Monday, September 24, 2007

The Grammar Hammer!

I rolled into Palmy around noon, dropped the Lynskey 420 off with my client, then rendezvoused with the AGS guys at the motel. Hunno introduced me to Grammar's Master of Cycling, Dale Johnson, and some of the boys and parents and I was straight into it.
I transferred my stand and tools to Graham's car, then we drove out to the course at Koputeroa (7k out of Levin) , where I did my first repair - putting a new Record chain on one of the bikes. A couple more little bits and pieces then we followed one of the squads around the Teams Time Trial course...

At this point, I was starting to get what I was involved in. Auckland Grammar has, through the hard work of some parents and key teachers like Dale, created an amazing cycling culture. Since the event's inception in 1968, Grammar has won the Sir Bernard Fergusson TTT no less than 19 times! The school is defending champion this year, and to compete against about 600 girls and boys from Intermediates and Colleges all over NZ, an incredible 11 Grammar teams have been sent. These are composed of 7 junior teams and 4 senior teams. These teams are populated by kids from all the ages, backgrounds and abilities imaginable, yet all are incredibly supportive of each other, and share a cool and inspiring (there you go!) bond forged in working together towards success.

This is matched by an incredible bunch of parents - both cycling and non-cycling - who do everything from feed the whole crew, to massage, to coach, to driving and many other vital tasks. Graham has had sons go through Grammar but no longer, yet he still is an integral part of the Team and it's associated success, utilising his many years of experience as a rider for New Zealand, his 7 years of coaching the NZ Women's Team, and his prodigious cycling knowledge.

Once we had sussed the TTT course, it was back to the motel for the real work to begin. I set up at a picnic table in the sun, and began working on a long stream of bikes. Many of them needed a fair amount of fettling, but before I knew it it was beer o'clock, followed by a Team meeting, where the A Team were presented and given yellow helmets and booties, then we meandered down to the neighbouring motel for a beautiful meal provided by the AGS parents, who made me feel very welcome and a total part of the Team.

The next day was my favourite day: Race Day. We loaded up and drove out to the course, and set up shop in a classroom of Koputeroa School. I parked up under a kowhai tree and began work on the bikes I hadn't been able to get to last night. It seemed like 50 bikes, but was probably only half that, with no real dramas to speak of luckily. I was stoked my good friend Jazz Apples Team mechanic Paul Larkin arrived from Wellington to support us.

The day was perfect for racing; still and warm, without being too hot. It was hard to keep track of who was racing and how they were doing, but the Team spirit was amazing. Laughter was the way to calm nerves, it seemed...Then we got word that the Junior A Team had won in a new course record! Awesome! And something for the Seniors to really key off, not that they were suffering a lack of motivation!

After sorting the final B and A team bikes, I grabbed a pair of wheels and followed Hunno down to the start area past about 8 billion dollars worth of bikes; Pinarellos were everywhere, but there were Serottas, Look 595s, Colnagos, De Rosas and many, many others. I was taking in the huge atmosphere when I realised one of the boys had a problem - he had been fitting a wheel and somehow dislodged a brake shoe. The problem was he only had a couple of minutes until the start! I whipped off the pad and sorted it while he went through the rollout check, then whacked the fixed pad back on in time for him to get to the start for the 15 second count and go. Phew!

Then we waited for the Teams at the sharp end to go. Westlake Boys looked great as they started - smooth and focussed. St Kentigerns were hot favourites, with NZ reps Myron Simpson and Tom David featuring, but their chances were dealt a serious blow with one rider dropping his chain metres from the start and being unable to fix it fast enough to get back on. Then Grammar A took off to a huge roar. We waited. Westlake appeared, but were ever so slightly hindered by some inane driving by a local in a ute, who seemed to find it amusing to endanger children on bicycles. Somehow noone was hurt, and they thundered off towards the (hidden to us) finish. Next came the St Kents boys looking pretty good considering they were a man down, although they were down on Westlake. A small wait and here they were! The A Team appeared looking like a ProTour team pedalling in one sharp line in their yellow helmets and booties. Hunno on the stopwatch gave us a split as they blasted past to another massive roar; 8 seconds up! Could they hold it?

Parents were texting and calling the supporters at the finish, but noone could raise an answer. Word came over the grapevine that we had won by 5 seconds, and in another course record, but we couldn't confirm this at all! Then, suddenly, a buzz started around us as from down the road in the distance appeared a huge blue AGS banner being carried by two Old Boys and members of the winning '06 Team, Blair and Roman. These hard case legends had spent their first year of University coaching their successors, and had spent hours making up the banners that were slowly approaching us, as we realised that both the A and B Teams were riding along behind it, accompanied by all the other supporters. We cheered wildly assuming this display of ostentatious braggadio meant we had definitely won, only to have the boys all asking if they had! As Hunno put it, it was lucky we had or we would have looked like real idiots!

After that we basked in the glow of our success for a good long time, as we all slowly made our way back to the classroom and the eventual presentation ceremonies. I was rapt to hear that we had had no mechanicals, although we did have a crash in one of the junior teams. Luckily, he was okay, and I sorted his bike no problems. A few small post-race cassette swaps and then I packed up. The medals ceremony began with AGS banners strung up in every available part of the courts they were being held in, although I was forced to disgrace myself in the Team's eyes by cutting down one of the huge banners, as parents from the other schools didn't seem to want AGS in all the photos! Go figure...I was honoured to get a hard time from Aaron Gate, the A Team Captain, in his speech as he let me know my work had been appreciated by them.

After collecting "Bernie" (the trophy), we packed up and drove back to the motel for a quick shower, a couple of celebratory ales, then we went along to the Palmy Convention Centre for the Grammar function. Good food, speeches (including by NZ Junior Track Coach, Mike McRedmond), Monkey Rolls and more than a few beers, it was on to the pub to see the night out...I'll draw a curtain on the evening there, and relate the Sunday's road races in my next post.

Cheers, and thanks for reading...