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.