Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Ay Up 12 Hours of Woodhill

Past 12 hours of Woodhill have been fun events where I have completed more laps than other soloists. Dean and his crew reflected this by giving me the number one race number, all I had to do was live up to expectation. But this year I almost didn’t make it to the event. On the drive to the park an oncoming car took over my lane and I had to almost turn the car off road to avoid a major crash; despite this, my wing mirror was shattered. This behind me, I started up the sandy hills of Woodhill Park for 12, the biggest ride since the beating I gave myself on the Canadian Rockies. The result came to be similar.

This was the first real test for my nearly new Rohloff internal gear box. Although the 30km race in Taupo was a taste, it lacked the distance to see what it was really like to race with no derailleurs. I had also lacked the organisation to arrange a support person. Luckily Andrew from Ay Up lights offered to lend a hand.

Last year had seen me and XC and BMX Bunny Lee battle it out for the overall lead for the first few laps. This time the pace was just as hot but after some place swapping I came in 3rd overall after lap one. In light of this I backed off a little and settled in and turned on my beats machine that I had missed so much in the lonely forest with bears and cougars.

At the four hour mark I tried to find out my position in the solo field. With only six starters I was comfortable that if I had a good race a win would be on. But I had in mind that I had only just got back into training post worlds and had not ridden more than four hours since that ordeal. It was soon confirmed that I was leading the nearest soloist by two laps. No doubt I was now well placed, but I still pushed on with the pace. Nothing is secure with eight hours still to run.

I was surprised at how many people recognised me and cheered me on throughout the event. I even managed to have the occasional chat to the passer by. In general there was an overwhelmingly friendly atmosphere before, during, and post the 12 hours. One team in particular went out of their way to help me. I ate numerous peanut slabs they handed to me. They were also riding the big wheels, there seems to be a camaraderie between 29’er riders.

I knew that I might hit the wall at some stage during the hours due to my lack of training recently. I hit it alright with a great thump. I asked Andrew for a soft drink to bring me out of it and get the lap time back to constancy. Few laps later I had a cold can of coke shot gunned down the hatch, thanks to Dean who sourced it from the Woodhill shop.

As the darkness encroached my lead looked secure. Andrew quickly fitted me out with appropriately coloured Ay Up lights and I began to burn a beam through the forest. I do enjoy the airy spookiness of night riding. It can be a bit too much after 15 hours in the saddle and a myriad of hallucinations. But this being shorter than that, and with a steady margin too, I could just enjoy the tracks and the powerful Ay Ups.

Soon after I started to back off as to not run myself into the ground too much. With just over an hour and a half on the clock I came in for what I decided was my second to last lap. I searched my feed bag for the long anticipated beer. I pulled up alongside the organiser’s tent and chatted and drank my last nutritional beverage. I thought it almost traditional as last year I was two beers down before I stopped riding. I was soon ordered to put in one last flying lap.

So I finished up with a little over an hour to spare. The Rohloff had its first victory and the Ellsworth a flawless race. A perfect record thus far, three for three. Another adventure on the sand with a slice of pain.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Enough Rest, Time for a Test

It is quite a while since I last tried to ride for more than four hours. But it is about time I did. Once again this Saturday I will line up for another 12 hours of mountain biking. Last year I competed for the second time at the 12 hours of Woodhill north of Auckland. There were only two of us trying the full 12 hours solo, so most of the time I raced against the team riders. The other soloist had a bad race, which became obvious to me when I passed him as he threw up on the side of the track.

This year I will be going to three wins in as many appearances. It is not clear if there will be riders coming over from across the ditch to make things more interesting. My form is not likely to be great as I have only been training a month or so. I am sure, despite this, that I can get through 12 hours of sandy trails.

Last weekend I competed in the first round of the mid north island XC series held at the Craters in Taupo. At only 30km I was not expecting much. This proved to be a correct assumption. I placed seventh in the open men's. Not great considering there were 10 starters. However I got some big time speed work in and the Rohloff hub made its racing debut.

At first I was running a 44 tooth ring in combination with a 16 tooth sprocket on the rear. But this proved to be a little tall even with the wide range of ratios in the Rohloff. So before the race in Taupo I changed the 44 for a small ring. I increased the chain tension as well to make sure the chain stays where it should be.

The Ellsworth frame presents a small problem when it comes to mounting the Rohloff front chain guide. The bottom shock mounting takes up most of the room on the seat tube where the chain guide usually clamps. With the bigger ring it worked, but with the small diameter ring it can not go low enough to be useful. So at this stage I am solely relying on the chain tension to keep the chain on. So far, so good. But the real test will come on Saturday, with 12 hours of rough sandy tracks.

One thing I find a great aid in ultra endurance racing is music. Let's face it: you're out there for a long time and some tunes are ideal to let the time slide on by. I often find when a favourite track comes on I ride a little faster or smoother. Music is known to allow people to find rhythm or even slip into a trance a whole lot easier. Rhythm is critical to riding an ultra endurance event well. And yes, I do often slip into a vague trance-like state when racing or even training.