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Saturday, May 3, 2014

Cairns World Cup

The Cairns World Cup had been a big target of mine for some time, it’s not often we get the chance to race the World’s best so close to home. I was hoping to make the most of the opportunity and take advantage of the race being in the Southern hemisphere with similar time zone to New Zealand and not having to travel most of the way across the world to get there!

Cairns provided a unique setting for the race, held in the tropical rainforest. Living up to its name we were treated with huge amounts of rain over the week turning the main event Village into a muddy sloppy mess. Thankfully the Cross Country course held up amazingly well considering and with the sun making an appearance in time for the racing over the weekend things dried out nicely over the majority of the track with just a few boggy areas remaining. However the humidity and heat remained and definitely added an extra element to the race. It was hard to do anything without sweating and we were cranking the air conditioning almost constantly at our accommodation in an attempt to keep cool.
Midweek mud fest.
The track was pretty intense with a very long main climb featuring numerous switchbacks and punctuated with technical rocks and log obstacles. Although there were quite a few multiple lines it was quite hard to pass and this was probably the main downside. The majority of the course was technical single track with some pretty full on rock garden sections which got the better of a lot of riders and caused a large amount of flat tyres.
I enjoyed the track but would have to admit I wasn’t quite as comfortable on it as I would have liked after a couple of crashes during the week. Still I was feeling nice and strong in training and couldn’t wait to get stuck into the race.

With the race being off the usual beaten track and away from the European stronghold the size of the field was smaller than usual and I had a decent enough start position of 36th. A pretty solid beginning to the race saw me sitting well positioned in 25th after the opening loop and I held around this position through most of the first lap.
However with not much left of the lap it all went wrong with a big over the bars crash in a boggy hole that the organisers had filled with gravel. It had turned into a rut fest looking a bit like a motocross track and it got the better of me. Hitting one of the ruts a bit wrong I was on the ground before I knew it with a couple of the following riders crashing over the top of me. I got going again but had damaged my bike which started playing up as the 2nd lap wore on with the chain jumping around all over the place. Frustratingly I couldn’t put any power down without the chain trying to derail itself so I had to limp my way through to the tech zone at the end of the lap and attempt to get it sorted. Turned out one of the teeth on the front chain ring had been badly bent so thankfully it wasn’t hard to fix with some pliers and I was on my way. A fair bit of time had ticked by and I was now almost at the back of the race with a lot of work to do to salvage a decent result.

Pretty fired up I attacked the remaining laps and picked my way back up passing quite a few riders. But although I pushed hard and was riding reasonably well the damage had been done and I wasn’t really able to make up the deficit to the top 30 which was where I wanted to be. I lot a bit of spark and focus near the end putting in a disappointing final lap with another crash and dropping two places to finish in 39th.
Not a happy chappie.
There was quite a bit riding on this race particularly with it being my last chance to impress the Commonwealth Games selectors and it was a frustrating to turn out such a poor performance.     39th in a European World Cup would be a decent result but down in Cairns with a much smaller field missing some of the big names it was far from what I was aiming for. Still I have learnt a few lessons from this one and am very motivated to redeem myself next time! Currently I am back home in Rotorua having a bit of a break from training after a long summer season of racing. I have my eye on the World Championships in Norway in September with a build up including the final World Cup round and a Swiss Cup and will confirm plans over the next few weeks.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

2014 Oceania Championships

The Oceania Championships are always a big event. As well as offering up the classic NZ VS Aussie rivalry, its status as a Continental Championships provides valuable UCI ranking points. Alternating venues with Australia every year this year’s Champs where held inland from Christchurch at Mt Hutt.
Having never raced there before I was eager to get to grips with the new course which proved to be a good one. The first half of the track in particular was very popular with the riders, featuring a long switch back climb with some awkward off camber sections that were quite a handful when ridden at race pace. On reaching the top of the climb the track then plunged back downhill with several steep chutes into tight corners, it was technical and a lot of fun to ride but because of its steepness always seemed to finish way too soon. The second half of the track began with a steep climb made harder with an awkward rock garden section halfway up followed by a long swooping flowy downhill. From there it was a big false flat grinding climb all the way back to the start.
In practice leading into the race the course had been quite greasy and slippery. In the first half of the track in particular several sections were almost unrideable and with Cyclone Lusi set to hit sometime around race day we were getting prepared for a mud fest.
Thankfully the weather held off with Lusi proving to be a no show and we had perfect conditions on race day.
Anton kicked off the race at a fast pace with the rest of the field chasing hard. I was able to stay in touch in second position for most of the first climb. But he was flying and a combination of his speed and a couple of mistakes saw me dropped but still pushing to stay in touch. By the end of the lap however he was well gone and Dan McConnell had bridged back to me bringing Carl with him. Dan showed his class riding away from Carl and I, eventually running Anton down and then carrying on to a comfortable win. For most of the first race I held a very slim lead over Carl and had to battle very hard to hold him off. I was able to ride good consistent laps and with the race being a bit longer than normal I was pleased with the way I held up over the duration. This proved to be the difference between Carl and myself with the small advantage I held over him blowing out over the final two laps and I was able to finish strong in third place.


Not too much racing scheduled for the next few weeks but with the Cairns World Cup round coming up fast I will be training hard looking to build on my form and earn a good result there at the end of April.

2014 Speights Summit Mountain Bike Race

Heres a few pictures from the Motatapu Race. After winning last year I was lucky enough to make it back to attempt to defend my title. Unfortunately Sam Gaze got the better of me this time round but I still had a solid race finishing in second place and getting in a good final hit out before the Oceania Championships the following weekend. We were treated to amazing weather again and I had a great time, hopefully I can make it back next year!

Pre race river crossing reconnaissance.

Race start in Wanaka.

Event village in Arrow Town post race.

Happy with the prizes from this one.

View of Queenstown from the flight home.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Karapoti Classic

The word on the street leading into this year’s Karapoti was of the course being in the best condition in several years if not the best ever. The race records were there for the taking and with a very competitive field lining up it was going to be a fast year for sure.

After the usual mad dash across the river to kick things off, the lead group settled in nicely setting a decent pace up the gorge and working together right up to the foot of the warm up climb. Once there things quickly split to pieces, with Anton flying off the front dragging Matt with him while I struggled to begin with, making hard work of the climb and disappearing off the back of the top four. Thankfully I came right pretty quickly but had to really go for it passing Eden and Carl first and then settling in for the longer chase to reel in Matt. I eventually made the catch along the undulating Dead Wood ridge and with Anton well gone Matt and I began working together to keep up our overall speed.
Into the Rock Garden and some over cautious riding on my part cost me with Matt getting away again and once more I was forced to chase. I was suffering a bit up the Devils Stair Case particularly on the hike a bike sections with legs protesting to the running/trudging/walking required on the steep ascent. Still I would have to say Devil’s seemed a lot easier this year and I can only recall one or two major bogs which didn’t provide much of a challenge at all compared to the mud fest in years past. As usual however I was glad to reach the top and it was great to be able to get back on the bike and riding again. Matt had managed to put more time into me and he too was now out of sight. I soon got going again once onto Big Ring Boulevard proper and before long I had him back in view and was just starting to close when disaster struck. F@#k!!! A rear puncture. I waited in vain coasting for a hundred meters or so and hoping it would seal but it was a decent side wall tear and I was forced to chuck in a tube. While making the repair Carl and Eden speed past and although I managed a decent change I was left with a fair bit of work to do if I was going to catch back up.

Although I rode hard up Dopers Hill hoping to catch a view of the guys ahead around every corner I probably didn’t really make any inroads to the margin and on reaching the top and having confirmation from the Marshalls that no one was in reach I probably lost a bit of drive despite myself and ended up just bringing it home making sure 5th at least was in the bag.
It wasn’t till I had finished that a realised how lucky I had been not to suffer a second puncture with the tube bulging out of the hole in the sidewall. A few minutes after finishing, the tube blew up with a huge bang and I was very relieved it hadn’t happened any earlier which would have left me with a long walk back home.

Anton managed to smash Clinton Averys old course record by some six minutes and Matt too got in under the old mark with time to spare. Despite the flat I still set my best time and I am keen for another crack, hopefully I can make it back next year!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

2014 National Championships

At home again in Rotorua for 2014, the National Championships were set to be a tough race with the level of racing in New Zealand seemingly faster every year and even more so this year with everyone vying for Commonwealth Games selection.

The race venue made a shift from last year and the new course was a toughie with over 200 meters of climbing per lap and featuring the gnarly and now famous Boulder dash descent and going Old School with the return of Rockdrop, a track that has been used numerous times for racing over the years.

My build up to Nationals had been good with improving performances in the lead up races and with the home town knowledge and support I was confident of a strong race and hunting for the win.
Photos C: Debbie Retief.
I had a slightly shaky beginning, beaten into 4th position into the first downhill and then coming dangerously close to crashing drifting wide into the soft stuff on the side of the track and having to chuck out a foot as I struggled to keep upright. Luckily I didn’t go down but it cost me time and I spent the majority of the first lap chasing down Anton and Sam Gaze who had charged off the front. I managed to get back up to the leading pair near the end of the lap and with the rest of the field unable to keep up the three of us soon established a sizeable lead.

Photo C: Benny Devcich.
Anton did the pace making and over the first half of the race apart from the odd brief swapping of position not much happened. Although Anton was happy to lead from the front most of the time he was obviously getting frustrated with having to do all the work and our pace alternated between crazy fast on the rivet and cruising along eyeballing each other. Personally I was reluctant to lead although I was keen to have a go at pushing the pace through the middle section of the course but didn’t want to waste energy fighting for the lead into the down hills. Generally I felt fairly comfortable everywhere except for the steep climbs, particularly the road climb coming at the end of the lap and I had to fight very hard to stay in touch almost every time up it.
Photo C: Mead Norton.
By the 4th lap of 6 however I was starting to struggle and got dropped twice, both times managing to claw my way back to the others. But I was swinging and the 5th lap proved too much for me and I lost contact up the Challenge climb, this time for good. I chased hard but the damage was done. I had a lap and a half to go and knowing I was comfortably in front of 4th place I was able to ride my own speed to the finish crossing the line a minute behind Sam who had beaten Anton in a sprint finish for the win.

Photo C: Sam Thompson.
I was a bit disappointed with third place but Anton and Sam are both hugely talented riders who were better than me on the day. I am however happy with my performance and the effort I put in I just wasn’t fast enough to get up for the win this time and have to be satisfied with my ride.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

2014 NZ CUP #2 Nelson.

The second and final round of the NZ Cup series took place in sunny Nelson. With a pretty good race record here in the past it has become a favourite venue of mine and it was good to be back again in 2014. I felt I rode much better in Nelson than the previous round in Wellington. Had a solid race and improved on my result as well moving up from 3rd in Welly to 2nd behind Anton Cooper.

It was a fast start to the race with Anton, Sam Gaze and myself getting away from the rest early on. Anton led and set a pace that was right on the limit for me. I was struggling a bit to stick with the other two and after about half a lap the slight gap that had been opening and closing between us became too big and I lost contact at the bottom of one of the climbs making a slight mistake on a tight switch back corner.

Before I knew it they were well gone and although I chased hard for the next two laps I couldn’t make any impression on the gap and fell further behind. Heading into the third lap I caught Sam who had run into trouble trying to stick it with Anton and so rode into 2nd position. Nothing really changed from there for the rest of the race. I had a decent gap over the boys behind and just had to focus on my own race and keep pushing to the finish.

The course was fast and dry as usual and I enjoyed riding hard and mindful of the fact that this will be the last big race before Nationals I wanted to make sure I put in a good honest effort. The last laps were uneventful with no issues and I finished comfortably in 2nd place.

Less than two weeks to go now till National Champs at home in Rotorua so I will be doing some fine tuning with my training making sure I finish off my preparation the best I can.  This Sunday we are having a “mock” race on the course racing a reduced number of laps and this will be a good final test of the form. I have been pleased with the progress made over the last month and all going well should be in pretty good shape for Nationals.


Monday, January 20, 2014

2014 NZ CUP #1 Wellington.

First hit out for 2014 and a chance to see if the training has been paying off or not as well as the added element of a new Bike, testing the new Giant XTC 27.5 in competition for the first time. Mt Vic a regular on the NZ circuit and always a favourite of mine would be a good honest venue to bring in the new season.

As usual we were treated to a tough Wellington course with plenty of steep climbing. Similar to what we have raced in the past with a few new descents to freshen things up and a bit more single trail in the last half making for quite an enjoyable lap.

A rusty start off the line left me a bit of work to do early on but I made it to the front group reasonably comfortably and settled in for the first lap content to wait and see how things would play out. A group of 5 formed up the first climb with Tom Bradshaw lapping up the home town support and charging on the front. Into the 2nd lap and the lead group was shuffled round a bit with first Tom then Carl dropping off leaving three of us at the front with Matt Waghorn dictating the pace and Sam Gaze and myself following.

Not too much changed for the next few laps.  Personally I wasn’t feeling overly comfortable and at times had to dig pretty deep to stick with the group. Nearing the end of the race both Sam and Matt came close to hitting the deck and hoping they might be tiring I tried a couple of attacks but didn’t really achieve much, lacking the speed to put the others into any real trouble.

Last lap and things finally got shaken up. Matt accelerated at the bottom of the main climb and I was dropped initially but managed to climb back up to the other two and then perhaps a bit rashly tried one last attack. Unfortunately it backfired with Sam launching his winning move over the top of the climb. This time I was dropped for good with Matt also falling off Sam’s pace. I held Matt at around 10 secs or so for most of the lap but was never able to catch up, riding in for third behind Matt in 2nd and Sam in first.
The new bike was great to ride and although I didn’t quite get the result I was after this time it was still a solid race. Next stop Nelson on the 2nd of February.