Saturday dawned with a rare sprinkling of rain to greet competitors and supporters of the 2008 NZ National XC Championships, but as I sat rubbing sleep out of my eyes and drinking my morning coffee the rain stopped falling and the sun emerged to begin it's assault on the clouds, leading to what would become a very hot and humid day to race and spectate in. The rain didn't even begin to dampen down the dust on the trails of the testing Mt Victoria XC course.
I chucked some essential tools in my new Black and Decker canvas tool bag (thanks Peter and Judy!), threw that, my pump and my Ultimate stand in the back of the Roadworks Team wagon and drove over to the Hataitai Velodrome, which made for an excellent race village.
Masters 30+ winner Wayne Hiskock rides through the Village on his Oli-built wheels
After doing a few small emergency tweaks on some bikes for people, I spent the morning's Masters/Juniors/Senior Women races in the feed zone, where I was looking after John Randal (Roadworks) and Jason McCarty (J'ville Cycles). I had a great time in there, although I was really disappointed to be unable to help poor Nicola Johnson (Wholly Bagels) get back into the race after a mechanical, but unfortunately her derailleur had achieved an "interesting" configuration that was beyond my powers to restore...
Nic Johnson riding strongly after the first lap, pre major malfunction
The feeding went well though, and I was delighted to see that Jason got a bronze medal for his efforts, while John got a solid 13th place with next to no specific training. Great to see old-schoolers Jonny Waghorn and Jonty Ritchie fighting for 5th place, with Jonny winning that battle this time, and Jonty coming in sixth.
MTB Legend Jonty Ritchie (Revolution Bicycles)
John Randal chatting with U17 victor, Tom Bradshaw post race
After the morning's excitement there was a bit of a break, which I spent drinking coffee, catching up with old friends and chatting to some of the riders about their races, then it was 2pm and time for the marquee events to begin. I wasn't feeding this time, so was free to wander around Mt Vic with Jonty and Allister Worrall to watch the racing from various vantage points...
After his stellar season so far I had 4-time National Champion Stu Houltham picked as my favourite, as did most probably, and he didn't disappoint. His race was flawless and the rest of the field barely saw him all race as he won by over 4 minutes.
Stu was followed by Mikey Northcott, who is on the comeback trail after some health setbacks, then Upper Hutt rider Gav McCarthy (VIC Cycles) pulled out a classy 3rd place. 4th went to 2007 National Series winner Marcus Roy, followed by National Hillclimb Champion Tim Wilding (Santa Cruz/Pearl Izumi/Maxxis/Roadworks) in 5th place. Tim rode a good race and this solid result bodes very well for his defence of his Xterra title in March...
Tim Wilding smacking a downhill
Pre-race, a shot of Tim with sponsor Mike Stylianou
Among the many riders I have been lucky enough to work with over the years who were riding the Champs was Wellingtonian Josh Barley (Santa Cruz) who rode to a great 8th place, after earlier being as high as 6th place. Well done Josh, it's only a matter of time until you are contending for the win.
Josh leading Tim early in the race
It was a really enjoyable day overall, and it just reiterates how much I love being a part of the atmosphere of top level racing, whether road or mountainbike.
Some random highlights of the day for me:
*Seeing Jerry Sheppard (father of classy U19 women's race winner, Samara) racing the 40+ event in his antique Cycle Services jersey.
*Hiskey racing on the Stan's ZTR Olympic wheels I built him for the '06 Nationals series - they've now been raced in 3 national series, 3 national champs, a World Championships, and countless other events, and Wayne tells me they've never even needed a single spoke touched! Stoked!
*Catching up with many of the riders I worked with at Worlds and other events, as well as mates like Commissaire Deluxe and one of my managers on the trip to Oceanias, Ken Bewley.
*Traipsing all over Mt Vic in such glorious weather watching some great racing.
*I LOVE how it feels like Wellington has been taken over by cycling during events like this.
*Being able to help a few riders with technical issues prior to their events. This is balanced by my regret at not being able to keep Nic in the race.
*My friend Lisa Morgan getting a fine 6th place in her first ever Pro-Elite Champs, behind new National Champion Sonia Hill.
*Brenda "Bob" Clapp backing up from her win in the HC with the silver medal in the Women's Pro-Elite XC.
*My beautiful wife Jacq allowing me to forgo a big chunk of our 6th wedding anniversary to hang out with random bikers instead of her...
The National DH Champs are being held at Long Gully as I type this, but I won't be posting a report from there as I am having a much needed family day to recharge my batteries before getting stuck into the road scene on the UCI Women's Tour of NZ next week. If you get a chance to see a stage or two you should take the opportunity, especially the Lambton Quay criterium on Sunday the 2nd of March, and look out for Team Tabak and their portly mechanic!
Thanks for reading, Oli
The women's Pro-Elite race start