Friday, March 28, 2008

It's a 69'er!

OK. So, it's not been the best kept secret. Not really a secret at all. But it was worth keeping quiet while the 'What Bike Should I Use?' poll was running.

Not surprisingly, the poll favoured 29'ers. That makes sense since 29'ers have been at the front of the field at the Great Divide Race every year. The bigger wheels roll easier over the rough stuff. So, 'Why a 69'er?' you ask.

First up, I have a great relationship with Cycletech, the company that imports Giant Bicycles into New Zealand. They have a very nice 700c commuting machine (with flat bars, V-brakes, rack mounts, etc) but the tyre clearance is too tight for something big and soft (a must if you want to avoid nerve damage in your hands at the GDR).
They also make a lovely XC fully in the Anthem - that would be the ultimate in comfort, but rear shocks & pivots usually need servicing after a couple of thousand kilometres. To the best of my knowledge, no full suspension bike has made it to the GDR finish line yet. In fact, if the weather is nasty, front suspension malfunctions seem fairly likely too.

The next logical bike to consider was the XTC hardtail - reliable, light, affordable. Cycletech had a 2007 carbon model in my size at a price I couldn't say no too. It's a 26 inch wheeled bike.

29 inch wheels make sense for gravel road racing (the jury is out as far as single track is concerned). They roll better over bumps, hold better in turns, and may be a bit better at dampening road shock. But they are heavier, harder to get tyres for, and require a slightly heavier frame and fork. Seems to me like you can get most of the benefits (up front, where they count most) and few of the disadvantages by going to a 69er format (26" rear/29" front). I could do this, and maintain the XTC's frame geometry by replacing the suspension fork with a Ritchey rigid MTB fork (designed for a 26" wheel).

The result is a very light and reliable bike that should blaze the road sections of the GDR route. No doubt I'll suffer a bit more on the really rough stuff, but that's part of the game one way or the other. Fortunately I'm old and crusty enough to have learned to ride off road in the pre-suspension era, so it's no big deal.

Time to take it for a test ride. I'm suspecting it's going to ride beautifully. If I pedal hard enough, it's bound to go fast, too.

Thanks heaps to the businesses who came to the party with the sweetest gear I could hope for - Cycletech (Giant), Worralls (Sram, Ritchey, Cane Creek, Truvative, Ergon, Easton, Avid), Stans NoTubes wheels - and Oli at Roadworks for burning the midnight oil building her up (with last-minute support from Revolution Bicycles). You guys rock!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

A Cape epic

It nice when things go to plan. This was one of those weeks, only better.

Tuesday morning Pat walked into the office with the Ritchey forks for my GDR rig. Sweet! This weekend I'll start building her up. After months of planning it feels like Christmas eve. So I'm gonna rush through this post, have another play with Miro, and then get onto it.

Wednesday I awoke feeling almost fully recovered from the Saga. At lunchtime it was a standard bunch ride round the Bays. 35km. Good quick pace...nothing silly. Decent conversation. In the late afternoon I was off for another round with Gary Moller. He spent an hour and a half breaking down various knots and spasms, while giving impromptu lessons in exercise physiology and nutrition. The man is tireless!

Thursday was another rest day, with some time found to read a blog from a New Zealander who toured the GDMBR a couple of years ago. Very interesting, especially as he gives a 'warts and all' account. Fascinating to see pics of the worst parts of the route (as well as the fluffy duck stuff).

On Easter Friday Miro went off at 5 am. Too early! She'd done a 90 degree turn in the cot, so just needed reorientating, a pat on the head and a wee cry.

Just after 6, I was up. Two slices of toast for breakfast; lights on and spinning down to the railway station to catch the 7 o'clock train to Upper Hutt. Shared a carriage with a Tour de France enthusiast, resplendent in his polka dot jersey, who'd been to the last three tours. The hour flew by with comparisons of the greatest climbs of the greatest bike race on earth.

By 8 am we were exiting the city and wishing each other good luck. I peeled off SH2 to cross the Rimutaka Rail Trail, starting from Maymorn. The body felt a bit sluggish. Still, there was no rush. I had all day to get to Martinborough, about 200 km away via Cape Palliser.

By 9:30 I was in the Wairarapa and it was heating up. Time to shed a layer, slap some sunblock on and scoff my first banana. I was done with the tunnels and sweet single track at the end of the rail trail - it was time to knock out a few hours of road riding. Around the southern end of the big lake, across the flood gates, and then south to Pirinoa (one of those one-shop towns that the Wairarapa does so well). Time for a quick second breakfast of creamed rice and then on to the south coast with increasing numbers of holiday-makers on the road - the usual wide range of driving skills on display.

At the fishing village of Ngawi the speedo was reading 100km, the sea was the most brilliant deep blue, and I was getting decidedly nervous. Cape Palliser, the southernmost point in the North Island (and arguably the most exposed) was just 10 gravel km away and I'd enjoyed a brisk NW tailwind for the last hour. Soon it would be payback time.

It was rush hour at the Cape which dozens of people watching the seals and climbing to the lighthouse. The corrugated gravel road was replaced by an indistinct grass and dirt 4WD track. In a couple of kilometres that began to give way to rocky, technical track. Shortly after a large locked gate the vehicle track disappeared and sheep tracks wove their way into the distance.

After a short while, all signs of life vanished. I was crossing a stony terrace about half a kilometre across, set well back from the coast, but so exposed to the elements that nothing survives long enough to take root. A decade ago, as Sarah and I toured the Cape, we were blown to standstill here and blasted with thousands of tiny stones picked up by the strongest gust we'd ever experienced. It was all we could do to hide behind our panniers until it eased enough for us to stand and run for the nearest bush to shelter.

Today there wasn't a breath of wind. I could hardly believe my luck! This place was beautiful and, despite having to walk for the best part of a kilometre, progress was quick. In short order a rough 4WD track emerged, followed by a gravel road just before White Rock. And still no wind.

Then the road turned away from the coast and began climbing gradually up a series of valleys. At the first shade I stopped and started to assess the possibility of dehydration. Setting off with just a 2 lt bladder and two water bottles seemed sensible in the cool pre-dawn. Seven hours later my watch was reading 30-something degrees and I was sweating profusely on the climbs.

As luck would have it, the tiny village of Tuturumuri was just half an hour away and there was some water left in the school tank despite the drought. As luck wouldn't have it, this was where the headwind really picked up - nothing you could call character-building, but plenty strong enough for kite-flying. Never mind, just one big hill past New Zealand's first wind farm and in 30 km the bustling town of Martinborough would be tempting me with the luxuries of civilisation.

And so it was, almost. After 9 and a half hours (192 km) I was in town getting refuelled, feeling well done enough for the day. I'd made it this far on:
2.5 ltrs water
2 bottles of sports drink
3 bananas
2 apples
1 small can creamed rice
1 large cookie, and
2 hot cross buns

Martinborough delivered the goodies with one small pizza, a sports drink and a banana, but no accommodation. Everywhere was fully booked - this wasn't part of my plan!

Fortunately there was a vacancy at a backpackers in Greytown, 18 km up the road. So it was back in the saddle with the setting sun turning clouds pink and purple to the left and a huge full moon rising to the right. This was a pleasant spin and the backpackers was perfect - quiet & comfy. Strangely, I lost my appetite along the way and had just a muesli bar and protein drink for dinner.

Even at 210 km, this ride was easier than a typical GDR day. It was mostly sealed and had only 2,500m of climbing. But I'm really rather happy with how it went, so this is the end of base training. Time to consider building a bit more power and speed into the mix. Just under 3 months to go!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

A Cyclic Saga, indeed

Well, nothing ventured, nothing lost (or something like that).

After coming 4th at our first attempt last year, John and I have been gagging to have another crack at this 2-day MTB rogaine. We're almost as fit, and certainly more experienced in standard MTB orienteering. But the Saga is more like a foot rogaine with bikes. This clash of styles was to be 'problematic'.

We got to our railway carriage accommodation with time to spare and sorted out our compulsory gear for inspection. Pretty much everything you'd need to survive an uncomfortable night out in bad weather. At registration we were a bit disheartened to hear that we would be using the same venue as 2 years ago. Things would need to go perfectly for us to do well.

The maps were handed out at 9am and we chose a route within a few minutes and set off up Mt Alexander - the highest point on the map. Everything ran very smoothly as we collected several valuable controls on the way to the summit, which was the first place the 8-year old map started to differ significantly from reality. We found an extra track that wasn't shown, which was a nice surprise. A quick bite to eat and it was off to the foothills. Things got a little trickier, but with one or two quick conferences we were soon on the right track again and enjoying the thrill of the points mounting up.

Four hours into the first (7.5 hour) day we stopped to assess our options. We had 920 points and were averaging our usual 10 km/hr. All was well with the world, so we decided to head to the SE corner of the map - the furthest from the overnight camp, but an essential area to cover if we were to stay in the hunt for the win. We calculated some 'early-withdrawal' times at a couple of spots and headed off down the main road at a handy 35 km/hr.

As soon as we started up the next main climb, things started to unravel on us. The map showed a 4WD track which wasn't there. For standard MTB-O proponents, this is a real problem. The standard rules forbid riding off-track, so the maps mark tracks extremely accurately and they are your primary navigational feature. In the Saga you can go wherever you want, which encourages you to navigate by topography first and foremost (just like a foot rogaine).

We read the topography OK and knew where we were, but failed to recognise that it was a good time to consider abandoning the track and head cross-country to the next control. We hiked on up the ridge where the map showed a track and by the time we got to the top were starting to fade. Next up we got more confused by bogus mapping of man-made features and mis-read the topography, going out of our way to head down the wrong ridge. Even after an extensive search, the next control was nowhere to be found (if only we'd looked 500m to the west!). John had a puncture. We got dehydrated. Worked out where we were. Lost heart. Searched for a control that really was mis-mapped. Had another puncture. Switched into cruise mode and headed for the campsite, a looonng ways off.

By the time we got back, we were two and a half hours late and in last place. After our lateness penalty of -10 points/minute, we were on zero! But we did get a good 10 hour ride in, totally 100 km.

The next day we stayed in cruise mode and tried to avoid anything that looked unnecessarily arduous. Not an easy task when you are surrounded by hilly farmland covered in soft, rutted, grassy 4WD tracks. There were some nice views of the Hurunui River, but the tops were in the cloud - cold and damp. This section of the map was also out of date, but it didn't have any imaginery tracks added. There was only one really unpleasant walk up a sheep track through prickly matagouri scrub. Still, it had us wondering what we were doing there.

John suggested that if it got any worse we throw our survival blankets into a patch of matagouri so dense that we'd never be able to retrieve them and then lie down to die of hypothermia. "That'd show the f&#kers!"

Fortunately things got better, so we carried on at a reasonable pace to reach the finish of day two in just under the 6 hour time limit. Didn't cover much distance that day, but the altimeter I'd borrowed showed a total of 5,700m ascent for the weekend. Be keen to know what the winners did. They collected over 2,800 points and must have completely monstered the course.

Our shocking result aside, it was a good weekend. John and I get on remarkably well together, even when things go pear-shaped. It's generally really well organised. We'd go back to compete if they guaranteed a decent map and a new area. I like a good saga.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Resting up and giggling

With the two-day Cyclic Saga coming up, this week is all about rest and recovery. Miro must sense this. She has almost recovered from last weeks cold and slept for 12 hours solid last night. Yes!!!!

She really is such a star. Over the last couple of weeks she has started waving, and begun handing things to people. And, she's grasped her first pair of handlebars (on the rocking bike). Playing with the bell is one of her favourite games. It goes something like this: Ding! "Te he he"... Ding! "Te he he"... Ding! "Te he he"... Ding! "Te he he"........

Better go and tweak my bike. Maybe do some stretches. Glad I'm gonna get this Great Divide Race thing out of my system before Miro is old enough to be on the back of the tandem. That is going to be so much fun!

Saturday, March 8, 2008

An Average Week

This week was a fairly typical one for late summer - no great prep for the Great Divide Race, but plenty of good solid riding of the 2-3hr variety.

Tuesday John came round early and we drove up the valley to do a road ride round the Akatarawa Ranges. Just as we were hopping on the bikes, he realised I'd forgotton my helmet. After a quick diversion to a friends house, we had the pedals spinning in earnest. This is my favourite road ride - a nice windy road, decent hills, big scenery, and little traffic for much of it. I encouraged John to put the hurt on for the last two k's up the main climb (while I left him to it and cruised at tempo).

Past Paraparaumu we took the back road which is half gravel through native forest and no traffic. Beats me why this sort of smooth gravel road isn't more popular with road riders. Guess they're running the sort of super-narrow tyres that only make them feel fast on smooth asphalt. But a third of New Zealand's public roads are unsealed - that's a lot to be missing out on!

Next up, we're grinding up the Paekakariki Hill Road with it's steep grades, unpredictable winds and spectacular coastal vista. This is a hard way to feel free, but it works. The descent is a mellow gradient and John seems to be cruising. 'Faster, faster!', I yell, and he picks it up to 45 km/hr into the headwind. John's 15 kg of muscle heavier than me, so this is as good as motor-pacing.

Finally we slug it out with the strengthening wind over Haywards Hill to complete the 94 km loop. We're both feeling pretty stuffed, presumably yet to recover from Karapoti.

A couple of days later we start at 7 am again and ride from my place up Hawkins Hill. Once up to 450 vert metres we hide our packs and blast down the Tip Track. OK - 'blast' might be a bit dramatic. The track's still wet from recent heavy rain, so we potter down searching for decent traction. At the bottom we go through the usual ritual of stretches, tyre-pressure adjustment, shedding extraneous layers of clothing and watering the shrubbery - anything to postpone the pain of the return journey.

Last summer the Tip Track and my middle chainring came to terms with each other and I cracked 20 minutes for this 400 m climb. No such joy this time. It's a granny ring sting lasting just over 22 minutes. John's a little slower than a month ago. 'The tracks a bit soft'. 'Yeah, and a little slick in places'. 'Still a bit tired from Tuesday's ride'. 'And I think the air temperature is too low for a fast time'. 'Yeah'.

We were running out of time to do another big climb, so settled for a couple of 500m sprints on the road. I was really impressed with how the Stans Crow tyre rolls on the seal. Given it's minimal tread, that's to be expected. But then I realise it had clawed it's way up the Tip Track without slipping once. Nice.

The third ride of the week was practice for next weekends Cyclic Saga - a two day MTB rogaine. John and I will be teaming up again, so we headed out to the Hutt Valley and set off in opposite directions with marker pens and 1:50,000 topomaps on our handlebar-mounted mapboards. I spent an hour and a half in the Eastern Hutt Hills tying flags to various spots and marking the location on the map. At the same time John was doing likewise in the Belmont Regional Park to the west. At half-time we swapped maps and headed off to collect each others markers. All good fun (and more than enough to justify a visit to the local bakery...mmm).

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Karapoti - the one that got away

Yesterday was the 23rd Karapoti Classic - 50 km of big climbs in the rugged Akatarawa Ranges, with 1299 other mad-keen bikers. I was quite excited by the weather forecast which predicted rain, and by the possibility of winning back the Family Teams title which the Averys won last year. Big Clinton Avery holds the course record, but he's off racing in South Africa. And my twin brother Jonathan would be racing this year - something he does once every decade. So, despite being a bit off form I thought we might pull it off.

The start sees us all running across the Akatarawa River - it's normally a fairly controlled sort of chaos (the pic is from '95). But this year it was a real shambles. There were three different crossing points, with the shortest having a chest-high hole in the middle of it. With my dodgy achilles, I chose the smoother middle crossing. The start countdown started at 10 and most people seemed to be moving by 8. I started in the front row, but by the word 'Go!' I was in 100th place and looking for room to get round guys with toe-clips and baggy shorts. And this was the Pro start. Big props to Wayne Hiscock who was in a similar predicament and ended up coming 2nd.

After 10 km I'd worked my way into the top-50 and was climbing the steep stuff better than ever. Along the tops a few guys slipped past me, but no more than the number sitting on the side of the track fixing flats. The Rock Garden had such a sweet line running through all the rough stuff - it reminded me of painting-by-numbers. At the bottom I stopped to add a bit of extra air to my tyres and was amazed to see a dozen guys go past in just over a minute - it was rush hour in the wops.

I had to repass them on the Devils Staircase hike-a-bike - no easy task when every second person is carrying their bike sideways across their shoulders. From there on nothing much changed. I passed a few riders down Big Ring Boulevard - so much fun; lost a couple of places when my new drivetrain overshot; passed a few up Dopers Hill; got passed by a couple when adding a few more psi at the top - none that I wouldn't repass in a hurry except for single-speeder Garth Weinberg who was absolutely flying; solo'ed it down the Gorge into a headwind; crossed the line and began waiting.

Tick-tock, tick-tock....Tom and Ant Bradshaw came in and then my twin, with a punctured tube slung round his shoulders. After almost 3 hours, we missed on the family title by 21 seconds. So close.

My time was 2:45 - which was what I expected, 12 minutes slower than last year. It's frustrating to be off form for these standard length races, but there's so much riding to be done between now and June that I can't be at race weight now and still healthy in May. It's just not the way I'm built. Perhaps I should skip racing this summer, but it's more fun doing a 50 km MTB race than a 150 km solo training ride, so I'll live with the poor results and enjoy the company. Including commutes between train stations, it was a 75 km day.

Today we met up with a few friends and family for a bush walk and picnic in the local reserve. Then it was time for a little brick-laying on my 'never-ending garage project'. Oh, and time to fondle my Great Divide Race wheelset that arrived from Stan at NoTubes yesterday. Sweet! Just waiting on some forks and we'll be ready to start building - this is way better that Christmas!

PS: Wednesday was 'Go By Bike Day'. Check out the Wellington event video here