Monday, March 22, 2010

The Wee McGregor – Return to Racing

After the fiasco that was last year’s Moa Hunt my urge to race completely disappeared, I couldn’t be bothered training and I wasn’t feeling the love on the bike. Then there were the injuries over Christmas, the change in career and the focus on my recent tour that added up to me playing about on my bikes for a while and then training for long, slow rides over consecutive days, rather than fast paced races. Well all that has changed.

My eight days of riding from Greymouth to Cromwell has left me feeling fitter and stronger than I’ve ever felt in my life, and it is a great feeling. I was planning on doing the Vulcaniser last weekend, however torrential rain in North Canterbury lead to that race being cancelled and my focus shifted to the Wee McGregor race in Tekapo. The last time I did this race was 2 years ago, my broken elbow preventing me from doing it last year. Back then it was the biggest race I’d ever done and my only goal was to complete it. There was plenty of bike pushing and taking it easy during the race, but this time would be different.

I was really rather excited about this race and set myself a couple of goals. Firstly to make the top 5 in my division. The second to do it in 2hr 30min. Well the weather has something to say about my time goal, with a very strong headwind on the way out, which then swung round on the return journey to be a headwind for the last 10kms also. This meant that Rob Soothill who won it finished in just over 2hrs, while in the year I’d last competed the winner finished in about an hour 40mins.

The day didn’t start exactly perfectly either as I realised that although I’d bought delicious yoghurt and berries with me I’d forgotten my muesli, so I had to confront my nemesis once more and chow down on a One Square Meal bar. These are much more edible with yoghurt and berries. A bottle of V inside me after registration and a warm up ride out to the lake and back and I was rearing to go. The start was brutally fast and I quickly went backwards and found myself fighting the wind on my own. I saw a man not too far ahead of me and sped up to catch onto his wheel. That went well for a wee while, but on the first pinch climb he dropped me and I spent the next 10kms out on my own in no man’s land. Twas to be the story of my race.

After battling on for those 10 wind-swept kilometres I glanced behind me and saw that there was a largeish bunch a few hundred metres behind me. I dropped the pace and waited for them to catch me. I wanted to rest my legs a bit before I hit the climb because I was determined to ride nearly all of it this year. Note: the whole climb has only ever been ridden once so I certainly had no delusions of doing that. The bunch caught me and invited me to tuck in and worked extremely well, using hand signals and checking on other riders. It was great. We were soon catching those people up ahead of me, including the man who got away from me on that first pinch. In no time at all we were turning off the thick gravel and onto the rough, rocky, rabbit hole strewn farm track.

My legs felt great as I hit the first steepish section and soon almost everyone from the bunch was disappearing behind me. A young boy and a fit looking woman were up ahead and I just kept riding as around me people started walking. The wind was still howling in my face and when it wasn’t in my face it was threatening to push me over as I negotiated the rocky sections. Soon I’d left the young boy and the fit looking woman behind me as my legs ate the climb and the Anthem performed like a dream over the technical rocky bits. I still had to walk 4 stupidly steep, bouldery pinches, but having the light bike made all the difference in the world and I didn’t have to stop and get my breath back once. Slightly behind schedule I reached the top of the climb in 1hr 37 minutes, unlocked my suspension and took off. My legs felt amazing and for the first time in my life I felt what it was like to get to the top of a climb after working hard and still be able to power the descent. It felt damn good. I was soon barrelling along over the rocks and holes and ruts at nearly 30kph and the Anthem floated over everything like a dream. I hucked over rocks and powered through long rough sections. My elbow quickly started complaining at this bumpy rough treatment, but I just pushed the pain away and flew. I was completely by myself. I could see for miles in all directions and there was no one ahead of me and no one behind me. To my right the lake gleamed aqua-blue in the spots of sunlight breaking through the clouds. I looked at the Alps and thought that it was only two weeks ago I was alone on the other side of them, in lush green forests, rather than this barren but stunning high country land.

Ahead I could see the marker arrows stretched into the distance and I powered on. I turned into the next valley and could see a couple of riders far ahead. I decided I would catch them and as I got closer I saw one was wearing a bright pink top, which spurred me on faster, Women! Riding through the creeks and across the paddocks was a blur and soon I was very close to my prey. We headed up a little climb and turned off towards the river and soon I was in their dust as I raced down towards it. I surged through the river and passed them both on the climb out. It was so very satisfying I had to stop myself from yelling “YES!” at the top of my lungs.

Next came the most unpleasant section of the ride, along the river. The enormous rainfall of last winter had changed the river’s course and we were riding on freshly bulldozed track made up of big loose rocks, deep drifts of shingle and continuous bumpy uneven ground. It was hard work, but keeping up the speed helped greatly. I was very happy to reach the site of my previous downfall, where I fell into the river, for it meant the end of the horrid shingle track. I crossed the river with no problems and took off on the last 8kms of the course.

The wind struck me and I cursed heartily. I looked at my speedo and saw that my hopes of making it back in 2hr 30mins were dashed by the combination of sluggish shingle and this wind. It was meant to be behind me! I’d earned it by working so hard to get here. On I plowed. Up the next climb and into the direct blast of the wind. My speed dropped right off, but my anger at the injustice and heartlessness of the wind spurred me on. I hammered my legs and soon I reached the last crest of the race and looked down to the forest where the finish line waited. I took a swig of Replace, shifted up into a nice hard gear and yelled at the wind, “Let’s finish this thing!” Spending plenty of time alone on a race has you doing slightly crazy things like this.

I flew down off the hill, tucked in and pedalling hard. My speed shot up to over 40 and I grinned as I danced through the ruts and round the corners. Soon I was in the forest and smashing my way up the last few pinches. On the very last one I was almost at the top when I looked up and didn’t see a dirty great rock in front of me. I went straight into it and tipped off, laughing and cursing equally. I leapt back on the bike and powered down the finishing hill, blasting at 55kph towards the line. I felt like roaring with triumph.

My legs were toasted, but I had raced hard the whole race. I felt like a racer, rather than someone who participates in races and the feeling was amazing. I hadn’t achieved my time goal, but I was happy with 2hr 48 in the conditions and it is much better than me 3hrs 10 the last time I did it. At the prize giving I was stoked to get a spot prize of the Ground Effect Hot Toddy, which will come in handy with winter coming up. I was even more stoked when I got to see the list of times and saw that I’d managed to get 5th! Yeah.

On the way home in the car, I knew I’d gone as fast as I could and had ridden the rough terrain well. With a migraine pulsing through my head and stomach I was happy that I’d left everything out on the course. My racing buzz is back stronger than ever and I can’t wait to do the Hanmer 4hr race on the 10th of April.

1 comment:

Pink Lady said...

You are a champion - yes you are!!!