was thrilled for Brendan  that he'd won the race, and for the way he'd won it.  Callum too had been well ahead of me, and I'd been right behind Andrew, so it was pretty certain that we'd managed to knock him off the podium entirely.  Adding to the already secured team prize, the race had been a complete success.

Tempering my elation for the team and my friend, was the urge to cry.  My brain wasn't able to focus at all, and it made for a somewhat confusing time, as I swung from one emotional extreme to the other.  I was exhausted, and frustrated, and I felt like I'd let an amazing opportunity to succeed slip through my grasp.  It was hard to process.

My family were on hand - Sarah and the girls, and my parents too, and embracing them helped.  So too was it good to hug Oli, and Dan, both of whom knew what I was going through beneath the hood. 

I sought out Andrew, first privately, and then again in front of his team, telling them how impressed I'd been at his riding.  It was unbelievable how long he'd been able to weather the mighty Roadworks storm.

 "A great moment of top sportsmanship between the classy Andrew Young and John - these guys had a ding-dong battle most of the series, but the mutual respect was always evident." 
Photo and caption: Oli Brooke-White

We rolled back to Masterton as a team, and once back at my car, I couldn't wait to take the orange jersey off.  Completely aside from the fact that my team jersey was clean, I felt much better with it on, and more pointedly, the other one off.  We had quite a long wait before the prizegiving, due to the Elite field's longer course, but Jorge had provided some food, and the bar at the venue was a good source of cold drinks. 

Shortly before the ceremony, the results were posted up, and for a while I felt certain I'd slip to third in the series.  Callum had finished a fine fourth place, behind Brendan, Scotty and Jase, while I was back in eleventh.  In the end, I was saved by the single-point margins that kicked in after 8th place, with final points for the series being:   Brendan (87 from a maximum 125), me (78), Callum (76), Andrew (75) and Jase (59). 

The final kick in the guts for the day, and one which was much harder to recover from than the result, was when I was handed the microphone to introduce Roadworks Reparto Corse for the team classification.  I had no trouble remembering who everyone was (unlike the Elite guy who called out his team-mates!!), but while I'd called Oli and CJ to the stage, had not brought Dan up.  Despite him telling me he thought the stage was for the riders, I felt responsible for omitting him. 

Roadworks Reparto Corse: (l to r) Peter Murphy, Scott McDonnell, Jonathan Leonard, Kerrin Allwood, Yancey Arrington, Glen Carabine, me, Brendan McGrath, Callum Kennedy, Oli Brooke-White, Christopher Johnston.  Absent:  Mark Donald, Cliff Clermont, Joel Healy and Dan Waluszewski
While a few guys had to scoot, many were able to come back to Lincoln Road in Carterton for a late lunch.  I'd managed to put together a lasagne between breakfast and leaving for the race, and Sarah had done a chicken curry in the slow cooker.  I'd also busted out my sister's famous trifle recipe, and we were all armed with a good excuse to hoe in.  

Before we called it a day, I took the opportunity to thank those there.  I passed on my regret that Joel had been cruelly prevented from being on the road with us, but stressed his integral part in putting the team together.  I also said how much I'd enjoyed riding in this team, not least because of the way we'd approached the racing.  While the team clearly had talent: 1st, 2nd and 3rd on GC, wins in 3 out of 5 stages, and 1st in the team's competition, it was the positive racing (and attitudes generally) that had lead to those mighty results which made them for me.

* * * * *
After almost a couple of months to reflect, I'm incredibly proud of what we achieved as a team, and what I achieved personally.

Had someone told me earlier in the year that I'd finish second overall to the M2 National Champion in a 5-race series, I would have thought them slightly crazy, and would have acknowledged that it would be an outcome I'd gladly take.  I've been careful to remind myself of that - coming 2nd was a great achievement, not a failure.

Losing the jersey to Brendan had been tough, but something I'd pointed out to him was that under no circumstances should he feel like he'd taken it from me.  I had indeed lost it.  With the benefit of hindsight, I know now that I needed to completely reset once he'd got up the road, and should've switched into a completely defensive mode thereafter.  That was my fault, not his, something I think we're both glad about.

I was also fascinated to note that we'd kind of gone full circle with the way we'd approached the races.  In many ways, the fifth was most like the first, except for the fact that it had been successful.  I think the main difference was actually not how we'd ridden, but how the other teams had - in the end happy to sit back and watch the fireworks. 

The series was a massive learning experience for me, and the win in the third race is something that I'll be proud of for years to come.  In the last 12 months I've hit a level that I've never been at before - and its fascinating to still be on an upward trajectory at the ripe old age of 42.  I put a lot of this down to Joel Healy, who has been an excellent coach since he took me on during the 2014 NI Series.  The things he gets me to do are almost all unpleasant, yet I greatly appreciate them.  But too, I take them seriously.  As Brendan said to me early in the series:  "anyone can suffer during a race, but suffering during training is less easy to do."  Man, I suffered.

I had the pleasure to ride in a team with some amazing guys.  I've always loved the way Callum rides Wednesday Worlds, and it was great to have him on board.  While I reckon I did alright, Kerrin gets my nod for most-improved, and I look forward to seeing him win a big race soon.  It was cool to meet Jono, Glen, Yancey and Scott for the first time, and to ride again with Mark, Peter and Cliff. CJ and Dan were great in the DS role, and as always, Oli and the Roadworks brand are something that fuels the cyclist in me like nothing else.

Thanks to the other teams in the series, and too to Jorge Sandoval and his team for giving us all the opportunity to add the team dimension to our weekend racing. 

Best of all, this series was the vehicle for a great new friendship.  Brendan and I have ridden regularly together since we met early in 2015, and during many wet and cold hours on the road in the depths of winter, found something highly motivational in one another. 

Recently, he reminded me of a single defining moment for him - in the early hours one weekday morning, wet, and enduring single-digit temperatures, we passed each other on the Makara Loop.  He was going towards Karori, and I was going towards town.  He knew at that moment we'd do well, given the shit we were both putting ourselves through.

He was right.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Red Rocks to White Rock: Longest Day, 2015

Way back in July, Brendan had a cyclocross bike on order, and I proposed an overnighter that would be a perfect shake-down ride:  following the coast from Red Rocks in Wellington all the way around to White Rock on south-east of Martinborough in the Wairarapa.  It seemed like a good opportunity for a fun adventure, and also for Brendan to get to know two of my best riding buddies, Dave and Simon.  All were keen, but the challenge of finding a suitable weekend was simply too much.  The road racing season started, and with all of us having heavy family commitments, the idea was shelved...

... but not forgotten.  It is very rare that I let go of an idea I regard as "good", and so it was that this missed opportunity nagged at me.  Come mid-December, I was pretty raced out, and I had an increasing desire to return to my spiritual home on the bike: riding from Point A to Point B.

The Longest Day was looming, and completely aside from the Longest Day Ride being an actual phenomenon, it came at a very convenient time, nestled nicely in between exam marking, and Christmas.  After a very successful (and very long) tandem ride back in 2012, I was looking forward to notching up another.

I made no effort to rustle up company, partly because I didn't want to reopen the coordination can of worms, but also because I wanted some solitude.  As a result, preparation consisted of swapping out the suspension fork on my Yeti Big Top for a nice light carbon fork, and replacing the chunky MTB tyres with some semi-slick Stan's Ravens.

On the eve of the ride, I was a bit stressed about the beginning, having been reminded that Long Gully had removed access to mountain bikes, but, I managed to get Steve Watson's cell phone number, and before too long had his blessing to pass through his land.  Had I not heard from him, I would've had no choice but to ride the Red Rocks track - not something I was looking forward to on my rigid steed.  As it was, I had a short but stress-free sleep.

My alarm went off 5am, and I replaced my usual porridge which something that took a little less time (and was quieter) to prepare.  At 5:40, I was out the door, and ready to roll...

05:40, 0km

06:09, 5km.  I managed to get past this amusing gaggle of geese in Long Gully unscathed.  The ride up Wright's Hill Road had been a nasty way to start the day, but progress was good down towards the coast

06:22, 10km.  Part way through the descent from Long Gully to the coast, overlooking Cook Strait.  I always enjoy stopping here, especially if going in the opposite direction!

06:38, 14km.  Here with some rent-a-rocks.  A couple of my geologist buddies have since pointed out my poor form in not photographing the bike against bedrock...  In any case, RED ROCKS!!

07:24, 30km.  On a lovely little bit of track in Seatoun.  I'd decided not to explore the cliff above Breaker Bay, but had hung a right immediately after Pass of Branda and found this gem

07:24, 30km.  Steeple Rock.  I spent a moment fondly remembering trips to this rock in my uncle Colin's dinghy, and clambering over it while he scuba-dived for crays and fish

07:59, 47km.  Oriental Bay after a noisy ride around the Miramar Peninsula and Evans Bay.  The big 2" tyres definitely (literally) hum along, in contrast to the high pressure slick tyres on my roadies which figuratively do...

09:04, 62km.  I'd met Brendan for a coffee and a scone at iRide - 2nd breakfast, or morning tea, but definitely too early to call it lunch.  This mini detour onto Petone Wharf was just about the only time I wasn't heading in the right direction

09:12, 65km.  A neat little harbour near the mouth of the Hutt River.  I'd stayed on the cycle path all the way from the Petone off-ramp, and the route through McEwan Park had brought back nice memories of the City Safari earlier in the year

09:15, 66km. In Seaview, with a nice view over the Hutt River mouth of the harbour entrance

09:33, 72km. A quick coffee stop with Sarah, who had driven there en route to Martinborough.  The coffee was OK, but the cheese scone was decidedly not.  The Chocolate Dayz cafe had been closed unfortunately, so we'd resorted to its neighbour

10:06, 83km.  Approaching Pencarrow Head, and its pair of lighthouses.  I'd been harangued on the Eastbourne Esplanade, by a woman who'd seen me coming from a mile away, but wanted to tell me how a cyclist had frightened her another time. I lied, and said this was my first ride around there in 20 years so it couldn't possibly have been me.  I won't be putting a bell on my bike, despite her plea

10:12, 85km looking towards Baring Head. I'd recently been passed by a bus which was just approaching the next point.  I was curious to see why they were there, and around the corner saw them grovelling their way up a steep gravel road to Pencarrow Lodge

10:27, 89km.  Just below the turn-off to the Baring Head lighthouse.  The warm day and light sou-easter were a far cry from the shitty conditions that Kaitlyn and I had endured on our ride to the lighthouse a few months earlier

10:32, 90km.  Overlooking the Wainui Coast Road

10:43, 93km.  The size of this gigantic sign seemed connected to the amusing detour avoiding about 50 metres of road through private land leading up to the bridge over the Orongorongo River, which apparently there's an easement for!
10:45, 93.1km.  Said Orongorongo River

10:46, 93.2km.  I sincerely hoped that I wouldn't be taking 5 hours to get to Ocean Beach, but it was nice to have a distance for reference

10:55, 98km.  Looking out towards Cape Palliser

11:20, 101km.  This fellow was heading to Martinborough.  I didn't take much time out of him on foot, but his very heavy load certainly slowed him down on the bike!

11:36, 107km.  Looking up the Mukamuka towards Mt Matthews

11:47, 109km.  Ocean Beach.  A nice way to arrive in the Wairarapa

12:08, 116km.  Looking across Lake Onoke (which until this moment I thought was Lake Ferry) to Lake Ferry.  As the crow flies, not far, but I can't fly

12:30, 127km.  About to head east on the East-West Access Road.  The highlights of the road-bash north had been the wind somewhat behind me, and watching a crop-dresser landing on a ridge high above the paddocks it was working on

12:45, 131km.  Plenty of cow shit suspended in the waters of Lake Wairarapa on their way to the Pacific Ocean.  Gross

13:11, 142km.  My GPS had had a bit of a tantrum which had necessitated a stop.  I'd been in touch with Sarah, and thought we were meeting at the intersection just behind me, but she'd gone ahead to Pirinoa.  I don't think she'd drawn the heart when she passed, but it seemed apt!

13:41, 151km.  Fuelling up at the Pirinoa Store.  I managed to smash back two pies and a bottle of iced coffee.  My bag was still full of One Square Meals, and Sarah had plenty too, so we didn't do much other shopping.  It seemed somewhat irresponsible, since this was the last definite food stop until Martinborough.  Sarah had agreed to pick me up in Martinborough, and at the last minute I'd suggested she join me for the second half of my ride.  At this point she'd ridden 30km from Martinborough, plus another 10km once she'd back-tracked rather than wait for me at the store!

14:36, 165km.  Looking back over Palliser Bay to Turakirae Head.  I was having a bit of a nightmare trying to adjust to Sarah's pace.  I was pretty tired by this stage, and thought she'd be tearing my legs off.  She sped up a bit once I'd relieved her of the 1.5L bottle of water in her backpack!  I think it was mostly a protest-ending move!

14:48, 169km.  Looking along the old road at a couple of baches which are not long for this earth.  The sea will be claiming them soon, if they're not demolished and carted away first

14:59, 170km.  More new road, slowly on its way towards the ocean, at a guess

15:32, 180km.  The wind was up, and was coming straight at our faces.  Progress was really slow, but at least we were heading towards a sharp left turn, whereupon things should get a bit easier
15:57, 186km.  Approaching Ngawi, with the golf course either side of the roads - not a golfer in sight

16:00, 187km.  It seems no-one in Ngawi is keen to share their bulldozer.  Fair enough, I suppose!  It's not often you have an excuse to own one!

16:09, 187.5km.  Celebrating after discovering a woman in a caravan selling food!  My mocha was not at all great, but Sarah's tea, and our scoop of chips slid down very nicely indeed.  And, it was bloody nice to sit in the sun for a while

16:10, 187.5km.  Looking north-west, or thereabouts.  Turakirae Head clearly visible, and Sinclair Head in the haze beyond it

16:34, 188km.  Time to hit the gravel again, for the first time since Ocean Beach (and for Sarah, since forever).  Not a great shot of Kupe's Sail, the rock on the left

16:40, 191km.  It takes a while to see the seals lying on the rocks, but you know they're there well before, by virtue of the stench

16:51, 192km.  Cape Palliser lighthouse.  There were far too many steps between it and us, so we left that particular mission for another day

16:56, 195km.  Remnants of an old farmhouse made for a perfectly good snack-stop

17:04.  Very welcoming signs at this end of the track.  We did shut every gate (that wasn't laden with a million padlocks), and had absolutely no intention of camping!

17:20, 199km.  This was the most incredible sight - we'd seen it coming from a wee way off, and the evening light was accentuating its uniqueness.  Mind-blowing

17:27, 200km.  Almost completely devoid of vegetation, not much of this sandy section was rideable.  But, the rain of the previous evening, and the odd 4WD that had passed through did give some opportunities to stay on the bike

17:30, 201km. We'd had glimpses of White Rock out in the distance, but by now it was an almost permanent feature in the view ahead.  The reef in between it and us had very nifty wave patterns criss-crossing it, and by now, the wind was behind us

17:45, 203km.  We'd safely negotiated a steep 4WD climb and descent, a big gate, but not the aggressive signage we'd see on the back of the last gate we scaled, thank goodness

18:03, 206km.  A kind Canadian tourist was hanging out here with his (presumably rental) SUV.  He'd been told he could bypass the private land at low tide by riding on the beach.  Rather him than us!!!!   White Rock really is white!  WHITE ROCK!

18:21, 209km.  With the ocean now at our backs, the scenery change was a welcome one.  The obvious gravel road we'd taken was not the route I'd mapped - gunning for the end of Tora Road, I'd plotted a route further along the coast.  We'd passed a sign indicating 49km to Martinborough, so were not worried about getting lost

19:02, 223km.  Stopping for a bite to eat.  The gravel road was among the sweetest I've ridden, and it was only the livestock that were keeping us on our toes.  Sarah was moving at a good pace, and remarkably, my legs were holding up well.  On the other hand, my GPS was on its last legs, and I kept nervously checking that Strava was still running on the phone in my pocket...  It would have been horrible had the ride not happened

19:20.  A random stunning sight on the road to Martinborough.  At Tuturimuri (231km), we left the gravel for good, and it was sealed road all the way home.  A shame, since the Ravens always feel slower on tarmac

20:29, 243km.  Looking up at the modest Hau Nui wind farm.  While waiting for Sarah to complete the 250vm climb, I enjoyed the first bit of cell-phone coverage for a while.  Brendan was keen to know if we were safe - I'd turned down his offer at iRide of an EPIRB - and when I told him we still had 20km to go, his response was "Holy cow" to which I replied "Tell me about it!"

21:10, 258km.  Finally looking down over the lights of Martinborough, very much looking forward to stopping, and even more, to something hot and greasy!

Sarah had left the car by the Square, and I turned Strava off at around 21:30, with 263.6km on the clock, for a few minutes under 13 hours moving, and almost 16 hours since I'd left home.  Sarah's loop had been 147km - a monster effort in itself.

Due to the hour, we had to drive to Masterton, and I thought we were staring down the barrel of my first visit to McDonalds since the midnight finish of the Kiwi Brevet, and my second in a couple of decades.  But, we were saved by Pizza Hut!  One of the best things about these rides was eating somewhat with impunity at the end of them, and that's exactly what we did.

We stayed the night in Carterton, before returning to Wellington on Christmas Eve to do some last minute shopping.  I managed a (very slow) ride to Makara Beach and back with Sarah on Christmas morning, and a Bays+Hawkins ride with Brendan on Boxing Day. 

Even had the legs not bounced back so fast, this incredible ride would still have been well worth it.  I'm not sure I'd recommend doing the whole lot in one go, but the coastline offers some truly wonderful sights.  It was wonderful to have Sarah's company, and mostly stunning weather.  This one definitely goes in the "Roaring Success" folder.

Here's the GPX file, and strava, so you know what segments to hit up...!!

Happy New Year, everyone!