Saturday, 17 August 2013

Thank Youse and Yonder Horizon

It's a week out from our national championships in Wanaka, which also signifies one of the last races of the season. I wanted to acknowledge the support I've had of late from people and places most generous.

I have been riding and racing on my Yeti ARC-X for the last few years, a great bike that is now also a great piece of memorabilia - for me personally as it took me on many great rides over and through the cobbles and muddles of Belgium, but also because it is no longer being manufactured.

There have been many good times on Yeti bikes

Photo: Gregg Germer

Photo: Caleb Smith   

Although it's had a fairly hard life with lots of riding and cleaning, the Yeti is still providing most excellent service. It will be joined in service, however, by the recently acquired Singular Kite.

I'm currently building it up with parts from a conflagration of sources, united in their jaunty and unerring generosity. Especial thanks to Jonty at the hallowed bicycle retail establishment of Revolution Bicycles, in Northland, Wellington. When not being raced on the Kite should make for a lovely gravel road navigator, and explorer of the world of somewhat-un-chartered terrain.

Also helping me, but more with regard to either when the conditions deem it less than desirable to go forth and explore or if the ride will involve a certain dedication of purpose as to render other essential faculties less than adequate, are the folks behind LeMond Revolution turbo trainers. It takes the place of your rear wheel so one machine can fit any bike - road, cyclocross, MTB - and doesn't involve melting your tyres down to a flattened rubbery mass, so is ideal for cyclocross preparations. They have a showroom where you can try one out at Armstrong Sport on Barker Street in Wellington.

From the same people I have also been given a helping hand into my shoes, courtesy of their Mavic agency. Even when it's muddy you still can't miss them.

Photo: Lisa Morgan/Cowbell Coaching
Riding through mud is quite hard work, especially when it's really thick. Fortunately there are FMB tyres to ride, which make it easy. Well, if not easy they at least make it possible. Paul Larkin is the Australasian distributor and a lovely guy to boot, who has helped me ride much closer to where I intended than I would have otherwise, and is a wealth of information and practical advice for fitting and riding tubular tyres for cyclocross, road and track. They are handmade in France and awesome.

FMB Super Mud

While the cyclocross season will be winding down after nationals in New Zealand next week, overseas it is just about to begin. About a month ago invitations were sent out for riders interested in competing at the first ever Chinese cyclocross race, in Yanqing, Beijing on September 21st. Myself and Jenna Makgill, supported by Paul Larkin, are heading over to participate in what promises to be a historic and awesome occasion, and marks a milestone for the growth of the sport outwards from Europe and America. It promises to be a remarkable experience and I'm sure I'll have plenty to write about from it so I can't wait.

Monday, 12 August 2013

Continuously 'Cross

For the past seven weeks cyclocross races have been a regular fixture on the weekly calendar in Wellington. The Bike Hutt series has continued to blossom in popularity, and I have been to a mixture of Mike’s races in Upper Hutt interspersed with the first three of the national series rounds in the Hawkes Bay, Blenheim and last week in Christchurch. It is fantastic to have so much cyclocross available now to do, thanks to so many people taking on the role of hosting races and making it happen.

A few weeks ago winter seemed to decide it had had enough, and it’s been pretty warm since the middle of July. I made my way over to Blenheim towards the end of the month with the two JGeffeoffries, Geoffrey and Jeff, for the second round of the national cyclocross series at Wither Hills. Geoffrey and I made our way over with our bikes on the ferry, and rode the 25 or so kilometres from Picton with a delicious combination of bright sunshine and tailwind on our backs, following a hearty top-up of sweet treats at Picton’s answer to Holland’s Bakkerij. One of the things I was most excited about leading up to this was the anticipation of once again visiting the infamous Voodoo Lounge, full of odds and ends and all kinds of figures embued with occult significance. 

The Lounge.
This realm of curious sanctity is tucked away in the back of the garage at Jeff’s parents’ place, with entry limited to a select few upon careful invitation only. I was last here in a sandwich around the 2012 Kiwi Brevet, and while it was my virginal experience of the lounge, I didn’t undergo any formal initiation rites. This was swiftly rectified with the aid of a small taxidermied crocodile, a poncho-blanket and a certain je ne sais quoi of mumbo jumbo.

Ritualistic voodoo shenanigans

With the voodoo’s juju satisfied, the following day’s race was largely a success. Apart from tripping on the first of three sequential barriers at the end of the 2nd lap, subsequently landing with all my weight and momentum directly on my thighs on the next barrier, I had a steady and enjoyable race. Unfortunately for Logan Horn, who was looking to be very competitive, he had problems with his tyres unseating on the sharp off-camber sections and as a result lost significant time swapping wheels. 

Photo courtesy Sarnim Dean -

Photo courtesy Sarnim Dean -

That evening provided some spectacular entertainment by way of the significant movement of the ground. A large earthquake centred close to Seddon shook like none other that I’ve ever experienced, causing lots of noise and violent tremors, and also the untimely decapitation of a delicate South American cowboy with a porcelain head. May he rest in peace in the garden of voodoo.

Back in Wellington the Bike Hutt series was reaching its zenith, with newcomers and more seasoned riders alike getting into the flow of it and improving steadily over the weeks. After a fairly big week of riding and massaging my bruised thighs I had some fairly stolid sensations in my legs for the next weekend’s race at California park, a soft but very windy course in the sun. Brendan Sharratt accelerated away early on and it was all I could do to lose only 10 seconds or so per lap.

During the week I was made a very generous offer from my friend and all-round bicycle-riding legend Kim Hurst, to help me get to the Southern Cross and next national series race in Christchurch the following weekend. So after a slightly easier week to freshen up I put my jumbled up bicycle into a bag and flew down for the race in Ferrymead. Kim and Lisa picked me up from the airport, and after a short ride to look at the course (although we were too early and it didn’t yet exist) and a visit to a bakery’s factory outlet on the way back for deliciousnesses, we checked in with our excellent hosts Michelle and Richard.

I hadn’t been to central Christchurch for a number of years before the big quakes, and when we went in to look around at the reconstruction I was almost completely disorientated. As we approached I felt a strange sensation of familiarity, on quite a subconscious level, as while I didn’t recognise where we were some sort of intuition told me that this was Manchester St, and sure enough we then went past a road sign indicating that to be the case. There is definitely the sense of a collective appreciation for people and company around the place, born out of the loss of so much I’m sure.

Ferrymead park, while largely a sort of wasteland, has a plump grassy knoll in the middle, with a small railway loop around the outside. These were some of the key features of the race, which involved crossing the tracks twice each lap – just as the small scenic tram made its way around in circles brimming full of small children and families. There was also an ex-Wellington trolley bus taking tours, and surprising riders, as it popped out of the gloom alongside part of the parcours.

Photo: Lisa Morgan/Cowbell Coaching -
We started, as usual, in an awful hurry and Scott Lyttle, Logan Horn and I got a gap ahead of the others through the first lap. I was feeling great and thought I could perhaps push a little bit harder, so started to creep away from the other two as we criss-crossed the railway line. After a few laps I saw the train approaching our crossing point just ahead of me, and soon found myself waiting as it passed, all waving hands, excited cries and puffs of steam. It was probably all of 10 seconds but I could feel Scott breathing down my neck and wanted to keep the gap growing. I managed to do this, and while the great number of people taking part meant the course was thick with riders, making for occasional queues to pass, in all it really grew on me throughout the hour and I enjoyed the race.
Photo: Lisa Morgan/Cowbell Coaching -

Photo: Lisa Morgan/Cowbell Coaching -
On the way back to the airport Richard took me on a quick tour of the workshop where he has started up an operation by the name of Revolution Components finely cutting out chainrings, derailleur hangers and more or less any other particular small parts that riders need made upon request. My only prior experience of anything much mechanical and automatic was a small lathe at high school technology class in third form, which I used to fashion a sort of useless ornamental wooden candlestick as part of a failed project in something or other. Needless to say the tools and machinery in their workshop are far more sophisticated than anything I’ve ever seen, and more intimidating to the thought of a stray hand than anything I’ve ever encountered too. But they are making some cool and very useful stuff with it, and most importantly they know what they’re doing. They can also protect their hands by telling a computer to do it.

Yesterday was the finale in the Bike Hutt Cyclocross series for this year, and was a fittingly fantastic outing, but I’ll say more about that next time. Coming up is the week of racing down in Wanaka/Queenstown, featuring the national championships on Satuday August 24th. I’m heading down by land a few days early, and it promises to be a historic few days with lots of racing. Not quite as much as the Christmas period in Belgium, but definitely indicative of a significant groundswell in the sport which is great to be a part of. Beyond that are some exciting plans and hopes, which I shall elaborate more on shortly.