Tuesday, March 15, 2011
Karapoti is both a good and a bad thing for bike mechanics, as well as the bike riders who take part in this true mountainbike Classic. Good in that it's a busy time of year, and bad in that it's a busy time of year. The date coincides with that of Ironman so I have to spread myself between the two disciplines, as well as keeping up with all the other bits and pieces that I do. As one of the sponsors of the defending Karapoti Champion, I gave Tim's Santa Cruz Tallboy a good pre-race going over after a long summer of hard riding and dirty fun.
Once the work is out of the way all that remains is the race. I drove out there on the Saturday morning, parked up on the road then wandered down to the start village, noting that a night's heavy rain and continuing sporadic falls would make conditions interesting. The sight of the gathering crowd and the lowering mist sent an excited flutter up and down my spine, almost as if I were riding myself.
As well as being there to lend small support to Tim I had other friends to cheer on. Several of my old Nihlistic cronies from Cycle Services days were dragging out their purple attire for a small scale reunion, and they weren't hard to spot amid the throng. Taranaki Hardman Nail and Bugle listen to the race briefing as Spooks ponders if he should take his poor, airline-damaged Yeti around this most testing course - flying from Oz especially for the race made this choice less simple than it might otherwise have been...
Then another OG stepped out of the crowd - Rex was down from Ohope Beach for his first crack at the race since he set the still standing M30-39 record of an incredible 2:35:04 in 1998!
I then had a cast around for my great mate and long-serving Roadworks man, John Randal. I found him doing a last minute gear check and hanging out with Revolution Bicycles rider Asher Regan.
My friend Steve getting geed up by his partner Jess. I'd serviced his bike the week before and I hoped fervently he'd have a good day out there, so I tried to reassure him it wouldn't be that bad out there...I think he was sceptical.
T-Rex ready to crush! I was super proud to see Tim was again wearing my jersey for his defence of the race he dominated last year in what was by far the biggest victory I've ever had as a sponsor.
Tim and I wandered down to the riverbank start, where pre-race banter is par for the course. 2009 Karapoti winner Cabin Leishman holds forth to Coast to Coast Champion Richard Ussher and Tim. Nice too to see another familiar face from CS days, Karl Strode-Penny on the right in the Mountain Designs jersey.
Revolution Bicycles owner, top barista and Karapoti Legend Jonty Ritchie looked pretty happy before the start, but sadly his race would be derailled by two punctures. Fellow Revolutionary Alex Revell just looks non-plussed...
...I wonder why?
The owner of this tent had lost his pegs, so was forced to use this large gentleman as ballast.
Unusually, Simon Kennett attempted to drown himself prior to the start.
Which seemed to amuse his brother-in-law no end! Always great to see 2x Durango 100-Mile MTB Race winner David Drake in town.
Then they were off! Jonty led the way, with Wheelworks rider Chris Kendall and Avanti's 6-time National Champion and 2008 Karapoti winner Stu Houltham keeping him honest over the slippery river bed as the rest of the field charges hot on their heels through the water.
Hard working Race Director Michael Jacques on the mic, as the Expert men prepare to go.
And off they go! I'm sure John (centre-right) knew that most of the guys ahead of him out of the river would be way behind him on the return crossing...
Top DomPost photographer Ross Giblin took this photo at roughly the same time as I took the previous one, but he clearly needs to work on his focus as he almost misses getting a clear shot of me!
(Photo: Ross Giblin)
I made my way onto the bridge, which as usual was packed with spectators and nervously waiting competitors for all the start waves.
I watched the women start, led through the river by the dominant eventual winner Elina Ussher.
Next wave off was the Clown Class, summed up appositely by my good friend Tom Lynskey, the very height of sartorial eloquence.
Another river shot, another Revell shot. Alex's brother Ben (in Revolution colours) had bravely chosen Karapoti to be his first ever mountainbike race!
Back in the 90s the purple always stood out, great to see it back in full effect.
Nail and Bugle head out for a pleasant ride in the Akas.
The third long-standing member of my Roadworks Team to set out was my man Dave Hicks, who charged around the 20km Challenge being partly powered by his son Tom!
By this time I had been joined in my spectactorage by my friend and fellow Nihilist Steve F, and we were agreed that watching all this sport was thirsty work...
We sifted around for a while drinking coffee and chatting to fellow sifters, then I realised that we were probably only about ten minutes away from the Pro-Elite leaders hitting the river, so we wandered back down to stake a claim on the beach under the river. Lovely to see my old sponsors Jazz Apples still involved in some way with cycling in New Zealand.
Before long Steve and I were joined by the unfortunate Brent, whose Yeti was making such awful noises up the climb it was apparent catastrophic failure of the damaged carbon seat-stay could easily result - not something you want or need out the back of the course, so he'd wisely pulled the pin. Luckily the night's upcoming festivities would in some way compensate for his trip to Godzone.
Riders from the Challenge were just starting to arrive when suddenly the Pros arrived, and sadly for Roadworks it wasn't to be Tim who appeared first but hot pick Anton Cooper, who led co-favourite Dirk Peters into the river. As the smaller Cooper struggled against the rising river Peters cleared our side of the bank ahead, and it wasn't until later we heard that Anton had managed to come back and beat Dirk to the line. A fantastic victory, especially when you consider he is just 16 years old!
Next it was a magnificent and well deserved third place for the classy Stu Houltham.
Not long after that my boy Tim arrived, clearly delighted with his fine 4th place and a solid defence of his 2010 title!
Tim confirmed that the conditions out there were terrible, but he'd had no real problems (other than a small wipe-out with Stu) and was satisfied that he'd been beaten by better riders on the day, not mechanicals or form. Top stuff, bro.
Alex Revell had a good day too, finishing in a great 8th place behind 5th placed Richard Ussher, Dave Sharpe in 6th place and Cabin in 7th.
Post-race banter is also de rigueur at the Karapoti, and this is oft partaken of mid-stream whilst cleansing bikes and bodies as best as possible. Tim, Cabin and Richard digest and divest of the dirt of the day.
By this time Cycle Services Godfather Wheels had also joined us, so he, Steve, Brent and I settled back into our own banter combined with some good old fashioned Pro-Elite level heckling/spectating as the sun made a brief appearance...
...luckily just in time to see Karapoti originator Paul Kennett crossing the river he made famous, accompanied by his son and two-time Challenge entrant Adam.
Before we knew it Rex was crossing the river on his way to an awesome 2:53:57 2nd place in the M40-49 group, and 4th Expert! What a way to return to the Karapoti after 13 years!
Woohoo! Big John stomps across the river on his way to a great 4th place M30-39 and 10th Expert. His pride in wearing the Roadworks colours greatly humbles me, and his powerful riding never fails to blow me away.
After his top effort, Rex made his way back down to the river to clean himself up a bit...
His new wheels held up perfectly on a very tough day for equipment. I had built and shipped them to him them less than a week before, so it was a good hard outing for essentially untested kit...Hope Pro2 hubs (cheers for the urgent correct end-caps, Cam @ Bicycle!) on Stan's NoTubes 29er Crests ftw.
Local legend Jeff Lyall (J'Ville Cycles) crosses the river to a great 6th place in M40-49.
The adventurous Barryn Westfield was never going to wear the pinnie, finishing 8th in M40-49...
Go Steve! A fantastic 3:10 ride to finish in 9th place M40-49 and 23rd Expert.
The indefatigable Tom Lynskey outdid himself both in costumery and riding, with a gritty 3:05 2nd place in the tough singlespeed category, finishing just ahead of World Singlespeed Champion Garth Weinberg...
...but beating both Tom and Garth for the singlespeed title for 2011 by ten minutes was the timeless Geoffrey Notman (Revolution Bicycles), in a stunning time by any standards of 2:56:01. Grouse to have the top two singlespeeders both riding wheels I built!
The great Jonny Waghorn, originator of the fine Tracks.org resource. Everyone knows how much he loves the Bush!
Rex, Wheels and Steve discuss the merits of Rex's new 29er.
Asher finishes his ride strongly.
A fellow spectator takes her babies to the beach, much to the consternation of the woman she tried to crawl under as I pursued her with my macro akimbo.
The rain came and went in between bouts of furious sunshine, but the deluge that had fallen earlier in the hills was starting to rapidly fill the river - several riders struggled to find a safe line across, but all had so far made it safely until this gentleman slipped effortlessly from manful portaging to near drowning. Good work from the marshall and spectators who risked themselves to save him and his bike.
Tom and Michael wash up in the river.
Absolving himself of his sins, and genuflecting towards the Hills.
The storied Francis Hoen, owner of J'Ville Cycles, finishes his 22nd Karapoti!
I haven't seen my old mate Neil for far too many years, so it was great to catch up with him at last and also to see him so happy after an epic ride on the back of not really very much training to finish in a great time of a hair over 4 hours.
And here is the second person who nearly drowned before our very eyes. She is the one standing in the river in the yellow jacket waiting impatiently for the poor marshall who helped save her to bring her bike to her, after she ditched both it and him to swim to shore, then muttering that he'd ruined her time by being forced by the current into taking her bike over to the other bank after rescuing it from floating downstream!
The day was, on the whole, quite moist.
Cycle Services made it onto the podium through Rex's great 2nd place M40-49 effort.
Bugle arrives back at the finish after nearly six hours - a broken chain before the Devil's Staircase didn't exactly make his day any easier.
Roadworks also made the podium through Tim's 4th placing in Pro-Elite. Left to right: Michael Jacques, Anton Cooper (1st), Stu Houltham (3rd), Timmah!, Richard Ussher (5th) and Dirk Peters (2nd).
At which point my second set of batteries run out, and I'm forced to draw a curtain on the day. But there is always an aftermath to the Karapoti, and shops are sometimes forced into charging customers as much again (or even more!) for working on their bikes then we charged them for preparing their machines in the weeks before this savage beating masquerading as a bike race...
John did a fantastic job of cleaning his lovely rig after his storming Karapoti...
...but EVIL lurks within any bike that has ventured into the dank recesses of the Akatarawas...
...and these hidden sins of mud and water are precisely why bikes need a full going over after this gruelling 50km race, especially when conditions are as wet and slushy as they were this year. I should point out that this water came out when I opened up the bottom bracket 9 days after the race, and lots more had actually already poured out before I could grab the camera and frame the moment!
His pads didn't make it out alive, and they'd only been fitted new on the Thursday before Karapoti!
But all's well that ends well! After checking the hubs (fine), gears (mint), lubing the pivots and sorting the brakes, headset and b/b out Flux Turner was restored to full awesomeness...
Which brings us to the end of this epic saga of an epic race. Cheers so much to Tim, John and Dave for rocking the Colours, and to all my great friends in mountainbiking who made this day so cool...
Thanks for reading, Oli