Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Hard Day at the Forest

In the course of  24 hours there are normally problems to overcome. Most just slide past with a good rhythm and support crew. Sometimes though things fall apart at the seams early on and you can’t get a break. Instead of a glorious blast through the fine single track, it becomes a slog with the hours still pilled high in front.

So this was one where things went tits up. It might be said that I am not clean of blame. I was coming into this race with a recurring injury. But the thing I particularly regret is not finding the time to notice or fix the punctures on my spare bike, thinking that I have very rarely needed a spare. These would both turn out to be right pains in the ass.

It started like these races usually do. Some tear off the line, some ease off. I shot midway and tried to settle in. Happy to cruise in second and whip into lap two. Just settling into track position at this stage does not usually mean jack this far in. Although I do like a good gap given the chance.

It was not long before a drive live gremlin reared its head to set the tone for the race. It was not disabling, but made the hard and smooth riding I like very difficult. I knew it was not a side of the track to repair even if I was carrying tools, so I ground on further exacerbating the problem.

I rolled into the pits and handed the Ellsworth over with a little disdain. But of course my spare bike now not only required suspension and gears, but also air in the tires. I quickly fixed this with some help. So out I went for my first lap ever in a solo race on a single speed rigid.

Although my Niner Sir is an amazing bike, it was never meant to be a 24 hour solo bike with the rigid steel fork installed. However despite losing time hand over fist I cranked through the lap, then another, then another. By this stage I was beginning to take the hint it was not my day, and became a little disconsolate. The downhills were very painful as I flung the Niner around nearly as fast as I did on the full suspension. The uphills were not much better as the lack of gear ratio variation was working on making my knee pain come to the fore.

To my delight my Ellsworth was waiting for me at the beginning of the sixth lap. I merely jumped aboard and floated out of the pits on my cushioned ride, thinking to myself that suspension and gears had been invented for a reason.

After blasting out a lap at race pace, my spirits returned a smidgen. I later learned that I was the fastest solo rider on that lap by a good way. Clearly this would not last, it was simply too good. And later that lap it all fell apart again.

This time it was all me. I made a rudimentary error and went down in a heap. I was fine but the bike did not take it so lightly. The handle bars were rotated 90 degrees which I quickly fixed. But the real problem was evident once I set off. The front wheel was chipafied or hopelessly bent. This left me no confidence in it given its unstable nature.

Back at the pits I changed front wheels with my Niner and set off again. It was later on this lap I realised that of the eight I had completed, only two of my laps had been a race pace and gone off without a hitch. Not long after this I was lapped.

Throughout these goings ons my knee was slowly getting worse. The pain, although very uncomfortable, was not disabling. But slowly drifting behind my two competitors was becoming a little unworthy of the pain. And just before half way I pulled the pin.

Not a great performance then. However lessons were learned and it is better to have an atrocious race in New Zealand than to have one on the other side of the planet at the Worlds Champs. With regards to my knee, it turns out that I packed up and went home in time for it not to be further injured too badly.