Three days after the race and I've just gotten the washing on from a fantastic weekend. The weekend actually began on Thursday afternoon for me, with a long drive up to Taupo with Cameron Wood and his family. With the luxury of travel and accommodation sorted for me (tagging along with Cam who was going up and staying with a family friend, Jude and her partner Marion) all I had to worry about was riding and relaxing. Both things where done to a T. It has to have been one of my best weekend yet, the weather was stunning, the company effervescent (even if I wasn't, coming off an 11hour day at work, pre-race nerves and post race tiredness killed my conversation), the food delicious and plentiful (Jude is an excellent cook and certainly looked after us), the bed large and soft (starfished on the first night having expected to be on the floor; my face lit up when I saw my bed and own room; it's been a while since I had a double bed to myself and in such a nice house!) and the riding sublime.
The riding started after a lazy morning on Friday; Cam took me to ride the start and finish of the Huka, which was perfect prep and gave me just a taste of the fast flowing fun that I was in for the next day. The trails had me grinning from ear to ear and constantly telling Cam that it was just like home but better! The pumice bedrock meant excellent drainage and the sunny weather we have been having for a while gave rise to dry dusty and drifty trails. Cam also showed me a local spot for getting up and close (touching distance) from the Huka falls which was very impressive. We also stopped off at Spa Park and the hot stream and pump track.
The afternoon saw more laziness, eating, getting bottles and kit ready and generally relaxing in readiness for an early start the next morning. Our race start time was 7am, which we were later grateful for as racing in the heat of the middle of the day would have been tough. As it was I started in an icebreaker merino baselayer and socks which kept me warm at the start and cool throughout the rest of the race.
So race morning came, Cam and I rode the 5km to the start, did a brief warm up (my warm up was far too short, but I was worried about getting a good start position; I needn't have been, the start had more than enough time to move up) and got lined up. From the gun we were on road/pavement for a few k, I started well, but quickly found myself struggling to hold wheels on the pavement. Coming into the singletrack I started moving up a little, but my legs felt slow. I was pretty miffed and thought I was going to be in for a hard day from here on out. With riders coming past me who I knew I was better than for the first 20km I knew I would have a lot to do but focused on keeping on drinking and eating, it was going to be all about the tail end of the race for me so I thought I had better ready myself for it.
After the grinder climb we came into the first major descent at about 20km in. This was open and flowing, and could have been ridden a lot better than I had. Hisky passed me just after this which annoyed me. However after this I suddenly started to feel a lot better, the legs were responding without pain, my back was less sore, my hands pain free and everything looked rosy! Maybe I just needed a longer descend to allow my body to recover from the anaerobic start effort fully. From here on no one over took me, and I gradually worked my way back through the field.
On one of the steepest climbs I saw Ed Crossling up ahead which gave me motivation to push it to get up to him. I managed to get on his wheel a little before our second ascent of the grinder climb and followed him up there through the back markers. I think this was the hardest consistent effort that I had to put in; heart rate up in the high 180's low 190's, I thought that if Ed kept that up I would have to hang back and conserve myself a bit. However over the top Ed chilled out a bit, and on the flatter stuff that I revel in I was able to recover whilst following his wheel.
I felt that I could probably attack Ed and get away from him on some of the flatter singletrack, but waited until after the half way point as I thought that there was less climbing after this. Having grabbed my bottle from Derrick (sp?) at the relay change over I got on the front (Gav McCarthy had caught on by this point, around 42km) and did my fair turn before leading into the singletrack and half attacking, half enjoying myself. After this I didn't see those two again until the finish, although the next piece of singletrack did have me worried that they would be back on my wheel quickly; the staccato nature of it left me pretty tired and slightly frustrated by my lack of flow, but I don't think many (if any) flowed through there.
From here on I was in limbo, riding in my own head at my own pace. However when we got onto the long out and back firetracks beside the WaikatoCarwin (singlespeed) out the back as they averaged 40kph (according to Carwin, I didn't have a speedo). I caught Carwin on the way out before the Dam and felt that i was gradually catching the group. On the way back I knew that I was, and as the trail tightened I could see that the gap had dropped significantly and that the group was splintering as the effort that they had put in started to tell.
It was this group that I ended up battling with for the rest of the race, the last 20km was smattered with patches of half cramp and slightly restrained riding to manage my legs back to the finish. I caught the tail rider of the group and rode on, chasing hard to catch Dave (Holden McGroin) on his niner just before the final run. When I caught him, we were still in touch with the other two members of the group, but as i got on the attacked and I couldn't get round Dave/didn't have the legs to respond fully. I ran past Dave, had a quick word, although only so much to tell him that I was in pain and carried on. I dropped Dave soon after this and just got my head down pushing as hard as my legs would let me to chase the two in front.
By the bungie I had 8th place in my sights (with me in 9th) who had been shelled by the guy in 7th. However he started to work harder and kept the gap tantalisingly too big whilst keeping the guy in 7th in his sights. As we went around the park and onto the lakefront I gave it my all, sprinting to the line to lose out on 8th by 1second and 7th by a further 3... however I was happy with 9th and just about breaking 4hours.
I came out of the race very proud of the way I had ridden considering the first 20km where horrible. The trails had been great, the legs had done everything asked of them (after the first 20km) and my Kinesis bike was flawless. Couldn't have gone much better save the position! For this effort I got my $100 entry fee back, so I got an amazing weekend in Taupo for free! Even better.
The rest of the day was spent chilling in the sun, watching cyclists and 'the view'. Sunday saw me dragging Cam out of bed to go and watch the pump track national champs at Spa Park before lunch and the drive home.
Like I said, couldn't have been much better; as far as weekends go. But it would have been so much less without the help and hospitality of Cath, Derrick, Cameron, Jude and Marion (and Mitchell, Cam's brother, although I didn't see much of him after the drive up there). So thanks to all.