Thursday, May 17, 2018

Training Camp 2: banking miles

The team's first and only other get-together, was back in Cambridge in early December.  Since, we've had plenty of interaction online, discussing among other things, jersey design and logistical matters ahead of our lap of France.  Jonathan, owner of Rouleur Bike Tours, and operator of our wee adventure has been great with keeping us up to date with things. 

Recently, I've had a couple of opportunities to see team-mates:  Steven and Aaron at the Graperide, and Stu at Road Club Nationals, where I was managing the Wellington Master's Cycling Club team (Jason I literally saw, but he was whistling past on his bike and we didn't get the opportunity to talk).

Mid-April marked the end of our fourth 4-week training block, after which Hayden had booked in some serious miles, for the period 25-29 April.  The nice thing was, we'd all be together, this time in Christchurch.

While I'd driven to Cambridge, one of the small benefits of the trip to Christchurch was that flying provided a nice test for the real thing at the end of June.  My BMC had recently been serviced by Oli - usually I make no special requests, and his "stem to stern" once-over has the bike running like new.  I did report the need for slightly longer cable outers, and as a result, packing the bike up for travel was a breeze (previously, I couldn't swing the bar into position without crimping an internally routed cable).

After a hectic couple of days' work, it was nice to pull the pin on the week on Tuesday evening.  My flight got into Christchurch just after 8pm, and I was picked up by Jonathan about 10 minutes later.

All present and correct
Our accommodation in Cambridge had been palatial, and while the Airbnb Jonathan had booked in Upper Riccarton did have beds for everyone, the two in the lounge doubled as couches!  I nabbed one of the single beds in a room in the reconfigured garage, and was joined before lights out by my room-mate for the duration of the camp, Steven, who'd driven up from Waimate.

Day 1 - Gentle warm up

Getting breakfast organised could have been an absolute nightmare had ten hungry men descended upon the small kitchen simultaneously, but luckily, everyone seemed to be on slightly different schedules, and there wasn't ever a long queue at the stovetop and/or microwave.

Stu hadn't stayed with us at the house, but arrived after breakfast, and led us all out to where Hayden was waiting near Tai Tapu.

For our first day, we had eleven in the bunch:  the eight "tourists" (Aaron, Bruce, Jason, Mike, Paul, Steven, Stuart and myself), as well as Hayden, Jonathan, and our mechanic/soigneur, Bill!  The sun was out, and being in the bunch was a great opportunity to chat to everyone.  Graperide aside, it was probably the first time I'd ridden in a bunch of more than 2 or 3 riders since the first training camp!

We were largely on very quiet roads, and the route took us out as far as Leeston.  We stopped for coffee before farewelling Hayden and Stu, and riding home.

Jonathan had lined up access to a sauna and pool near Cathedral Square, so we piled into the vehicles, and headed into town.  In the end, I couldn't be arsed with all the fiddle-faddle, so sat at a cafe/bar with Bruce and chatted while the others had their water-fun.

We had dinner at a nearby Indian restaurant, before heading back to base.  The next day's "Queen Stage" beckoned...

Stats:  130km ridden, 160m climbed!  0 punctures, 0 crashes.  Dry, 13 degrees.

Day 2 - Oh, the glorious peninsula

I'd had the pleasure of riding on the Banks Peninsula a couple of times before (most recently at the 2011 Petit Brevet) and was very much looking forward to the camp's ride number two - Hayden had sent us all a bit of a run-down, so we knew roughly where we'd be heading each day. 

As an added bonus, most would be back to work after yesterday's ANZAC Day public holiday, so this felt like a treat on that front too.

Jonathan was riding with us, while Bill and Matty from Silver Eye Films would be supporting the team in a vehicle.

We rode to meet Hayden, and then made our way out through Tai Tapu before crossing over Gebbies Pass and out to Diamond Harbour.  There, we stopped for a bit of a refuel and clothing adjustment.  The merits or supported riding were immediately obvious, and Bill had done a fine job at the grocery store!

Looking back the way we'd come
We were able to get our legs warm again before hitting the Purau - Port Levy Road climb, which ascends the best part of 400m at an average gradient of 10%.  I rode on Jason's shoulder for almost all of it, but near the top started to worry about bringing my breakfast up, so had to ease off and let him go!

Despite the climb taking almost 20 minutes, it was a relatively short wait for the entire group to reassemble, which bodes well for the long French climbs we'll tackle in July.

A quick regroup, while Matty warms up the drone

The descent was a stunner, but I couldn't help but stop to grab a shot of Port Levy in the distance.

Once back down at sea level, we enjoyed the remaining tar seal, before starting to climb again, and turning off onto the gravel Port Levy Pigeon Bay Road.

Port Levy
This time I found myself climbing with Hayden and Stu.  The gravel would alternate between a surface smoother than many sealed roads, and one littered with loose chip.  The gradient was pretty sublime though, and only needed the odd effort out of the saddle.

After about 25 minutes tapping away, we crested the climb, and decided we'd be warmer waiting for the others at the bottom of the hill, and pushed on... for a minute or so, until Hayden was halted by a pinch flat!  I'm sure the irony was not lost on him, since he'd suggested we all run 120psi for the day to avoid suffering this very fate.  I was fascinated to see how my tubeless tyres would fare - they were down around 80psi, just between you and I!

Hayden fixing his flat. Stu and Steve posing!  Pigeon Bay in the background
Unfortunately, the puncture was not the only drama on the gravel descent.  I took a fairly conservative approach, drifting back through the field, but came around a corner to find Steve settling himself down in a pile on the road.  It was soon apparent that he'd taken a bit of a knock to the head, and the call was made to get him to hospital for a check up.  Not only could he not remember the crash, but he also had no recollection of Hayden's puncture a few minutes earlier.  He asked incessantly "what happened?" but none of us had seen the incident play out. 

Fortunately, we had the support vehicle, and with Steve and his bike safely stowed, Bill, Jonathan and Matt gave us our final neutral service a couple of hundred metres before the top (?!?!) of the sealed climb out of Pigeon Bay before high-tailing it to Christchurch to get Steve checked out.

Akaroa Harbour in the background
The puncture and crash had slowed us down a bit, and so the optional drop down to Barry's Bay was off the table, and we took all took the ridgetop road along to Hilltop before the long descent into Little River.

Mike punctured on the way down, and I stopped with him while he replaced the tube.  He and I were hoping to find the team settled in at one of the cafes in Little River, but alas, they were all waiting for us at the petrol station, and we learnt the call had been made to head straight back to Christchurch.

It was a flat run back, but we did have a headwind to contend with.  I spent a lot of time on the front with Stu, and was fascinated to hear stories from the couple of years he spent racing in France.

Steven, getting his temperature taken...
We got home to find that Steve was OK, but in hospital under observation for a few more hours.  We distracted ourselves at a nearby Lone Star, and ran through a few logistical issues in Bruce's bedroom before turning in.

Stats:  158km ridden, 2000m climbed.  Two punctures, one crash.  Dry, 16 degrees.

Day 3 - Last of the summer weather

The highlight of the third day was seeing Steve back in the saddle.  Ironically, he's a GP, and possibly would have suggested to his own patients that they rest up, but in any case, he felt well enough to give the ride a try. 

Hayden dropped by our accommodation, led us out of Christchurch on the Old West Coast Road, and took us on a big old loop through Burnham to the bottom of Gebbies Pass once more.

We were due for two ascents of "The Bastard".  Things were relatively civilised through to the Gebbies Pass turn off, but soon after, Stu put in a costly surge, and not long after that, I was unable to cope with the torrid pace Jason and Hayden were setting.

The first full ascent took me just under 35 minutes, during which time stopping to photograph the stunning views over Lyttelton Harbour seemed like a good option (but one I managed to resist).  I was feeling pretty trashed by the top, and laboured along the summit road to the Sign of the Kiwi.

Summit Road, overlooking Christchurch
Coffees were waiting for us there, as well as a TV One news crew.  The Victoria University of Wellington Communications team had reached out to the media in advance of the training camp, and it was pleasing to see there'd been some interest.

L-R:  Bill, Aaron, Stu, Jonathan, Bruce
We were asked to do a bit of riding up and down the road for the cameras, but Hayden wasn't having a bar of it.  We were his priority, and he didn't want the ride duration blowing out any more than necessary.  (It gave fascinating insight into the mind of an elite athlete, and gave a clue as to one of many things that enable them to be so...)

The compromise was for Aaron, Hayden and myself to be interviewed down at Governor's Bay, while the others got a head start on the second ascent of the Bastard.

Aaron being filmed, while Jonathan and Hayden wait
After our short interviews, Aaron and I cruised off together, fully expecting to be mowed down by Hayden before too long - we imagined him being motorpaced up to us at 60km/h by Jonathan.  He did catch us, but alone, and not until Gebbie's Pass.  By that time, I'd fully committed to cruising, and didn't even attempt to chase him, saving me the ignominy of not being able to!  Playing silly-buggers up the hill the first time, and then all the stop-start since, had tapped me out, both physically and mentally.

Lyttelton Harbour
I met Paul near the top of the Bastard, enjoyed a photo stop, then waited for Aaron up on Summit Road, before regrouping with the others at the Sign of the Kiwi.  Disappointingly, there were no coffees waiting the second time around!

We'd been booked in for yoga that evening, but cancelled.  That was good for me, since I managed to avoid opting out of yet another extra-curricular activity! 

We had Indian again for dinner, joined by Jonathan's partner, Julie.  It was great that Steve had made it through the day OK, despite his road rash and previous day's ordeal.  He and I celebrated by staying up way too late looking at old photos and chatting...

Stats:  144km ridden, 1450m climbed.  0 punctures, 0 crashes.  Dry, 15 degrees.

Day 4 - Wet gorges

We'd been treated to some stunning riding, in lovely conditions, but woke to find the forecasters had been spot on.  As Hayden pointed out to us, we'd have no control over the weather in France, and the implication was there was no opting out at the training camp either!  Wet and cold was the order of the day.

Hayden was as punctual as ever, and we all begrudgingly rolled out a couple of minutes later.  Bill was riding the first half with us, and would swap with Jonathan in Oxford.

We headed north out of Christchurch, ducking and diving around, so that before too long, I had absolutely no idea where we were (the GPS on my handlebars would have enlightened me, I suppose...).

Before we reached Rangiora, we passed through the red-zone of Brooklands, which was pretty freakin' eerie.  Jonathan was waiting for us in Rangiora, and we quickly raided the food he'd grabbed for us at the supermarket.  Given the weather conditions, we were moderately better off moving than not, although sitting in even a luke-warm spa pool would have trumped both.

Hayden was aiming for a 200km ride, so we did a side loop out to Sefton, and then a second out past Loburn, during which we rode straight past Sarah's Kiwi-mum's place - one of the rare moments in the ride that I knew where I was!

It was then west through the Ashley Gorge, and into Oxford, where I was delighted to find a replica of the Sheffield Pie Shop.  Jonathan had pre-ordered coffees, but I couldn't resist ordering a steak and cheese pie too.  I swear it was the best damn pie I'd had in quite some time, and it was mighty tempting to have a second.

Pie fan?  Stop here...

The stop was a good opportunity to put a dry shirt on, but I almost didn't bother - this ride was proving a bloody good test for my new Gore shakedry jacket, and it was passing with FLYING colours.

We were quite a way inland by now, so it was time for the false flats to work in our favour.  Indeed, we had a pretty quick run back into town, pausing only when Jason's bike-mounted pump decided to randomly fly apart.

I think Hayden either had pity on us, or was as sick of the endless stream of water in the face as the rest of us were, and we made a beeline for home.  Despite shortening it, the ride was still solid, and we averaged just over 31km/h for the 180km we completed.  The team cohesion was impressive, and everyone seemed to be ticking along really well, despite mounting fatigue in the legs. 

It was Paul's birthday, and we celebrated by dining at Lone Star again.  He was treated to a rowdy rendition of "Happy Birthday", around which time, people's cell phones started going off like crazy - our clip had screened on One News, triggering a few donations, and a lot of supportive messages.

We had a short stroll back to our digs after dinner, and slept well in anticipation of another wet ride the next day.

Stats:  180km ridden, 400m climbed.  0 punctures, 0 crashes.  Wet, 8 degrees.

Day 5 - Getting it done

We woke to very similar conditions on the Sunday morning - the final day of the training camp. 

Bruce and Paul, and Jonathan, Julie and Bill had early flights, so only Mike, Aaron, Jason, Steven and myself rolled out suited up in our foul-weather gear.  We were anticipating meeting Hayden and Stu about 15 minutes away.

We'd typically taken a cycle path between Wigram Road and the motorway en route to meet Hayden, but on account of the weather, and lateness, Mike and I stayed on the road.  The cycle path was out of sight, so when we got to the second bridge and they weren't there, it wasn't obvious whether they were ahead or behind us.  After a short pause, we decided to keep moving.

Half an hour later, there was still no sign of them, and so Hayden, Stu, Mike and myself finally figured there was no point waiting any longer.  A couple of wet and cold hours later, we were back where we started, and I for one was none the wiser for where we'd been!   The only clue had been the constantly changing wind conditions.  (A common theme of the camp had been people getting home, uploading to strava, and only then making some sense of it all.)

Mike and I said our thanks and farewells to Hayden, who I sincerely hope to see again, but not until we're back from France.  He was certainly part of the lure of this adventure, and it has been a pleasure to work with him.  Not only has he done an awesome job getting us all into shape, but has done it incredibly respectfully and warmly - if you're in the market for a coach, I highly recommend you check out

Photo pretty much consistent with the conditions.  Shit.
We said goodbye to Stu a few minutes later, though we'll be seeing each other again in Nantes, France, on July 3.  

Stats:  80 pan-flat km ridden.  0 punctures, 0 crashes.  Wet, 7 degrees.

Summing up

All-told, we rode just under 700km together, very harmoniously indeed.  It bodes very well for our French mission.  We were really well supported by Jonathan, Bill, Matt and Julie, and seemed to look after each other well, too.

Five rides in the countryside surrounding Christchurch
The team's fundraising is going really well indeed - at time of posting, we're collectively closing in on $32,000, and well on the way to reaching our revised target of $50,000.

We have Team Facebook page, which I encourage you to Like, if you're that way inclined.  There you'll find a couple of short videos Matt made from the second day of the camp.  It's beyond fantastic that we've managed to convince him to come to France with us, drone and all. 

It's now about six weeks until I set sail from Wellington.  My mood has taken a bit of a hit since Christchurch, but did manage to knock out a 280km ride two weekends ago (Carterton to Karori, via Palmerston North), and that endurance isn't going to vanish any time soon.  Just in case, I've booked a one way ticket to Gisborne for Queen's Birthday weekend, and plan to ride home (via Whakatane, Taupo and Whanganui, if the weather plays ball).

Life is a lot too hectic for my liking, but, on the upside, riding 3400km in France in July is going to seem like a real holiday.  And, the eight months leading up to it is something I'm going to look back on with a great deal of fondness and pride, I'm sure of that.

* * * * * 

This blog describes a fundraising project for the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand.
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