Sunday, March 20, 2011

Karapoti: Famous Last Words

On seeing the pissing rain and thinking of the kilometers of mud and numerous river crossings that lay in wait at this years Karapoti Classic I uttered my 'Famous Last Words':

"I'm not worried about chainsuck, it was fine in the mudbath last weekend in Dunedin, I'll be right here"...

As such nearly the entirety of my race was a constant battle between me and my drivechain.  It wasn't all bad though, I did manage to crawl round (largely in granny gear) to a respectable 2:50.26 which landed me 17th on the day.  I thought I should sum up my race before the full VFTP as there is a distinct lack of pretty pictures (without paying for them), so it will purely be a monotonous monologue of self-pity and pain from here on in.

Karapoti Classic 2011 VFTP:

Having not done the race before or even had the presence of mind to pre-ride the notorious course I felt it wise to listen to the pre-race briefing and forgo any warm-up.  In hindsight this was a big mistake, but not my only one on this day.  The start was a bit of a disaster, I followed Simon Kennett over the island instead of going straight through the river which set me back a long way as we went onto the starting road, as such I was chasing to close gaps and doing my best roadie impression in my 34-11 with cold legs (made colder by the chill water coming off the Akatarawas).  By the opening singletrack I was still pushing through people, overtaking at every opportunity to try and find my target riders, for this race, as for any race we are both at, Gav was my target.  I was hoping to use him and his knowledge of the course to try and gauge my efforts and then smoke him at the end; slightly cruel, but I do think like a racer sometimes.

By the warmup climb I had managed to catch Gav and was working on the front of a group containing him and couple of others.  My efforts didn't last long though, as on a sharp rise my chain decided to stop playing ball.  From here on in it was that constant battle, any gear other than 34-34 (my lowest as I hadn't given in to the pressure of running a double) the chain tension wasn't quite enough to stop the chain from being sucked up into my chainstay.  That's not to say that my chain tension was too low in the other gears, just that my chain is cut such that there is about 2 links slack in my bottom gear.  In future I would be tempted to run a hub geared bike for this race, maybe even with a belt drive.  To be honest any bike designed to withstand a standard British winter would be fine for Karapoti. 

I lost a few places on the warm-up climb, which then sent us down into the river at the bottom.  Having been forewarned that I would be riding through a river for a bit of the race I wasn't that shocked by this, but I was a little disheartened that the corner leading into it spelled the end for my brake pads.  Barely 15km in and I had no brakes and no drive (slight exaggeration, but it felt that way).

The rest of the race was spent surviving, limping up the climbs, then clinging on for the descents.  I managed to catch Gav on the first real climb, shouting to him having crawled past him to ask if this was still the warm-up climb.  After this I had the fun of the rock garden, having listened to almost everyone telling me just how big the drops where and how sketchy the whole section was I was expecting something a little like a combination of Stainburn's rock gardens (for those not in the know: http://www.singletrackworld.com/trailguide/uk/yorkshire-and-humber/stainburn-forest/).  This was quite a ways off, the descent itself was pretty smooth, it just had some pretty large, but all rolable steps in it.  Not a problem, even with no brakes.  I did ride it quite timidly, knowing that I couldn't haul on the anchors to stop myself from having to huck to flat, so held someone up here (my least proud moment of the race).

Next on the list of horrors was the 'Devil's Staircase' climb.  I was expecting this to actually be ridable.  How wrong I was.  My mental state by this point had me walking sections that I should have been running and running sections I should have been riding.  The steep sections after the steps (read chuffing massive steps, only to be really considered steps by those of heights above 40ft, thankfully the worst of them had man-sized steps cut into them) were interspersed with rather large bogs, which were often best skirted around, however I soon tired of this and decided that my bike couldn't get into a much worse state so maned-up and ploughed straight through.  They were only just deep enough to cover the tops of my rotors.  Nothing.

This was followed by a rolling/slightly descending section, known as big ring boulevard.  Having said that I had one gear option, I was stuck largely in that one, speed tucking and spinning.  Who knew the road trip would be such good prep!?  The corners were a little tricky at times, the lack of brakes and slippery/loose surface resulting on some drifting/sliding like an out of control monkey on a skid-pan (illness fueled analogy). 



The final descent was spent nervously taking every corner, hoping that I had enough backing plate left so as not to ruin my pistons.  However, once I crossed the penultimate river I realised I might be able to get in under 3 hours, so set about attacking the remainder of the course, scaring quite a few 'challenge' riders in the process with my squealing pads, clanking bike and strangled cries of 'rider!'.  In the end I hit the final river with Gav in sight, but stumbled in the river, costing me any chance of catching him.  However it was close, it just would have been nice to have gotten him.  Always next year.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Ode to Gav

Fantastically I forgot to thank Gav in all this time, even though he did the most for me!  Gav provided me with accomodation in Christchurch, and moreover a ride out of Christchurch, without him I would have been in a back packers in the centre of town, and would have been getting ready to go on a bus that left an hour after the most recent devastating Christchurch earthquake struck.  Who knows, without him I might not even have been writing these blogs at all.

So thanks to Gav, not only for these, but for teaching me a few things, and for giving me good competition, without him I wouldn't have anywhere near as much fun racing.  I still owe you some money.  I will have to come to Wednesday worlds next week and pay you back (and try and cling on!).

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

NZ National Champs 2011-Dunedin

So now I'm all done with the road tripping part of my Summer (sadly) I will get back to doing some slightly less exciting VFTP's.  There was some fun stuff happening though, and I can't say that I didn't enjoy the racing!

The installment is written from my bed, having been to the doctors today it turns out that I'm just being soft and all I have is a cold.  So essentially I need to either rest or man up.  So rest it is.  I haven't actually ridden any singletrack since I got back to Wellington which is quite sad, and beyond that I have only ridden on the road once and raced Karapoti.  I feel very slack, but do not have the energy to get on a bike at all at the moment.  I am however looking forward to getting back to racing.  Seeing the results from the recent BUCS (British University and Collegiate Sports) XC champs has got me wishing I was there.  It's always such a great event, and with Tom Bell (of Leeds University and newly qualified Elite racer) taking it out from John Whittington I think I could have been up there (with a little speed work that is).  We could have had a Leeds 1-2, which would probably have guaranteed us the team gold instead of the silver.  It's good that the boys kept up the record though, hopefully I can take the win next year!  What that little ramble was trying to say is I miss racing already, and with my time in bed I have been planning how to get fast, it will involve some investments (turbo-trainer and gym membership) but it will be worth it.

So, the VFTP (View From The Pack) for Dunners.

I was staying with family (Nigel, Tracy, Marc, Gabriella and Robbie) in Mosgiel about 20km out from the city.  It was really nice to have somewhere to relax with the comforts of Internet, TV and family, although I didn't take advantage of it every night.  I also have to thank Tanya for feeding me and putting me up for a night, for sorting me out with contact lenses, keeping me smiling and generally being good fun! Also thanks to Em and her housemates for not getting to annoyed at me crashing on their couch.

My first pre-ride of the course was on the Wednesday having arrived in Dunedin on the Monday.  Tuesday was spent buying jeans and worrying about the boys in Christchurch mostly.  Some of the course was on private land (the first climb) which meant that my pre-ride missed out the first climb and descent, but I was assured that there wasn't anything overly technical and challenging in that section, and besides I would get to ride it the day before the race anyway.  So the first technical challenge I cam across was THE technical challenge of the race (which was later to be taken out, then put back into the course).  This involved a reasonably steep (but easy enough in 1-1 ratio) but very slippery climb with a few switchbacks at the bottom followed by roots on some of the upper straight sections and rocks right at the top.  This was to get very cut up by the time we raced; the rain combined with lots of riders made it close to unridable at times, and I only cleaned the whole climb once in the race, invariably running the same section.

This climb turned into a very nice descent which opened with a slightly off camber traverse to the first 180 degree right which had a large rut most of the way through, but just didn't carry on quite far enough to spit riders out in the best line for the next long left hander.  I managed to ride this once on the first practice run and was the deciding factor in buying some new Medusa 2.1's which stood me well for the race allowing me to ride this section every time save once when I got over ambitious trying to overtake a tail end woman (who road the whole descent clean and better than most of the men).  My line was wide and then some, making a new line in the foliage as this had the best grip and you could rip around the bottom corner.  However there were so many line options which would have made it good fun in the dry.
Hanging out wide on the top Left hander. Photo: Debbie Retief
From there it was a case of hang on and let off the brakes as you slid through the corners.  It really was a lot better if you didn't brake and just kept the wheels rolling.  There was quite a bit of counter steering to be done though.  I managed to ride the descent clean mostly in the race, although the first lap was far from clean, as I followed Ash Hough (on summer tyres) down there and he was skating down there, I followed suit.
Skating. Photo: Debbie Reief
There was one slightly more technical corner on the descent, which involved an off camber entrance which directed you invariably towards a large tree around which you had to corner.  The corner itself had a few roots in it and little drops over them, but nothing too bad.  On the exit you had the choice of 2 bridge lines, either right and around a slower line, or straight on, dropping off the bridge (about 2ft, only little) and then trying to turn.  The drop line was a lot faster and it certainly seemed easier to me.  Just to prove that I can ride the descent, here is a photo from the same place as the skating photo (just below that rooty corner).
Actually riding! Photo: Debbie Retief
From here it was relatively untechnical, a singletracksingletrack, with some fun kinks, which led to a wooden berm (which was just wrong if you ask me, tree too close on the apex to really lean in, and the boardwalk was stepped instead of smooth throughout the arc) preceding the final climb of the lap.  This was a singletrack climb through grass instead of the forest of the other climbs.  By the race one of the corner had become very cut up and I only mastered it on the 3rd attempt.  A bog on the exit that sucked your wheel in required the correct line in and out of the corner and some clever body positioning.

From the top of the final climb the course crossed the road and onto more wide gravel track switchbacking/traversing down to the main field set-up.  From here you had a view of the finish and a good 1k of the course.  I was locked out from here to the start finish pretty much as it was mostly flat and untechnical to the end.

Having crossed the start finish line you entered the first woods section (I know this seems out of order, but this is the way I rode on practice, so you will have to indulge my minds little foibles) with a long right hander that could pretty much be sprinted at.  The descent that followed was bermy fun, but as usual braking bumps where building up meaning that some of the corners were best ridden without braking and manualing into them whilst relying on the bumps to slow you down enough to rail the slippery (clay based) corners.  You then (in the same wood section; Forrester Park) climbed gently back up to the BMX car park before traversing the slope down to the BMX track and hitting gravel then crossing the road.

The additional section for the race turned out to be the main climb, a firebreak drag of a few minutes in length.  I danced up this on the first lap, but calmed down for the rest of them, I potentially should have smashed it up here out of the saddle every lap, but knowing that I didn't have great strength I decided I would play it safe and make sure I didn't cramp.  The descent that led to the technical section was good fun, fast and fairly flowing, a few little drops into corners and one really slippery corner to keep you awake, but mostly good recovery from the climb up.

So the actual VFTP!  I started well enough, having had a good warm up and done all of the prep that I needed to.  I was positioned mid to rear-mid coming through the start finish (you started on the field below the main arena field and climbed back to the start/finish using the tail end of the main lap), but made a move on people up here before following through the woods.  I moved up some more on the main climb, attacking as hard as I could and making it back up to Ash Hough who had used his fast tyre advantage on the grassy, grippy opening section.

I followed Ash's wheel up the technical climb, but had to run a large section before 'skating' down the descent but managing to overtake Ash somewhere down here.  The rest of the race is pretty much a blur of pain and fun in pretty equal measures.  Suffice to say I ate well (3 full Peak Fuel gels) and drank well throughout the race which allowed me to ride hard all the way.  I was taking places every lap apart from the last lap, but still finished with a fairly strong last lap, although Gav was catching me on that final lap.  In the end I finished 11th, with Gav just behind in 12th.  I was really pleased to beat Gav and Paddy Avery, and (without sounding like a footballer) I think I gave it everything I had.  It certainly felt like I had the next day anyway!

All in all a good weekend, 11th in the NZ national champs without doing any real training.  Meeting loads of cool people, and generally having some fun!  We went to watch the short course and DH the next day, sadly Gee Atherton crashed out up the top, but I got some nice photos of people doing some jumps, so I was happy!  A few nights out relaxing with people definitely added to the whole week.  It was certainly sad to say goodbye to people, but it gives me even more reason to come back in the knowledge that I have good friends here.

P.S.  I forgot in the original post to thank Thomas for doing a sterling job with my bottles, first time he had done them apparantly, but turned out perfect, so thanks!

I will leave you with a couple of those DH photos.
The final 'floaty' jump of the Quad.
The third jump of the Quad, a nice little hip.



Sprinting between the jumps, looking out from Signal Hill over Dunedin.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The end?

Once again I'm sat listening to Dire Straits, watching clouds scud past the Wellington skyline, sat in thee sun on my balcony.  This time however I'm quite ill (or rather I'm a little ill, but being a massive wuss), and having taken all the painkillers I reasonably can to dispel the aches in (what feels like) every joint in my body, I have reverted to red wine.  I stopped drinking this week, but will have to start that off again tomorrow.

So, onto the (hopefully) end of my story telling. 

The rest of our second day on the St. James saw us ride a lot of stunning trail.  Although not overly technical most of the time, being fully loaded definitely meant you had to keep your wits about you.  I will do the same thing as I did last time and just comment on some photos (not out of laziness, but more because I have said everything I reasonably can).

The widest the trail got until the end of St. James.  Photo: Owen Hughes
There were some pretty cool bridges, this one had been rebuilt pretty recently.  Bit of a pointless crossing mind, but the descent down to it (and the hut preceding it) was the best bit of riding out there; you could really let it rip and get some real speed up! Photo: Owen Hughes
Just a cool view.  Most of the trails this day looked like this, thin and little used. Photo: Owen Hughes
More of that buff singletrack.  I hope not too many people ride it and it stay like this. Photo: Andy King
Sitting down for lunch on the 'trail'.  Not many places you can do that! Photo: Andy King
The only other large creatures we saw were these wild ponies whilst we straight-lined some frustrating climbing zig-zags leading over the bluff behind.  The climb was largely unridable without taking large risks, so we didn't!  For once, it's one of my photos.
The view back from the top of that bluff. 
The descent off Jack's Pass into Hanmer.  If you can spot Owen you're doing well.  We got up to the top and had a little KOM sprint, I went early, but was blown early only to have Andy and Owen smash past me.  Thankfully, I had something left and spun past them before the top.  The racer in me couldn't let go.
So with that, we made it all the way to Hanmer.  Another long but enjoyable day in the saddle.  We were all gagging for a pint by this point, but went and found our accommodation first, a holiday home Owen had booked for us.  This turned out to be pretty perfect, our own rooms again, cooking and washing facilities, and downhill all the way to the pub; which is where we went as soon as we had got some fresh clothes on (and probably had a nap knowing us).  First pint necked, second pint sipped, half an hour later I realised that I had made a mistake, chatting rubbish for quite a while.

We planned to ride some of Hanmer's trails the next day and got up in a leisurely fashion anticipating another day of stunning weather and some good fun riding.  Eventually we got out on the bikes and up the hill.  However on riding the first trail as a 3 we managed to exit it without Owen.  He had carried on the trail whilst me, riding blindly up the front, had exited early.  Lots of shouting, and behaving rather like ships in fog ensued, but to no avail, Owen was lost.  In the end we all went our separate ways, Owen did his own thing for the rest of the day, Andy went home to wait for him and I went out riding on the pretense of searching for him.  Andy got out later in the day once Owen had come back and gone again, but all riding was done solo today which led to some nice stories of our different takes on the same trails.  Hanmer is definitely worth having a bike for, there are some great trails there that have taken a lot of work.

More pubage that night in preparation for our monster road day the day after.  The 134km ride to Chrsitchurch saw us on the road the whole way, but there were some cool rocks on the way to amuse me, and a nice cafe on SH1 for some coffee, lunch and a place to sit and decide how long we wanted to spend on SH1.  We managed to get lucky and had a tailwind the whole way, so where spinning out our single rings quite often on the flat/slight descents on the long dull straights.  When we did make it to Christchurch (sooner than we had expected thanks to be aforementioned tail wind) we went straight to R and R and met up with Mikheal (sp) who is the mechanic there and friends with Owen and Andy from his time in Wellington.  We ditched our bikes there and found a pub for chips (salt and carbs) and beer (general fluids).  This was Friday, my national race was the next day at 2pm.  Perfect prep.

I then said my goodbyes to the boys and went off to find my (cheeky) accommodation that I had managed to blag last minute with Gav McCarthy and Emma Johnston (Gav is a very good racer from Upper Hutt, and Emma is also a very handy racer from Dunedin who was working in Wellington over the Summer, Emma's blog can be found here: http://emmajohnstonxc.blogspot.com/).  Gav gave me and Em a run down of the courses main features and hot lines (Em hadn't had a chance to ride the course as she had flown in that evening), which would have proved to be very useful had I not changed my mind about racing the next day.

The nest morning we went to the race course early in the morning to make sure there was time for Emma to do what she needed to do before her morning race.  The race was taking place in Living Springs over the Port Hills near Lyttleton.  I did a sifty lap of the course whilst Emma warmed up.  The course started up a grassy climb which led into more climbing on wooded singletrack followed by a few fun rolling sections and nice fast descents.  I couldn't get out of my granny gear on the first climb which pretty much sealed my decision not to race.  My knees and left (broken) elbow where feeling the 711km from the week before which didn't help. 

Emma however did race, but crashed on the first lap after leading off the line.  It turns out it was a pretty bad one, managing to rip her shifter off and damage her wrist.  She carried on bravely though, holding her front shifter in her hand and stopping on the third lap to tape her wrist up.  She realised though that she might be doing more damage than was good and as such couldn't finish.  Her report would be much better to read.

Gav also raced and rode really strongly with his usual consistent pace.  Gav was largely pleased to see that Rosara Joseph didn't lap faster than him!  Gav pulled out a podium place in 5th earning him some tidy prize money and a lot of respect.

I'm going to leave it there, that's all the riding road tripping done, just the final drive to Dunedin and national champs to go!  I also have to update on Karapoti, but I will get to it soon enough I'm sure.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The roadtrip

Change of scene a bit from the last post.  This time I'm sat in my own room, on my own bed listening to (the slightly less prestigious) supermashbros.  It feels good to be back in Wellington to some extent, but the end of my trip was somewhat painful, having met so many good people in such a short space of time, the realisation that it was over and i was going back to 'normal' life was hard to take.

But enough of that, I should carry on from where I left off!

After the debacle that was my 'race' in Nelson I was very keen to hit the road and get some fun miles in.  So having had a big curry in the grounds of the church in Nelson (causing "curry induced comas", Owen Hughes) post race and a final big breakfast at Owen's parent's place we set off.  Owen, Andy and myself spun through the first 20km into town fairly easily (in reality that should be steadily or slowly, it still wasn't easy!), in town we met up with Vaughan and set off for the 90km to St Arnaud, making a first day total of 110km on the road.  The end of the ride was pretty rolling which saw us all run out of food/water at pretty much the same point.  I do have to admit to bonking first though, not much fun crawling up road hills in bottom gear when you would normally be bouncing up them.  The descents however gave us all a chance to perfect our speed tucks, with Owen and Vaughan pushing out the best top speeds as my bag worked pretty much as a tuck-limiter (I couldn't get down too low as I then couldn't lift my head to see because my helmet hit the 'rucksack') so my pure tour style, sat on the top tube tucks that I have recently learnt couldn't be used to their full extent.
Vaughan tucking (photo taken at speed on the bike)




When we finally made to to St. Arnaud we all knew where our priorities lay, so instead of going to Vaughan's bach we went to the general store and loaded up on pies, crisps, water and whatever else we fancied before grabbing some beers (Monteiths Radlers being the beer of choice for the trip, perfect for a Southerner like me, full strength shandy pretty much) before rolling on to the bach, where a beer or two was consumed along with crisps (with the pretence of restoring salts).  With the best intentions of heading on to the lake to swim and relax we all collapsed and slept for a good hour.

We did make it the lake however, and it was well worth it, so refreshing and relaxing.  Stunning setting too, not worth really talking about it more, suffice to say that bib shorts where a good idea (diving in without was just asking for trouble).
Doesn't get much better really.  Howies as (www.howies.co.uk)
Vaughan's bach was real luxury, we all got our own rooms and beds (I even got 2!), so we all woke refreshed and ready to start the real riding (off road!) on the Tuesday morning.  Vaughan planned to leave us that day and head up to the top of the Rainbow ski field before returning to the bach to refuel and head onwards to Blenheim. Before riding back to Nelson via the Mongatapu saddle, in a similar route to that taken by Andy and Owen to get from Picton to Nelson.  As such Vaughan was riding very light, just carrying the essentials (which transpired to include a beer for the top of the ski field), whereas I was really feeling it that morning, riding at the back of the group along the rainbow road.

The Rainbow Road starts off as a tar sealed road before becoming a gravel road which you have to pay to use, it runs from Rainbow station through Molesworth and onto St. James.  The route we had planned was to go along the Rainbow Road until we got to Lake Tennyson and hang a right onto the new St. James cycleway before overnighting at the Lake Guyon hut.  The second off road day would see us ride out from Lake Guyon on the St. James cycleway which would take us to the St. James Homestead and back onto the end of the Rainbow Road before hopping over Jack's Pass and into Hanmer.

Early on on the gravel section we had a stop to check out a bridge over the river Wairau which was really beautiful.  We persuaded Vaughan to come with us to this point before he left us.  The swing bridge has a one person limit, but is definitely a good one, not one of these 2 wire ones.
Vaughan crossing the river, photo taken from a large lump of rock on the other side of the river.
From here on in the views just started getting better, as such, relying on that old adage 'a picture tells a thousand words' (or there abouts), here are a few from my camera.

The clouds that had been shrouding the hills for most of the early morning started to clear to reveal some stunning views
Like this!  Note the pylons through the middle, the Rainbow Road follows these and services them.
This is the top of the last pass of the day, heading away from Lake Tennyson and onto the St. James cycleway
Out of order photo and not from my lens.  The obligatory bib-short photo atop Island Saddle (pre-Tennyson)
Stunning views and a less trodden track on the St. James.  The trail continued to deteriorate into fun singletrack
The view from Lake Guyon alone was worth the ride
We arrived to Lake Guyon after a long hard day in the saddle, hoping that we were the only ones wanting to use the 4-birth hut.  Thankfully we were, however we soon found another problem; sandflies.  Andy tried to combat them by covering every inch of skin in clothing, I tried to copy, but failed, so resorted to riding around the lake a little and taking some photos, including my first 'man of the mountain' photo, which any geologist/geophysicist should have.  I think it rivals any of them, but it won't be going into the public domain without express intent from that public, no one should have to see my (awesome) tanlines.

We got out fire going (or rather Andy and Owen got the fire going as I wondered around slightly bewildered by the whole experience and not wanting to cock it up) and got some water on for out freeze dried meal.  These seemed to be our best option in St. Arnaud and turned out ok, but my lamb chunks ended up being quite crunchy (probably due to a lack of patience on my part), the thought of these the next morning turned my stomach.

The decision taken that night was that we would pack up before it got light and head out to try and get away from the sandflies before having breakfast somewhere down the track.  As such it was a steady, very cold start.  All of us had toe and finger pain from the cold, with the sun taking a long time to get across the valley to us.
The start of our day having had breakfast just down on the flat behind me.
After what seemed like an age of riding in the shadows we finally hit sun and with it a good fun, fast descent which had my front tyre buzzing my sleeping bag (seen in the photo above in a pack liner attached by bungees; I didn't really allow for the fork to compress, but I got away with it thankfully.  I did have to ride on the back wheel quite a lot though).

I think I'm going to leave it there for today, I will pick up on that thread soon and take you the rest of the way to Hanmer and maybe a little beyond.  Once again I will leave with a photo, from the lens of Owen Hughes; the end of the St. James cycleway.