While I was away on Tour, some good friends of mine were throwing down in the inaugural Alpine Epic MTB stage race. I had worked on Pete's Rocky Mountain Blizzard prior to leaving for the Jazz Apples Training Camp - he was doing the race in a 2 man team with his good mate Perry.
At various points of racing to and from the Tour I got this gripping series of texts on consecutive days...
Just finished Day 1. Not sure where we came but bike went well and enjoying ourselves.
Just finished day 2, went pretty well but tiring. We were 9th in open men at the end of yesterday and 17th overall. Got some awesome scenery this morning.
Ended the hardest day. We suffered badly, worried about finishing tomorrow, there is a big walking climb that we suffer on. Longest, hardest ride I've done.
This text was meant to tell you that we had battled through and finished, unfortunately after 20k today my frame broke so I had to withdraw. Perry's still good.
Poor Pete! All that effort for no result - his frame had suffered a failure at a weld, so there was nothing he could have done, but well done for the hard yards he did put in and commiserations for the disaster.
Also competing at the Alpine Epic was my official Team Roadworks, Mark and Richard, pictured here after a hard first day.
Team Roadworks camp for night 1.
I'll let Richard tell the tale of their race in his own words - thanks for the great write-up!
Roadworks at the Epic
We went into the Alpine Epic with some trepidation. The talk on the bus from Christchurch to Mt Somers confirmed that our athletic credentials were somewhat sub-par, not having won any national championships in any sport whatsoever, and never having even fantasised about walking unassisted to the South Pole. We cowered in our seats and covered our inadequacies with talk of being family men with day jobs who had entered for the scenery.
After the bike set-up and registration procedures, the race began after lunch on Wednesday with stage 1, supposedly a 35km-odd jaunt across local farms in the area, ending at Inverary Station. Turns out it was less than that; 20-something kilometres. The pace was fast from the gun, with the leaders stretching their legs up front. The terrain was muddy pastoral land, with tussock and bike swallowing bogs that make Karapoti look the centre of Australia in mid-summer. The local farmers (who were hugely supportive of the race) nodded at us as we passed through. There were some gravel and road sections, and few solid hills thrown in to warm us up. It was on this stage that Richard realised how bad an idea it was to have a drink bottle (filled with concentrated Raro) on the downtube. All manner of excrement was magnetically attracted to the sipper region of the bottle, a fact which he glossed over (until a week later when he paid the price for this gross lapse in judgement).
In the meantime, Mark was enjoying his first proper hack on a his shiny new suspension bike with disc brakes, able to feel his arse for the first time at the end of a ride, after his venerable hardtail was consigned to the retirement home a week before the race on Oli’s advice.
The stage ended abruptly (after around 2 hours) and we were left thinking that we were going to be told that we had another loop to go. But no, people were starting to break out the tents and fully immerse their bikes in the stock dam to clean them. Everyone seemed to want to get every last piece of mud off the entire frame. We are not sure why because they inevitably got filthy the next day, but maybe there was a psychological advantage to feeling clean. Or maybe it was aerodynamics, as we idly picked at the muddy stalactites hanging from nostrils and top tube.
Afternoon and evening were a relaxed affair. This was a pattern that played out every night. Food, water, massage, and dinner in the big marquis, with all the competitors swapping stories. This event attracted a nice crowd, the sort that you would be pleased to take out for a ride in your home town. The organisers Nick, Gus, and Peter were relaxed, friendly and helpful. Peter was bright orange after a day in the sun, which made him easy to spot.
Bedtime was early, 9ish. The airbeds were worth their weight and the hassle of carrying the ridiculously large pump around.
Morning dawned fine but cloudy and cold. Breakfast at 6.30, then dismantling the tents and packing the gear into the truck that would ferry our belongings to the next stage end. The morning’s stage was around 30kmish with some solid hills thrown in. The highlight was a technical rocky descent off Brown’s saddle into the Rangitata River valley, which involved channeling Luke Skywalker to avoid invisible holes beside overgrown tussock clumps, and dodging Spaniard, matagouri, sharp rocks, and other competitors, all of which threatened an untimely dismount or a puncture (we had one on the whole ride, which re-sealed itself, bless tubeless).
After negotiating a horizontal rock garden in the Rangitata River bed, we found the end of the stage on the bank of the Rangitata, where we waited in the sun for our raft ride across for an hour or so. Four people and bikes per raft trip, with the Rangitata running about four times wider than normal for this time of year. The poor raft guide had a hard time against the flow.
The afternoon stage was a short 18km ‘team time trial’ which we set off on shortly after touching the shore on the southern side. It was fast and furious on gravel road and more farm tracks, until Richard somehow mangled his chain and derailleur in a shift, losing us around 10 minutes in repair time. We got home and got the mechanicals sorted by the traveling mechanic. Then the usual routine applied – food, water, massage and yarning to various people, who by now were becoming part of the event ‘family’.
Day 3/Stage 4 was the one everyone was nervous about – around 80km with 2000m climbing. It was drizzly, which kept it cool as we left the controlled start and began to ascend Mt Peel. It went on and on and on, with some sections of bike pushing, either because it was so steep or because it provided the pedaling muscles with some respite. Once on the top, the laconic station owner brightly said “you’re sorted - it just undulates now for the next 10km then you head downhill.” Undulates my arse. It was primarily up, steep, and slippery, with the odd downhill bit to make you think you could stop to lower the seat, only to hit another hard, steep pitch. But we were becoming battle-hardened stage race warriors by now, so we shrugged it off like a Belgian hardman who is told he has to ride 100km home in the rain after finishing Paris-Roubaix.
Long fast rocky downhill, and the smell of rotors heating up. Then onto the flat and the Phantom River valley, a remote piece of high country that winds it way for many kilometres to a saddle before dropping into an even remoter valley. This was what it was all about – parts of the country that we had never seen before, a sense of space – the big country. Like Brokeback Mountain, but not in the tent.
The stage ended with about 17km on flat gravel, where we put in a serious two-man paceline effort to maintain a time advantage over the immediate chasers. Then collapsed into the evening routine.
The final stage began with overcast, claggy weather. This had led to a course change (one of several during the race) that no doubt had the organisers’ blood pressure up. Instead of shouldering the bike for 850m vertical over 4km, we were actually going to ride the bikes further but on more ‘undulating’ terrain. There’s that word again. This stage was great – farmland, techy bits, muddy bits, stream crossings, alpine saddles, forests, a 50m bike-walk along SH1. A lot of the day was spent with the back wheel in a semi-controlled drift through mud. We had been advised that the stage was around 60-65km, but when the odometer rolled around to 65km and we kept coming onto another wide valley with a steep climb/push out the other side, we began to feel the agony of unrealised expectation. We still had a fair way to go. More valleys, more saddles. After round 75km, finally we sensed we were close to Tekapo, and flew down the last hill in a ‘can’t be bothered choosing an elegant line’ sort of way. Over the finish line to the warm cheers of the other competitors who had finished, and Nick, Gus and Peter, who all seemed slightly shocked but chuffed that they had managed to pull it off.
On reflection, both of us agreed that it was the best event we had ever done. It had everything terrain-wise, the competitors were great, and the organisation was spot on in trying circumstances. While it was spendy at $900 each we thought it represented excellent value for money when you think about the support provided, the food, and the length of the race. We ended up 24th, which was a far cry from our ‘let’s not come last’ goal-setting before the race.
Cheers boys! Well done to you all...
In the week immediately following my JA time out I had to put my head down and arse up to cram in as many pre-Karapoti services as I could. Some of them I had looked at in recent weeks so just needed a quick tickle up after recce rides, but a few were major jobs. Luckily most of my punters made it through this iconic event without mechanical drama, although the inclement weather conditions leading into it were such that chainsuck was an almost unavoidable occurrence at times.
A full bike rack.
In the fortnight after Karapoti I have had to see most of the same bikes again to replace the housings and brake pads I'd fitted the week before!! Also a few fork/hub/bottom bracket services were needed...
Despite finishing in a great time my Roadworks rider Ben Wilde mentioned he had front gear shifting issues during the race, but when I checked his bike over it turned out he had bent the two big chainrings and twisted the front derailleur - amazing he was able to continue! Good stuff Ben...
Grant after he'd finished.
I got this cool text the afternoon after Karapoti from Sarah...
Hey Oli. Bike n body went very well in Karapoti so very happy, also managed to snare 2nd place in M2 women!Sarahso congratulations on a superb result to her.
Steve's bike (are you picking up the Giant theme yet?)
Steve's post-Karapoti text.
Hey Oli, just wanted to say thanks for the great work. The rig went well given the conditions. Posted 3.33 and was hard.Rig is a mess now tho ;-)
Jon also had a great ride - we had had some issues with ghost shifting in the lead up to the big day, but a full length housing sorted that out and his bike went flawlessly for him...
Another John, this time John Randal, had a not so great day by his high standards with two punctures but still did a cracking time. Fitting a new drive to his Specialized made for a change of pace for me, though not necessarily for him!
I'd like to congratulate all these Legends for their great spirits in the face of adversity in some of the hardest MTB racing you'll ever encounter, as well as to thanks them for the awesome feedback - it's always so rewarding to hear how "bikes n bodies" go in these events. Cheers!
Now at some point among all these dirt bikes I squeezed in one or two road related jobs. Here's Kerry's sweet Scott Addict which needed a new chain and cassette before he entered into the first ever Hospi Ride from Kenepuru Hospital in Porirua to Wellington Children's Hospital in Newtown, via Makara, Karori and Island Bay. (More about this cool event next time)
Lastly, I'll finish off with some shots of a stunning 1982 Benotto. Ex-NZ rep and storied Wellington rider Trevor Rice brought this frame back from Italy after a racing trip there in '82, and had recently had it fully restored to the nth degree. The parts are all pristine and fully original NOS Campagnolo Super Record, and I was privileged to be asked to build the wheels for this stunning machine. A matching Vittoria CX tyre and a pair of Binda Extra toe straps are all that's needed to complete this beautiful bicycle.
24 hole Mavic GP4 rims laced 2 cross (thanks DB!) to Super Record hubs - yummy!
Cheers for reading, Oli