Sunday, March 30, 2008

Random catching up stuff...

Late last Thursday night I had the privilege of building up Simon Kennett's interesting 69er rig for his attempt on the Great Divide Race in the USA later in the year. Check out his blog for more about this inspiring mission. The bike itself is a 2007 Giant carbon XTC-0 frame, with a specially ordered rigid Ritchey carbon front fork, custom built by Stan himself Stan's NoTubes wheels - 26" rear and 29" front - Easton carbon bars and tri-bars, and Truvativ Noir carbon cranks. In the current form it is still equipped with XTR but will be full SRAM XO as soon as stock arrives in the country. As it is built now it weighs an impressive 8.33kg (21.16lbs). Simon will be gradually shaking this down over the next few months (in between researching Classic NZMTB Rides 7), so this may well not end up being its final iteration...I look forward to helping hone this weapon into shape.

Also last Thursday (and into Friday) I built up another gorgeous Lynskey on behalf of David from Bike Fixation. This stunning titanium machine was built for a client in Christchurch who flew up on Saturday to collect it and have it fitted. I know Tony already through Vorb, so it was a pleasure to finally meet IRL. I'm sure he's going to love his new ride...

Tony's Chris King headset being fitted

The finished bike - mmmmmmm!

I've also been furiously (well calmly...) building heaps of wheels of late. Several pairs of Mavic Open Pro rim/Ultegra hubbed road wheels built up using my favourite DT Swiss spokes have rocked out the door, including a pair for Hamish from Auckland Grammar who I'll again be working with at Secondary School Nationals in September. Thanks heaps to Graham Hunn for asking me to be there - I'm really looking forward to again being a part of the Grammar Hammer!

I also built these lovely 29er wheels using XT hubs and Stan's NoTubes ZTR Flow 29er rims, again laced up with DT Competition double-butted spokes to go on a lovely new Niner being built by Jonty at Revolution Bicycles. At 1990 grams for the pair they will be a durable and lovely to ride wheelset...

Lately I've been determined to do some proper riding. Years of putting work and family before exercise have left me massively overweight and desperately unfit, so I'm doing my very best to ensure that I get to ride 3-4 times a week. Hopefully I'll start to shed some weight soon, as I'm already feeling much stronger. One of these rides was on a stunning day in Wellington, of which there have been so very many this summer. I rode out to my childhood neighbourhood of Days Bay. I used to love this ride, but I must admit the Hutt Road and the generally high level of traffic are making it less and less enjoyable. It seems like there isn't a metre of this journey without bad coarse-chip resealing, glass strewn all over the road, close calls with morons close-passing you at 110kph, or a combination of all the above - don't even get me started on the appalling state (and bizarre design) of the so-called Hutt Road bike path!

Anyway, I got there safely and rode up my old street, Moana Road, and checked out where I first learned to ride my bike. I basically used to fang down Moana Rd and hard right into Tui Road for a run-out...This is also where I had my first crash(es). I think I still corner better on right-handers to this day!

Tui Road corner-harder than it looks!

The Bay itself was in fine form. I sat on the wharf for a while drinking in the memories and admiring the views before braving the dangers of the ride back into town...

In the last few weeks I've also had a couple of great rides around the Makara Loop. On one I saw only one pair of riders going the opposite way and one of the two of them was wearing a Roadworks jersey! What are the odds? The Takarau Gorge has been resealed so I'd never seen the road so clean and safe to ride, although some escaped sheep on the road were doing their best to keep me alert! I combined my fitness crusade with my family obligation by stopping in Johnsonville at my inlaws where the family was having a BBQ - I'm sure the sausages helped my speed down Ngaio Gorge afterwards, though perhaps not my weight-loss aspirations!

Self pxt - not vain at all!

I did some work for my friend Gary Gibson (PNP Junior Track Coach) recently, and he kindly donated some stuff for my archives. Amongst a box of old papers and accounts he was given was this cool badge:

And this old poster - check out the impressive prizemoney for the day!

Details are somewhat sketchy on this long defunct club, but here's Gary's take on it;
I worked in Jackson St, Petone (Printing Company)in a building that once housed a sewing company upstairs (the building is now a bar/pub). The people who owned the sewing company were active members of the Wellington Cash Cycling Club and may have made the race numbers and race clothing for members (I have some race-numbers still). I found a box with records from the club at work one day when cleaning up so I took it home. The records are from 1935-1953.
I believe the Wellington Cash Cycling Club evolved from the Wellington Professional Cycling Athletics & Axemans Club, which was based in Petone. When Athletics started to improve their lot with better running surfaces and proper running-tracks, cycling had to go their own way so I'm guessing they split around the 1950's. My records show they were using the two names at the same time from 1950-1953. There are some great names in the results from Jennings to Vertongen. I need to read through the minutes and newspaper clippings to see what happened to the Club. Cash cycling was still around in some centres right up to the 1980's when I found I wasn't allowed to race in events because of my amateur status (Auckland and New Plymouth).

A couple of things to finish off with - I picked up my Chinese visa last Tuesday, so I must really be going! I felt a bit bad running the Embassy gauntlet of Falun Gong and Tibetan protestors, but I am afraid my principles have been waived in light of the chance to actually go to China.

Lastly, I had to perform a rather sad task last summer when I got asked to do a forensic examination of a bike a young girl was riding when hit by a SUV and killed in Whiteman's Valley. On Tuesday the case finally comes before the courts and I have been summonsed to be an expert witness. This means I won't be in the shop all day Tuesday the 1st of April.

Thanks very much for reading, Oli

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Women's Tour of Wellington Part 4

The final day of the tour consisted of two stages; a morning point-to-point Time Trial between Seatoun and Lyall Bay, then the afternoon's criterium in the heart of Wellington's Golden Mile.

As usual, up early (I'm almost getting used to it now!) and load up the wagon with the bikes, tools, stand, bottles, trainer and assorted other junk. Aurélie was with us to lend moral support, so the five of us drove from the Angus into town. Luckily after some intense rain the night before, race day dawned rain free, although the infamous NorWester that Wellington knows so well was blowing up and up as the morning went on.

We sussed out the start-line then we drove the course behind Sharon and Ruth, so they could get a feel for how the wind would affect them, and whether deep wheels would need changing for shallow ones, not to mention so they would know the way!

After a thorough recce, we followed again as the girls rode back to the start, then we detoured for the obligatory coffee in a Seatoun cafe and plotted the day.

Warming up in Seatoun

After coffee we decamped to the Seatoun foreshore, where the girls got on the windtrainer in the lee of the Prairie tailgate. Ruth and Sharon warmed up in complete calm while wheels, bottles and random riders were being blown around in the increasingly strong wind. Ruth decided she would ride her Corima deeps despite the wind - the general view was that the crosswinds usually so dangerous on deeps were minimal as the course was virtually all either full-on tail or head wind!

All of a sudden in the very middle of pre-race chaos, I got a call from Jacq at the hospital with Harry. The doctors had decided an operation was imminent, and they needed me there asap to sign consents for general and the op itself. They were saying the op would be sometime this afternoon, so naturally the race got shoved unceremoniously into the background. The only problem was that my vehicle was integral to the Team, so after much consultation it was decided that I would see out the TT then bail on the Team and head to hospital, while Chris and the girls took the van. I would pick it up later on that night, or next day depending on how things went at hospital. Of course now I was really fretting, and my thoughts were on Harry and not really the race, but still there was work to be done and he wanted me to finish off the job, so I put my game face on and got back to it...

Chris had asked me to give the girls time splits at the halfway point, so I arranged with my friend South Africa mechanic/asst. manager Paul Larkin to hitch a ride in the South Africa van, as their highest GC rider was riding two riders before Sharon. I grabbed a pair of wheels just in case of emergency, and levered myself into the SA wagon just as they peeled out behind Marissa Van Der Merwe. A quick run along the foreshore with a powerful side wind, then the tailwind pushed her up over the Pass of Branda, scene of many Wellington bunch ride skirmishes. Down into Breaker Bay, and along to my drop zone at Palmer Head. It wasn't long at all before Sharon came through 5 seconds up on her minute (wo)man, High Road's Chantal Beltman.

I had to do some impromptu traffic management before one of the awesome motorbike cops that look after the race came along and dealt to the moron trying to insert his ute and trailer between Nurnberger's Suzanne De Geode and her following car. It always amazes me how deliberately ignorant some motorists choose to be...

Before long, it was time for Ruth's minute rider to pass. Webcor's Erinne Willock was flying, and clearly wanted to wrestle that 3rd GC place from Ruth, so it was sad for me to have to point down and yell to Ruth that she was 11 seconds down at halfway - Erinne only had to make up 19 seconds on Ruth to pass her into 3rd.

After she passed, Chris quickly stopped and grabbed me and we followed Ruth into the finish. We passed poor Katheryn Mattis being tended to by her Webcor crew on the side of the road - she had crashed into a stone wall due to the wind and broken her collar-bone. From World Cup winner in Geelong to passenger in an ambulance in one fell swoop...In the end, Ruth would lose that time she was defending, as well as enough for Nurnberger's Trixi Worrack to also get past her, so she slipped down to a still awesome 5th place on GC. Along with Sharon's impressive 10th overall, they were the only composite team to get riders among the pros and national teams at the top of the leader board, making Tabak Team International's support of the women well worthwhile.

Tabak Team International jersey

After allowing them a quick warm-down, we loaded up and drove to Roadworks Service Course to collect Chris's stashed singlespeed beater and trailer - he and Susy had ridden from Wellington Airport to their accommodation when they initially came down! We jammed the trailer on top of Chris then I drove us to hospital where I got out and said goodbye to the race, and to Chris who was flying back to Auckland straight after the crit...I didn't actually hear how the stage went until later that night, but Ina-Yoko Teutenberg (High Road) won for the second consecutive year on the Lambton Quay finishing straight. Also of note was that Ruth had crashed in the latter stages of the race, but got up and managed to reintegrate with the front bunch so not losing her hard fought 5th place overall! Gutsy ride...

Loose connection - my Giro Atmos with new HIGH ROAD sticker...

The rest of my day was spent with my boy, as he lay feverish still and in a dull haze from the painkillers. As the day turned to evening and then into night, it was looking more and more likely that he probably wouldn't be operated on until the morning, and Jacq and I decided I should grab the Prairie while I had the chance, so I caught a cab out to the Hutt and began the post-race sort-out, while hoping like hell my phone didn't ring telling me to get back to hospital in a hurry.

I had to give back loaned items, as well as retrieve items I had loaned out. I loaded up the van with all my tools etc, as well as a huge box of goodies from my man Benny from High Road. He was incredibly kind and gave me a bunch of nutrition products to donate to worthy juniors (I gave them to the PNP track kids), as well as tyres, bidons, stickers, the only High Road musette to make it to the Tour Down Under, and a very cool signed Susanne Ljungskog jersey to say thanks for some help I gave Meninkini. After I had gathered up my bootie, it was time for goodbyes, so I made my way around as many of these cool people as I could, then sought out Aurélie, Sharon and Ruth. I got a lovely bottle of wine, some chocolate and a beautiful card from them, as well as a signed Tabak jersey. We said farewell, but I'm hoping I get to meet and/or work with them again one day.

2 time World Champion Susanne Ljungskog's jersey (and shorts!)

I then drove back to town, unloaded the wagon at the Service Course, then raced into spending the next 5 nights in hospital at Harry's bedside. He was operated on on Monday morning, then the rest of the week was just monitoring, redressing his impressive wound, and dealing with an intensive course of ABs. I slept in a Lay-Z-Boy and kept him company as he started to perk up, and enjoyed being beaten at games of foos-ball with him once he could use an arm...

So, there it is. Sorry for the lack of photos in the final stages there, but not much could be done about that. The Tour was a great time, as it always is, that would have been a lot better if I wasn't worrying about my boy the whole time. Still, I got my job done, the Team was very successful, and we didn't have a single mechanical, so I'm really happy...especially as Harry is now well on the road to recovery.

To close off, I'd like to thank a few folks. I'd like to thank Chris Drake and Susy Pryde for the job, and the faith they continually show in me. I'd like to thank Paul Larkin and Benny Devcich for all their help and support. I'd like to thank Malindi, Aurélie, Sharon and Ruth for their work and their understanding when I wasn't quite in their zone. I'd like to thank my sons Kester and Bodhi for looking after each other at various rellies places for most of a week. I'd really like to thank Harry for being such a legend and understanding why his Dad wasn't with him through some very tough times. But most of all, I want to thank my wife Jacq for stepping up and looking after Harry as well as if he was her own son, and helping me to finish off the job knowing he was safe and cared for as well as if I was there myself...

Okay, thanks for bearing with me so long! Back to normal blogging now, although I'm terrified about writing up the reports for the upcoming Tour of Chongming Island - there could be a whole book in there! I'll give you a rundown on the Tour as soon as I can find out anything...

Pedal on, Oli

My card from the girls - reminiscent of the roads we raced on

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Women's Tour of Wellington Part 3

Another way too short night's sleep, then we drove into Wellington for the day's stage consisting of 12 laps of the Miramar Peninsular. We breathed a sigh of relief, as despite the scudding grey clouds driven by powerful northerly winds, the dire rain forecast the night before hadn't eventuated.

We got to Miramar in plenty of time to drive a lap to show the girls the course, and for me to use my years of experience in riding on these exact roads to give them some advice on where the wind would be coming from at various times...

After parking up on the finishing straight, I put the bikes together and gave them a last minute check over, then the three women went off for a warm-up. I tidied up the van and loaded up for the day with the usual tools and wheels, as well as the bottles we would be feeding with.

My director Chris Drake and I mulled over who would be feeding in the Scorching Bay feedzone. Initially, it was decided Chris was to do the job while I stayed in the convoy in case of any mechanical service required, but after consultation with my good friend Grant Wall (race Operations Manager and Service 1 driver) we realised that servicing from the convoy would be nigh on impossible, due to the narrow and twisting nature of the parcours, so Chris and I decided that I could drive the first four non-feeding laps, then either toss Chris out or stop and feed together from Scorching Bay. Grant promised me he'd look after my girls before anyone else anyway... ;-)

Before we knew it, it was time for the race to begin. The roads were closed, and a large crowd of curious locals were gathering along with Wellington's cycling community out for a spectate. The race rolled off past my parking place, so I peeled out as soon as there was a slight gap, and quickly accelerated around the first right-hander and into my place in the convoy. Due to Ruth's 3rd on GC we were Car 3 in the convoy, so we had a superb close-up view of the action. Very cool for me to get the chance to drive, and fun to be driving past many of my friends spectating on Awa Road, the only climb of the day.

Awa Road is a wide power climb - no challenge for most of the riders in a single pass, but 12 ascents would sap the legs of all but the most strong. I believe the last time the Men's Tour of Wellington passed over this hill it was only crossed 9 times! Once the hill is crested, it turns left for a fast and straight descent, that spits you at pace into a nasty, off-camber, corkscrew corner/s-bend, then it widens again in time to fling the riders onto the waterfront at Worser Bay. The first time over was taken at a sedate(ish) pace, but still there was a crash on the s-bend. She must have bounced back upright, because by the time we got there the only sign of the crash was a bidon rolling around in the road. I yelled at a bystander to clear it and we kept rolling.

The race is preceded by a lead car and police escort, but the convoy stays behind the last rider in the main peloton, so this meant by the time we got to the bottom of the hill behind the slowest riders, the front riders were disappearing up the road into the distance at warp speed. This is where the fun begins for me. Closed roads and police sanction mean some unlikely speeds as I took the Tabak/Roadworks vehicle back up to the front in short order, just in time to whistle through Scorching Bay for the first time. The women weren't really attacking each other, but the pace was being kept quite high and attrition was causing riders to be dropped at regular intervals. Unfortunately, Aurélie was one of these. She fought back and got on before too long, but the cards were on the table for her it seemed...over successive laps she took longer and longer to get back on, until she was effectively riding on her own.

A funny thing that occurred in these early laps was when the Chief Commissaire called repeatedly for Service 2 to join the convoy, only to be eventually told they had no wheels to perform services with! Not really their fault, as the Teams are supposed to supply wheels to them, but perhaps they should have asked for some prior to the stage depart if none were forthcoming...The Commissaire curtly told them to sit out the race in a voice that left one quite certain she didn't want to know how they had arrived at their predicament!

Another three laps of THE most fun I've ever had in a convoy were brought to an end when we pulled into a carpark at Scorching Bay to unload the bidons and get ready to feed. As the race had only just passed, I knew I had time to get a coffee from the ex Chocolate Fish Cafe. I was delighted to see they served Havana coffee, so a lovely short black was the order of the day, while Chris bought himself the biggest ice-cream I've ever seen!

The road through Scorching Bay has a gentle hump running through it, so Chris and I decided the best place was on the upslope, where the riders would be moving marginally slower. Oddly, the other teams opted to feed on the downward sloping part of the road. I started to wonder if we'd picked the wrong place but Chris's wise head called for chilling out exactly where we were.

It was good to see my friend Marina Duvnjak (NZ) in a break with Natalie Bates (Menikini Selle Italia), who had attacked, and Lauren Franges (USA). The main field keeping them in check came through with Ruth and Sharon safely ensconced, then a procession of dribs and drabs (including a lone Aurélie, unfortunately) grovelled through to raucous encouragement from the two of us. Noone wanted feeding the first couple of times through, but as the laps counted down and the pace hotted up bottles started to be flung out and hands started going up requesting fresh ones. Chris and I had no trouble getting bottles to the girls, and I couldn't help but think how much easier it was feeding two riders rather than the 8 to 10 I was having to feed in Murwillimbah last year!

After lap 7 or 8 we realised poor Aurélie was no longer coming past, but some girls that were behind her were still passing us. We hoped like hell she hadn't had a crash, but after the stage was done we found out that she had pulled out at the start/finish believing she was last rider on the road and that she didn't have a hope of making it the rest of the way on her own. Once the women behind her started going through the finish, Aurélie realised she wasn't last and asked if she could restart and finish the stage with them, but the officials forbade her doing so much to her distress. Aurélie's Tour was over.

As the race passed through on it's 11th lap, it was time to grab our gear and leap back into the van for the remainder of the stage. The last car went past, then I peeled out and fanged it around the point. I was already slotted into my 3rd position by the end of next bay, in a feat of driving that made Chris tell me "Maybe you have a future in this game..." :-D

The promised rain was just starting to fall as we headed around for one more burst of tyre squealing goodness around the Peninsular and over Awa Road, then I had to really gas it just to keep in touch with the peloton as it thundered towards Scorching Bay. As we hit Karaka Bay, we saw a couple of riders slide out on the increasingly greasy surface - no rain for weeks in Welli meant that any rain would turn the roads into ice rinks. I think three women went down, including Olympic Champion Sara Carrigan, who I later saw had sustained a very deep and nasty gash to the forearm. As we were soon to find out, the ambulances were to be kept busy...

We were doing 50-60kph with the tailwind through Shelley Bay towards the Miramar Cutting as the High Road girls and other sprinters tried to set-up for the finale, after reeling in the day's break. Suddenly, as we rode down the finish straight of many a PNP race, there was the horrific sight of wheels and legs flying up into the air - the unmistakeable effect of a high-speed crash. We both yelled in involuntary fright as we screeched to a stop and realised that about 20 riders had gone down, some of them sustaining race ending injuries. Luckily for our depleted Team, neither Ruth nor Sharon were involved. As team personnel, ambos and race officials scraped the victims off the deck, and riders picked themselves up or waded through the carnage, we slowly passed the scene and raced to the finish to find the sprint had been won from the survivors by Oenone Wood (High Road) from the alleged causer of the crash Rochelle Gilmore (Meninkini-Selle Italia). There were some fireworks and bitter recriminations afterwards, as well as protests to the officials, but the result stood...

We parked up while the girls warmed down and we heard Aurélie's tale of woe, and I wandered over to grab my spares from Service 1. We stood around trying to piece together the events of the day, then the rain really started to set in so we packed up and drove out of town. Because of my concern for Harry, who was still in hospital, Chris decided that instead of a Team dinner that night, that we'd grab lunch together instead so I wouldn't miss out. I drove us out to Days Bay again, where we had a lovely lunch at the Chocolate Days Cafe together. It was nice to just be able to chat about non-race related things, and to find out a bit about these cool women. I especially enjoyed hearing about Mauritius from Aurélie - I hope her invitation to stay one day was sincere, because it sounds like Paradise! We then drove back to the Angus, where the girls went for massages arranged by Paul Larkin, while I serviced the bikes. Down to two now, so just helped get Aurélie's ready to pack, then went over the last two thoroughly before heading into the hospital again.

Had an "interesting" time listening to Harry's delirious and feverish ravings, and found out he had been assessed as having cellulitis which required operating under general. This was tentatively scheduled for the next day, also the Tour's final day. I stayed with Harry awhile then wearily drove back out to the Angus.

After checking in with Chris for the next day's schedule (and an advance glimpse of the extensive Jazz Apples schedule for the year!) I schlepped out for the usual post-stage banter in the Bike Room with Paul, Benny, Nicko and Klas, joined also by a local friend Dave Livesey, who was kindly helping out Paul. Nice to have a beer and tell tall tales for a while. Also had to help Paul deal with some of the fallout from the Big Crash - one of his girls had gone down hard and bent her bars. Paul wanted to get her new ones, but time and other issues prevented this, so I ordered the Bike room doors closed so the long queue of riders couldn't see what was going on, then I put the bike on it's side and yanked the bars straight. Definitely not something I'd do if the bars were going to be kept for ever, but I was certain they would be safe for the near future, especially as they were Ritchey WCS bars. Once they were aligned Paul retaped them and they were perfect to all intents and purposes, although I had to laugh later on when Paul told me Cherise won the Cape Argus Pick n Pay in South Africa on them the following week! Hopefully she's replaced them by now...

Off to bed after these shenanigans, ready for the final day - whatever it would bring.

This was a (very!) long post with few photos, sorry, but my camera battery kept going flat, and also the driving put a serious crimp in my am-cam abilities. I'll bring you the end of the race in the next few days.

Thanks for persisting!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Women's Tour of Wellington Part 2

Due to the Golden Shears competition (or the "Shaving of the Sheeps", as Jorge Sandoval called it!), the race was unable to secure it's usual accommodation in the Wairarapa. This meant that the bulk of the riders were to be transferred from the Angus Inn over the Rimutakas to the stage starts in buses or team vehicles. We woke early, with a big day ahead. No time for breakfast (just a quick coffee) then I loaded up the van. This is where the limitations of my Nissan Prairie became apparent - nominally a 7 seater, it rapidly filled up once Chris, myself and three women with all our assorted bags, spare wheels and tools etc were aboard. It was actually lucky that Susy and Malindi weren't there or we'd have been stuffed!

After a long drive over the hill to the historic Wairarapa town of Martinborough, we unpacked and I pumped tyres and did last minute checks on the bikes, then Chris and I wandered to a cafe and got the mandatory coffees and pies.

Due to our finishing positions in the crit, we were allocated number 15 in the convoy, so we had a long day with next to no view of the race to look forward to. I climbed in the back seat with my tools and wheels, while Chris taped GC and race info over every spare inch of the dashboard and took the drivers seat. We rolled out at 10am for a day of mainly rolling hills with one decent climb near the end with QOM points, then a long and fast descent followed by flat into the finish in Masterton.

2004 World Champion Judith Arndt (Germany) makes her way back through the convoy after a "natural break"

Unfortunately, the terrain wasn't really Aurélie's scene this early in her season, and she fought bravely but was dropped on the climb. Meanwhile Sharon and Ruth were up at the sharp end of the race, with Sharon getting 3rd on the QOM and both women making the split at the front.

As we were running into Masterton the roads were pretty narrow and the Commissaires wouldn't let the convoy through to the large break containing the surviving riders. All the other teams were in the same boat, which was almost disastrous for High Road. With 7 or 8 kilometres to go we had just bullied our way through when we heard over race radio that Australian Road Champion Oenone Wood had punctured. I was privileged to see my friend Benny (Aucklander and High Road Mechanic) perform one of the quickest wheel changes I've ever seen, so Oenone was swiftly able to make her way back to the front and actually win the stage! Incredible! Also we were stoked to hear that Ruth had sprinted her way to 5th place on the stage!

Benny Delux doing what he does so well

The local church had laid on a massive lunch for the riders and race personnel, so we scoffed what we could then took Sharon and Ruth for a drive to recce the next day's dreaded Admirals Hill, while Aurélie took the rider's bus back home, feeling a little glum I think about not being able to hang on during the stage...

After driving up Admirals Sharon and Ruth were pumped - this was their territory and they excitedly plotted and schemed how they would tackle the next day's stage. We drove home via Martinborough for yet another coffee. As we got back to the Angus I was told by Benny (among several others!) that my wife Jacq was desperate to get hold of me, as we'd been out of cellphone coverage for the bulk of the day.

I rang Jacq who told me that Harry had been admitted to hospital. I was deeply concerned, but we decided that before I left the race I had to wash the bikes for the next day, so I still had some daylight to work in. The second that was done I drove into town to Wellington Hospital to spend a few hours with Harry while Jacq organised care for my other two boys and some gear for herself and him.

At this stage, Harry had a badly swollen arm but the Doctor thought he'd just need a day or two on an anti-biotic IV drip to sort him out, so Jacq and I agreed I should stay on the race. Harry himself told me in no uncertain terms that I wasn't to let the Team down, and so I left him in Jacq's care and drove back to the Hutt.

By now it was nearly midnight, so I serviced the bikes in my hotel room while Chris and I watched TV and drank a couple of quiet beers.

Up early again the next day to repeat the drive over the Rimutakas, this time to Masterton for the start outside the Solway Park Copthorne Hotel, where we would have been based for the Wairarapa stages if not for the "Shaving of the Sheeps". I have fond memories of my time there during my time working with Sarah Ulmer and the NZ Team last year, but there would be no washing bikes by the pool this year, dammit...

The third beautiful day in a row greeted the riders as we filled the bidons, pumped the tyres, pinned race numbers on and performed all the other little tasks that precede a race. I had to do a last minute tube swap, as Sharon's front tyre inexplicably went down with 20 minutes to go, as well as helping Paul with a wheel issue for one of the South Africa girls. Thanks to Ruth's great sprint on the previous stage putting her high up the GC we were up to 5th place in the convoy, so I knew we'd have a much better view of the day's racing as I taped our numbers to the windscreens and settled into my position in the back seat for the day.

Oli ready to race...

After a longish neutralised start, the racing began with an endless procession of ups and downs, designed it seemed to completely sap the strength in the women's legs well before they even got to Admirals Hill.

The day was eventful, with several nasty crashes splitting the field early, and riders getting dropped almost from the start. There were also some hilarious events within the convoy. With such narrow roads, and in such hot temperatures, feeding the riders was both a priority and extremely difficult. The day before many riders had reached Masterton dehydrated, and we didn't want a repeat, so the Commissaires were calling up the cars in order one at a time.

I won't mention any names, but one team car in particular made us both amused and frustrated in equal measures. The idea is to drive up on the right-hand side of the road, with the convoy on the left, hand out bidons and/or food to the riders from the left side of the vehicle, then drop back as soon as the feeding is done.

This works best if the usual pattern is followed with the manager/directeur driving, and either the mechanic in the back or the soigneur in the left front doing the feeding. For some reason, this team had the inexperienced soigneur driving and the manager feeding. This had a couple of effects, with the poor driving blocking other teams from feeding for an extended period, not to mention being erratic at best and dangerous at worst. This culminated in a stern telling off from one of the motorcycle cops charged with looking after the race!

That was the frustrating part to watch, but the amusing part was said manager handing up Coke to one of his riders without having flattened it! The poor woman was trying to negotiate curves in the road while Coke frothed all over her and her bike - all this in 29 degree heat and with 70km to go! Ugly! Also seeing Service 2 drifting sideways to a stop in gravel almost taking out the rider they were servicing and a parked car caused a wry chuckle or two in the Tabak vehicle...

I spent the bulk of the stage with both the Prairie's rear sliding doors zip-tied wide open, sitting strapped into the middle seat with my tools and spare wheels on one side of me, and bidons for feeding on the other. Handing up bottles was much easier this way, especially as the electric windows had decided not to work! Paul said I looked like a doorgunner in a Huey helicopter! It was a great way to see the race unfold, and also to keep cool in the hot temperatures...

Doorgunner's view

As the race continued, Denmark's Linda Villumsen (High Road) escaped and was joined by Aussie Olympic Champion Sara Carrigan (Lotto-Belisol). They pushed forward until Sara dropped back approaching Admirals. Linda persisted, but the chase was on and she was caught halfway up the climb with 6km to go by the front of the field being driven by American ex-World Time Trial Champion Kristin Armstrong (Cervelo-Lifeforce) and Oenone Wood. Suddenly we heard over the radio that the two of them had forced the split, but that Ruth was up there with her with Sharon just behind in the chasing group! This is where things get really exciting in the following car - Chris and I were willing Ruth on. Armstrong was too strong, however, and another powerful attack saw her shed Ruth and Oenone and solo to the stage win and the yellow jersey.

The break on Admirals Hill

Ruth cleverly rolled Oenone for 2nd place 27 seconds down, much to our delight. This also pushed her up into a great 3rd place overall. At the top of the hill she was interviewed by several media people and she received warm congratulations from everyone around for this awesome result.

Ruth post-stage

Sharon didn't have the day she wanted, but still got a great 10th place giving her 10th on GC too. Aurélie hung tough and managed to hit the climb before the cut-off that would have meant she wouldn't have been able to even begin the climb, and would have ended up with a pro-rated time. Great effort.

Sharon warms down and Aurélie rehydrates

The summit of the climb was very exposed and the wind was powerful, but not as powerful as the sun. We noticed the Japan team showing great concern for a rider lying down by her team vehicle, so Chris and I went to see if they needed any help. I called over the ambulance and grabbed a full wheelbag to hold over her as a sunshade. She seemed completely unresponsive, even when I accidentally trod on her leg, so we were very concerned. But as soon as the ambo turned up and the Japanese manager yelled at the girl, she sat up as if nothing was wrong at all! Apparently she'd crashed earlier in the day and was just (not surprisingly) shattered from her much for my Sir Galahad impulses!

We then did the drive back over the hill, via Greytown for the coffee this time. I again washed the bikes before zooming into town to see my boy for a few hours, then returned to service the bikes in the room again...Nothing really wrong with them, although Sharon's Mavic R-Sys had been touched by another rider's pedal, shattering one of the carbon spokes. I swapped her wheel for one of my spare American Classics. Ruth had also been bashed into by a rider, so her Corima carbon deep needed a quick fettle too.

The rest was just tuning and checking, before sliding off to have a beer and shoot the shit with Paul, Benny, Nicko and Meninkini team mechanic Klas (02-03 World Champion Suzanne Lungskog's husband) in the bike room the Angus lets the race occupy. I should really have taken a picture of this room, as it's always packed to the gunnels with the latest bikes, wheels and fruity bits...Oh well, I'll remember next year!

Thanks for reading - I'll post the rest of the story soon...Cheers, Oli

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Women's Tour of Wellington Part 1

Phew! Sorry for the utter silence - it's been a bit of a harrowing few weeks, as you might imagine. The good news is that Harry is recovering swiftly, so it's time to get back to normal life, whatever that is! Thanks very much to everyone who has expressed their concern. It means so much to Harry and us all...

Anyway, among all that drama I had the great honour and pleasure of working once again for my good friends Chris Drake and Susy Pryde from the Jazz Apples Cycling Team. Due to several of the Jazz girls being away at the clashing Track Nationals (IP and Points Gold medals to Ali Shanks and Lauren Ellis respectively), and Tour organiser Jorge Sandoval's request, for the Women's Tour of New Zealand we were wearing the race sponsors colours of Tabak Team International.

The Team was initially comprised of the incredibly storied Commonwealth silver medallist Susy Pryde herself, NZ Criterium Champion Malindi Maclean, UK rider/Victoria resident and silver medallist at the 08 Australian road nationals Sharon Laws, 2006 Australian Road Champion Ruth Corset from Queensland, and 2006 African Continental Time Trial Champion Aurélie Halbwachs of Mauritius...

Unfortunately, Susy was a late scratching due to illness, but I was chuffed to be able to catch up with her the night before the Tour began for a fun late dinner at Chow, after Chris and I had attended a hilarious managers briefing at Race HQ.

After a good nights sleep, I woke early, loaded up the Roadworks Service Van with everything I could think of (too much, as it happened!) and went to pick up Chris from Thorndon. We drove out to our digs for the next 5 days, the good old Angus Inn in Lower Hutt, where we met the girls in time for the Race Presentation at the Little Theatre.

Ruth, Aurélie, Malindi, Chris and Sharon on the way to the Little Theatre

The Presentation was an introduction to the many teams from all over the world. As well as Pro Teams like number one ranked Team High Road, Equipe Nurnberger, Meninkini, Webcor, there were national teams from the USA, South Africa, Australia, China, Japan, as well as New Zealand of course. The rest of the field comprised smaller Continental or composite teams like ours. The field was described as the highest quality field to ever race in New Zealand, and it was hard to disagree when you saw that several National Champions, ex World Champions, and the current Olympic Champion Sara Carrigan were all there ready to race and race hard. The riders and staff all seemed to enjoy a spirited Kapa Haka group from a local school, especially the overseas contingent. It was a cool touch of Aotearoa for them to store away in their memories...

Kapa Haka

After lunch it was finally the time I most love on these jobs - Race Time! The opening stage was a criterium around Fraser Park. The weather was stunning, so we rolled along in the van behind the girls as they rode from the Angus to the start 10 km away. Very cool seeing Malindi riding in her National Champions jersey, and all the girls seemed to be gelling well.

My friend Paul Larkin was working for South Africa, so we parked up in the finish line straight pits with our spare wheels and enjoyed the racing. The stage was run off at a good clip, but with some of the usual crit carnage involved! The Chinese girls had some interesting directions to take, and we heard there were a few meaty crashes on the back of the course. One involved one of the Kiwis, who unfortunately was forced out with an injury.

Paul and I are the Pits

During the event, Australian National team rider Tiffany Cromwell had an altercation with the road, and she pulled into the pits. AIS mechanic Nicko needed some gear housing to get her back in the race before her free lap was done, so I foolishly offered to run - yes, I said run - back to my van and get some. A quick (relatively!) sprint and a mild coronary later, and she was sorted and safely back in the race, saving her 5 day Tour from being a 20 minute disaster.

The stage was won by 2005 Wellington World Cup victor, Susanne De Goede (Nurnberger) in a very close sprint from Aussie legend Oenone Wood (High Road).

Unfortunately for us, poor Malindi was also feeling the effects of illness and had to pull out two thirds of the way through the crit. After the stage, we drove out to my old home town of Days Bay for a good coffee and a debrief at the Chocolate Days Cafe, then back to the hotel so I could wash and service the bikes. I did Malindi's as well, just in case she wanted to continue (we would have fought for a reinstatement), but she decided that recovery and some quality training was the best thing in the end. After doing the bikes and grabbing some buffet, it was time for a beer or two with Paul in the bar followed by deep sleep...

The bikes in my hotel room - Malindi's Genius to the fore

I'll leave it there for tonight, except to say I'm super stoked to say that today I received an email from Chris to tell me I'm off to China in April! The Jazz Apples Team have been invited to participate in the Tour of Chongming Island, near Shanghai, and they want me there doing my thing...This means I'll be away between the 22nd of April until the 1st or 2nd of May.

I'm a bit disappointed this means I won't be dealing out the hurt to everyone at the Rotorua Singlespeed Nationals, but I was worried about getting another tattoo anyway, and this opportunity is just too cool to turn down...

More tomorrow. Cheers, Oli

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Harry home...

We don't really know why it happened - it may have been a haematoma gone bad from a skateboard accident in December, or it's also possible it was an insect bite turned septic - but my 12 year old son Harry went into hospital on Thursday the 28th of Feb with a badly swollen and clearly infected arm, and he didn't come home until Friday the 7th of March.

My fantastic wife (and Harry's step-mum) Jacq stayed with him the first 3 nights, while I juggled my commitments to Team Tabak International and long visits to the hospital, then I ditched the Tour as soon as I could and stayed with him until he came home.

It was pretty hideous the first few days with fevers, raving and lots of pain. At least the operation on the Monday helped alleviate that...poor little bugger.

In the operation they drained approximately 8 cubic cm of pus from between the fat and muscle of his forearm. The worst part for me was when they put him under general. After all the consents I had to sign and the amount of times they explain the risks of anesthesia and surgery in general, the irrational protective father part of me thought he might not come out of it. I told him "I love you" as his eyes rolled back into his head, and I stumbled out of the operating theatre weeping and wondering if they would be last words he ever heard. A truly horrible feeling that I hope to never experience again...

Once they operated, he began to recover swiftly, and Harry came home on Friday. While it's great to have him home, he isn't out of the woods quite yet. He has a district nurse changing his dressing every second day, alternating with me changing them. We go back to hospital on Thursday for an ultra-sound to confirm whether all the infection has truly been eliminated.

Until Harry is fully cleared I won't be working in any sort of fulltime capacity, but I will hopefully be easing back into things over the week. Feel free to email or text me if you need a booking.

Next update (in the next couple of days, I promise) will be on the Women's Tour of New Zealand.

Thanks for your patience and messages of goodwill, Oli

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Out of action!

My son Harry was admitted to hospital while I was working on the Women's Tour of New Zealand for a very nasty abscess deep within his elbow that had turned into a major blood infection. He was successfully operated on yesterday (Monday) but will be in hospital most if not all of this week. I will be staying with him, so will not be in the shop at all until he is safe and at home, I'm afraid. Please don't contact me until I give the all-clear on this blog thanks. Apologies for the inconvenience, Oli