Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Wasted Days and Wasted Nights?

My tyres hummed on the coarse chip seal while the northwest wind whistled through my helmet straps, and my chain hissed snappily up and down the cogs as I clicked through my gears. I rode jauntily yet ponderously around the Bays admiring the silver shafts of sunlight piercing the pregnant clouds, bridging the gaps between sky and sea as I thought ten thousand thoughts of thoughtfulness.

Among other things I reflected on my Tour de France performance this year; while realistically I know I was not in the super form I had in 2008, I feel I should be justifiably proud of my efforts in safely reaching Paris this year. By safely I mean without my wife leaving me, without my children hating me and without going completely broke, although I definitely suffered the odd hallucination in my weaker moments.

The many bemused comments and arch looks I get when I tell folk I've been watching the Tour in it's live entirety show me people think I'm quite mad, and it's hard to argue that point when you have just spent three weeks watching TV and bantering on the interweb all night long while the rest of sane, non-cycling freak NZ sleeps.

In the end I only missed most of one stage all Tour, but I don't count that as a DNF because I still dragged myself out of bed and did the hard yards in the live last 20km on the way to Perpignan in time to watch plucky Voeckler's solo win just in front of the thundering bunch.

As I said last blog, there were definite ebbs and flows in my energy levels, but I kept the beer and rum consumption to a bare minimum, ensured the coffee and jet planes were in steady supply, and took all bar one of my carefully plotted evening naps. These strategies worked out with my Directeur Sportif/Wife and combined with some superb teamwork from my friends on the web kept me in both the family and Tour games, so this Tour and these school holidays were some of the most fun I've had in recent times...if this be madness, bring on the loony bin.

This powerful grip the Tour has on me was a gradually occurring obsession - in the late 1970s it began with me and my equally infatuated cycling friends poring over grainy black and white photos in International Cycle Sport and Cycling Weekly, magazines that didn't get to New Zealand until about three months after the Tour was over. The info gleaned in these worthy journals was helped along with the occasional highly sought after colour pics from rarely imported French papers like Velo that always went straight onto our bedroom walls beside the pictures of Vern Hanaray and Jack Swart torn out of the Evening Post...

Scrabbling for results in out of date magazines was eventually augmented in the mid 80s with (still out of date) one hour highlights packages of the Greg Lemond/Bernard Hinault battles on Sunday Grandstand, all set to the excruciating sounds of John Tesh's electronica and made in a hideously jingoistic style, but we few true believers relished the moving images that truly brought the Tour to life, and felt we were smart enough to see through the Americentric bullshit and enjoy seeing the world's best cyclists doing battle among some of the most incredible scenery you could ever imagine.

In 1991 the Indurain reign began, and with it came Sky TV's 30 minute highlight packages on the same day the Tour was raced! This was intense, and after work at Cycle Services we'd sprint around the Bays to get home in time for the 7pm show - missing a stage meant missing vital banter the following day, and there's no way I could let Sam or Henry pick up on some trivial detail about Rolf Sorenson's Colnago or Bugno's Bianchi that I might have missed...

The late 90s the Armstrong Era commenced and hardcore NZ roadies were delighted when Avanti started picking up the tab for the odd live stage - so began the sleepless nights. After years of deprivation and delay it seemed mandatory to watch the live coverage - perhaps if we didn't it would all go back to how it was before! Plus it was easy to recover when it only four or five stages over the three weeks...

Then as Lance continued to dominate all comers on his way to an unprecedented seven consecutive Tour victories Avanti upped the ante by beginning to show every stage live, with four or five shown from roll out until the podium was packed away! By now I was so firmly hooked on watching the whole thing I couldn't have stopped watching if I'd wanted to - I couldn't even miss the so-called boring flat stages in case something vital happened that could shape the face of the Tour, and sometimes it even did and I was there to see it!

So that brings me to Alberto Contador's powerful 2009 victory and my obsession continues. Friends of mine ask me why I don't just watch the two hour morning highlights, but I'm definitely no morning person and it just makes more sense for me to just adapt my night owl habits slightly, add a sleep-in, and get on with my day - the advantages of being self employed!

This year's Tour was made all the more enjoyable by the usual few nights spent watching stages with various friends, and this year even an unprecedented four live stages watched with my two eldest sons! Harry in particular really got into the whole thing, and his trenchant observations made me think hard about the race on more than one occasion. Great fun indeed...

So if this blog I write has shown anything over the months, I hope it has shown that I'm passionate about and addicted to cycling - passion is just madness by another name, and a bit of mid-winter sleep deprivation seems a small cost towards feeding my habit. I'm quite sure it seems very odd to many, but cycling is my life and my life can accommodate my slightly insane foibles so why not? Roll on 2010, I'll be ready!

Since I last blogged lots has happened but no super exciting projects - winter has been less than salubrious, and things have (luckily for me!) been a bit quiet. A few jobs have passed through the shop, so I'll show you some of them whether you like it or not.

I finally finished my good friend Pete's 29er wheels he's going to be putting on his Soulcraft when it arrives later this year. NoTubes Arch 29er rims built up on Hadley hubs using DT Comp spokes makes for a light but durable and super-bling wheelset.

I built up this cool pair of retro-style wheels for one of Jonty's customers - new Mavic Open Sport rims around a pair of mint Normandy hubs, respaced for singlespeed action.

Talking of singlespeeds, I donated this 1987 Cannondale frame that Wheels gave me to a worthy cause on the condition that I didn't wear any responsibility for the obviously corroded aluminium collapsing under Marty's weight. He wants to build it up himself entirely out of tip shop recycled parts, so I'll be quite interested in the final result. I'll post pics once he's finished it fo sho.

I had the great honour of being asked to build a pair of race wheels for up and coming MTB legend Samara Sheppard to ride at the upcoming UCI MTB World Championships in Canberra. I've had the pleasure of dealing with Samara's Dad for years, and Jerry wanted her to be on a set of light but strong wheels, befitting her hard-charging powerful riding style learned on the infamous Wednesday Night Rides.

We chose NoTubes Olympic rims, DT Revolution spokes with aluminium nipples, laced up to Shimano XTR hubs. We could have sourced lighter hubs, but the superb Shimano spares availability and cost to weight ratio of the XTRs was hard to beat, so we erred slightly on the conservative side. 750 grams for the rear wheel and 610 g front makes for a 1360 gram wheelset that will be eminently capable of absorbing any punishment the rocky Mt Stromlo trails can dish out...

My old Chas King Prendero track bike has been stuck for years collecting dust in my bike rack with a converted road wheel, as it's old Mavic Argent rim had split at they eyelet and I'd never bothered to rebuild the old hub into a new rim. Anyway, the road wheel That was propping the back end of the Chas King up was perfect for an upcoming project, so I took it off the bike and at last got off my arse to build a new (semi) dedicated track wheel for it.

The old Suntour Sprint hub was laced into an equally old Campagnolo Record Strada (I know, it should be a Pista really...) tubular rim.

Apart from purchasing myself some decent non-rotten tubulars my track iron is now ready to rock the velodrome. If I ever decide to race again, that is...regardless, it's certainly a nice bicycle to have in my quiver; beausage personified.

Speaking of track bikes, Trevor sent me some pics of the Benotto he is restoring that I built wheels for. Francesco Moser would be proud of Trevor's efforts.

My friend Grant had a disaster on his Trek road bike - the chain somehow bounced off and wrapped around the inside of the cassette, tearing the rear derailleur and hanger apart. I suspect that simple but fiendish problem of the hanger getting inadvertantly bent in transit, or perhaps the bike fell over on the drive side - it's very common and easy to miss, and it doesn't take much before the derailleur can shift over the big cog at the back and into the spokes. Anyway, whatever the cause might have been I pulled the wreckage apart and worked out that the damage wasn't as bad as it might have been.

First I ordered a new Wheels Manufacturing hanger off the esteemed David Whittam at Cycle Supplies to replace the munted one...

And a new inner plate in place of the equally munted one on Grant's 105 derailleur.

The new hanger wouldn't quite fit the frame, as the derailleur jamming had caused some carnage and twisted the dropout - a bit of judicious spannering and filing and it was perfect.

Once the hanger was installed and the wheel fitted, I checked the alignment with my frotty Campag alignment checker...

A new rear cable housing and a careful run through of the gears to ensure there'd be no repeat of this horror and Grant's race machine is ready to rock the first race of the PNP season this Saturday. Best of luck, bro!

Away from the fixin' and back to the racin' now, the Tour de France wasn't the only race going on in the Northern Hemisphere while we were sat here freezing our babollos off - the Jazz Apples have been doing incredibly well in North America, and I've been lucky enough to have been getting the odd race report from Susy and Chris, along with photos and more...check out the great website for the full rundown on the Jazz Apples domination of Superweek in British Columbia.

Here's a pic of Dotsie winning the brutal 700 metre 16% Tour de Whiterock hillclimb.

And Susy, showing the fiendish gradient...

And here is the entire Team (minus Ruth Corset who is on National duty for Australia in Europe) on the podium of the Tour de Delta as Team GC winners, to go along with Lauren Ellis's overall victory, Marina's stage win and QOM title, Malindi Maclean's sprint title and Steph Roorda's sterling teamwork and podium finishes. Quite a powerful team performance, I'm sure you'll agree, but no surprise to me after seeing how superbly they gelled on the training camp and Tour of NZ earlier this year...

One rainy morning last week I went out to the letter box and found a parcel addressed to "le grimpeur Oli Brooke-White" from the Jazz Apples. Now I'm nothing if not a top hillclimber, but it's always nice to be acknowledged as such by my superiors. It's also super nice to get such thoughtful gifts from so far away - another prized addition to the Wall of Fame, so thanks heaps Jazz Girls and Chris!

One fine day I went on a very special road ride of a Saturday morn. In town for a fleeting visit was my great mate Paul Larkin (Roadworks Rotorua Ltd) with a good friend, and they had rendezvoused with another buddy Dave Livesey and my man Tim Wilding (now a Welli resident, so watch out!) at Freyberg. I was roused from the sleep of the dead by a call from Paul so I gulped down a quick coffee then somehow managed to get dressed and out the door. I headed south to see how far around the Bays I could make it before meeting them all head on - it turned out not very far, as we met just after Moa Point.

I swung around and joined them, setting a cracking pace from behind. We rolled around attacking each other relentlessly (this is a lie) before I took out the hard fought Wakefield Park prime from Dave, with Paul doing a fine job as sweeper for me, while Tim and our other friend clearly struggled with the searing speed I showed. We then went for a coffee at my local coffee shop slash dojo, before having a post-ride debrief in the Batcave. They then rolled off (no doubt cowed by my fearsome physical prowess) before we caught up later that evening...

Part two of our get together was for that night's stage of the Tour (Colmar-Besancon) at Dave's mansion overlooking Island Bay, where we had a great fun night bantering as we consumed rum and dissected the racing, while poor Paul alternately blurted out apposite aphorisms and snored on the floor.

While on the subject of international cycling stars, a few blogs ago I posted some great shots my friend Mike took on his pilgrimage to the Hallowed Climbs of France. Mike had joined us for the evening's frivolities and he very kindly gave me a super cool momento of his smashing of the mighty Alpe d'Huez in Roadworks strip (and I do mean strip!) which will have pride of place on the shop wall. Cheers, Mike!

As well as the ride described above, the Tour inspired me to get out on the bike almost every day. I went for a few good dirt and road rides over the three weeks, including a vital mercy mission to prop my Bianchi casually against the wall of my generous sponsors Havana, where I collected as much X Blend as I could carry to get me through the long stages...I'm pretty sure the sight of me dressed in lurid lycra may have jeopardised my future coffee supply - I'm sure hoping not.

Unfortunately, my poor bike hadn't had a clean in at least three rides so it was getting quite filthy, as can be clearly seen in this shot of its beautiful head tube.

Talking of tubes, I was forwarded this great shot of a Bianchi Pista which I felt it was my duty as a fanatical Celeste passionista to show you.

As well as it being Tour time, did I mention it was also the school holidays? The sheer pleasure of being surrounded day and night by a never ending onslaught of childish squabbling, ridiculously expensive visits to the movies, and juggling several conflicting teen and kid-oriented outings never paled. But these holidays were luckily also a fantastic excuse for us to do a few great rides together. I won't regale you with endless repetitive descriptions of them all, but this one I'm about to describe was unanimously regarded as the best one, and crucially it was the only one that all four BW boys rode together.

So after forcing the boys at large amounts of money point to spend a morning in the shop clearing out rubbish and ferrying a sex wagon-full of crap bike detritus up to the recycling centre...

...we got organised and headed out for a blat. Here's my carload of monkeys on the drive to Makara Peak; Bodhi ready for action natch.

Then after about an hour of slightly frustrating monkey and bike wrangling in the carpark...

...we set off up Koru. Bodhi did his usual superb job of stoking - he doesn't need any direction from me at all now, he knows the drill and his determined little bursts of power helped us get around all the hairpins with remarkable aplomb. His cheerful chatter makes the riding seem almost effortless as well, the lovely boy.

We had the mandatory (according to Bo) stop at the Chainring Tree, where Harry points out the old Black Spire chainring we nailed to the tree the first time the two bigger boys rode with me up Makara 5 or 6 years ago...

After the Tree the two big boys took point, but it wasn't long before Bodhi had whipped up our pace so much that they were forced to step off the track or be steamrolled off it. Here Bo and I wait for them to catch the hell up.

We trundled happily up Koru, with a freaky fast blast on the little downhill bit before the exit to Swigg/Lazy Fern that really showed me how much strength it takes to control a bike when it has a large child hitched to it. We then decided to head up Magic Carpet, before discovering it was actually a bit wet and sketchy for Bo so safely retracing our steps.

We continued on down Lazy Fern, where Ket and Harry charged off while Bo and I followed behind riding carefully but gassing it when it seemed safe...

We made it safely down to the carpark, where the two boys were patiently waiting. Ket slightly the worse for wear after a couple of offs, including a mean OTB apparently. Lucky he has always been able to take a beating...

I too was tired and sore, but not from crashing. The considerable difficulty of holding Bo and I onto the trail at speed down LF was surprisingly exhausting, and I had majorly pumped forearms from the sheer effort of hauling on the bars as Bo zigged while I zagged - it took so much body English I had to pull out my body French, Spanish and German just to stay on the trail at times!

We cleaned the filthy boikes using the awesome hoses in the carpark.

But it would take a lot more to clean up the filthy monkeys and their clothes...

We loaded up the official Roadworks Team vehicle and headed off to grab banana milkshakes, then home and the shower ran for hours...

So that's all I have. Well, not really. I have a bunch of other photos to blog but COME ON, WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM ME??? CAN'T YOU SEE I'M TIRED? If you're very good I might do another blog this weekend, but not if you DON'T TIDY YOUR ROOM THIS INSTANT!

Whoops, sorry about that. Until next time CU and thanks for reading, Oli

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Tour de Roche Rouge

I have to admit that after a great start I'm already beginning to struggle with the gruelling pace of this year's Tour de France, and we haven't even made it to the mountains yet. A complex training schedule consisting of work avoidance, naps, sleep-ins and the consumption of vast and probably illegal quantities of coffee are just barely helping me to get through, and luckily the school holidays have been superbly timed to allow me some vital morning leeway while I recover from the previous night's exertions...Hopefully I'll be able to tap into some of my recent good form once we head into Andorra on Friday night, as I don't want to be nodding off when Lance's attacks commence on the slopes of Arcalis!

As le Tour kicked off in Monaco this weekend with a hard 15km time trial I thought I'd better prepare by putting in a few hard efforts after a less than ideal training week prior. A couple of grouse fartlek rides around the Bays were augmented by a hilly day training up Seatoun's Alpe d'Huez, and topped off with another fine solo victory in my last pre-Tour warm up race, the Daurkine Dribblere.

My build up to this gruelling three weeks of little sleep didn't just consist of riding, as much as I would have liked it to. I also had to deal with the odd bit of work so that Jacq didn't kill me for not keeping her in the style to which she has become accustomed, the poor thing.

I was lucky enough to get a couple of wee pressies in the mail this week; the first was from my friend Jamie in Rotorua - he sent me a lovely 26.2 Campagnolo seat post to add to my slowly growing collection of lovely old bits from Vincenza's fine component maker.

I always like giving my post a quick polish.

Naturally this required a slight fluffing of my Campag Cabinet to slot it in ...

Bottom shelf.

Middle shelf.

And top shelf action yeaaaaahhhh...

The next envelope I tore open contained a pair of pit crew tags from Philly kindly sent by Chris and Susy, my Jazz Apples bosses. I so wish I could have been there in person, but I was stoked to know that at least I was there in spirit. Very cool.

Talking of my favourite cycling team, the Jazz Apples have been gathering some great results - awesome stuff, guys! I'll let Susy tell the stories of their successes:

The Jazz Apple team made a sterling start to the Central Coast Cycling Classic in San Luis Obispo today with Lauren and Marina placing first and second in today's 90 km circuit race. Steph continually stretched out the field early on before Malindi hammered over the top of the main climb at a crucial moment splintering the field. (Must have been thanks to Malindi's 245km mid-week ride!!!).
Marina and Lauren soon escaped with one passenger just as the field was ground down on the lumpy course, and Lauren made her death move with 7km to go and stayed away until the finish. Marina finished second in a beautifully orchestrated move.

Tomorrow is an hour long criterium staged on the downtown cycling-friendly streets of San Luis Obispo.

We trust you are all managing a good dose of pedal power and good health.
The Jazz Apple girls

Marina Duvnjak collected a stunning victory in today's hugely popular downtown San Luis Obispo criterium. Marina's win was a thrilling ending to a three woman breakaway, which dessimated on the final two laps by a killer attack in the wind by perrenial athlete, Pam Schuster. Marina managed to bridge to Pam only 200m from the line, and then in a FUJI flash, jumped straight past to win in front of a hugely excited crowd.

Steph Roorda had an impressively spirited outing covering all the decisive moves while Lauren unpacked her sprinter's legs to collect the major cash primes. After several successive attacks with an active race by Team La Grange, Marina managed to break the field with Pam Schuster and a 'La Grange' bridging across. On the last lap, the remaining field managed to swallow the lone La Grange rider and Lauren unleashed her galloping legs to win the bunch kick for third.
Malindi kicked to finish 5th, which placed three of the Jazz Apple team in the top five.

The team have a few days at 'home' with our wonderful hosts, the Linders and the Duffy's before heading up to Vancouver for BC Superweek, June 10-19. Thank you to you all for your tremendous support.
The Jazz Apple girls.

In a very hot and humid Louisville, Kentucky, Jazz Apple's Dotsie Bausch took home 2 Masters National Championship titles in both the road race and the criterium last week.

The road race was hard fought, with a flurry of spicy and animated attacks being shot off the front around the 5 mile, technical, hilly lolli-pop course. Dotsie finally took matters into her own hands and attacked at the top of the steepest grade of Cochran Hill, 6.5 miles from the finish line and never looked back. Her solo effort was good enough for a 1 minute 13 second advantage over the silver medalist, Leslie Jennings of Washington, D.C.

The criterium was not too active from the start, as the riders had Dotsie marked from the gun. As the race unfolded and attacks began to come, Dotsie counter-attacked a move by one of the tougher teams and 2 women bridged to her, making a solid 3 woman break-away that would never get absorbed.
With 1 lap to go and 50 seconds up on the rest of the field, the ladies began a cat and mouse game that saw them on the far straight away in a literal track stand. Keeping the eye on the prize and know her strengths AND weaknesses, Dotsie took off and sprinted for the victory at the 350 meter line, with the field almost nipping the break-away at the line! Dave Toll,the announcer for the week, called it the "most exciting race finish of the week."

Being fully au fait with the demands of the professional athlete, I know what they expect and need. As I said last time, Dave had lent his lovely Cervelo R3 to a visiting cycling champion (still politic to keep their identity secret sorry!), so before packing it up to send to them I added one of the little touches that personalise a pro machine.

Hopefully the colours of home will help the motivation as this rider prepares for a tough European and World Championships campaign. I'm assured the R3 arrived safely at it's destination up north and is already being ridden hard...

I had to check the alignment of a pair of old TI Raleigh forks belonging to Rick - they were causing his bike to pull badly to the side. I first put them into my VAR fork alignment checking tool, where you can clearly see how off-centre they are.

Now comes the fun part - cold setting. This is just a polite term for bending the crap out of something, which I proceeded to do once I'd transferred fork, tool and me to my dirty old ex-workshop under my house. You can see the VAR tip alignment tools in place - after the legs are cold set correctly I use these to check the tips. Once the end surfaces are flush with each other the tips are parallel and therefore aligned.

As a testament to the strength of Reynolds 531 fork legs, it took some considerable effort to yank the legs in place, plus the legs had twisted in relation to the fork crown which complicates the whole deal. Eventually I was happy with them, so it was back to the shop to check them with a wheel from my old Bianchi, used because I know it's in perfect dish. Voila, despite this photo making them look completely bung!

More crash damage, this time my good friend Paul's sweet Scott Addict. A bunch ride failure of the rider in front to point out a pothole resulted in poor Paul slamming into it, losing his grip on the bars and then hitting the deck hard. Luckily he ended up without major injury, but his bike wasn't so fortunate. Amazingly, he managed to ride home from Wainuiomata to Ngaio with half his 'bars hanging off - kudos!

The handlebars after removal of the levers and tape...

Sadly, the stem too had sustained damage, with bad cracking on the face-plates. The stem was replaced with a quality Ritchey WCS 4-Axis one, and the shattered carbon 'bars with a pair of my favourite aluminium FSA Wing Compacts. Paul agreed with my assessment that 98% of the time riding standard 'bars the drops won't ever be touched, whereas compacts make it comfortable to reach and therefore use the drops without changing your relationship to the brake hoods.

Here are the new stem and handlebars fitted along with Paul's reusable gel pads.

And here is Paul's Addict restored to race-ready pristinitudedness...

I carefully cut down the remnants of the old bars and put them together with the damaged stem to create a very stylee fashion fixie bar/stem combo that I'll never dare use.

After a long wait for some back-ordered cranks I was finally able to give my great mate Alex's Specialized Enduro some attention. Off came the old defective Stylo cranks that had come loose on their b/b axle...

Then I threaded in these bling bottom bracket cups...

That were supplied with Al's wicked new Shimano Saint cranks.

He also got me to fit this hot pair of Crank Brothers Mallet pedals while I was at it.

Some new gear housing and his Enduro was ready to shralve once the weekend arrived...

Also in preparation for the weekend, as well as the school holidays that follow, I wanted to get my sons' bikes organised. First I gave Kester's classic old GT LTS a good going over. It need the pivots rebuilt and rebushed, as well as a good tidy up after some decent thrashing by my hard-charging eldest son.

Next up was a much bigger job, but fun nonetheless. My friend Tony had donated me his old bike after I told him that virtually all the parts were worn out. But as middle son Harry has all but grown out of his old hardtail I thought I'd do a parts transplant and build him up a new bike around Tony's old Specialized FSR-XC frame. Again I had to rebuild the pivots as best as I could, along with give the worn out SIDs as much of a service as practical.

Once the parts off his old bike were moved across he ended up with quite a hot XC fully...

I had another visit from Mark with his Turner Sultan 29er - this time to have a lower stack headset fitted to drop Mark's front end down a hair. More bling Crank Brothers parts to play with as I carefully fitted their Opium Directset to his bike...

The next fun job was Leonard's new PedalForce TT rig. He dropped off some tantalising boxes of kit at the very end of the work day...

...which I laid out the next morning in readiness for the impending build.

First off I cautiously cut down Leonard's aero seatpost, ensuring I had at least 20mm wiggle room up and down going off his existing road bike seat height measurement.

The Zipp manufactured lower-level Flashpoint branded wheels didn't look like much of a handicap to me - a bit of weight gain the only negative over their much pricier models.

I set the headset, forks and aerobars up roughly, and determined where I was going to cut the steerer.

Then added the chainset, pedals, chain and derailleurs and began to cable the gears up.

You may have noticed I wasn't using my usual Park workstand. The fragile carbon tubes needed the gentle caress of my beautiful Ultimate clamp...

Thursday ended with the bike completely built apart from the brakes. Unfortunately Pedalforce had supplied Profile aerobars with incompatible Vision aero brake levers.

Luckily for both me and Leonard, the NZ distributor for Vision is the awesome Wide Open who couriered me down the appropriate adaptor kit overnight...

Meaning Leonard had his slippery new speed weapon ready in time for the weekend.

It looks even faster outside!

Once the work was all done, the weekend bulged ominously full of cycle-related jolly japes. Saturday morning saw me crowbar my eyelids open unfeasibly early to go and stand on a cold, grassy field - for once not to watch one of my sons play sports, but to watch a bunch of hardouts ride their lungs out around and around Upper Hutt's California Park in Wellington's first cyclo-cross (CX) race since the early 90s.

Cyclo-cross is a slightly obscure branch of cycle sport originating in the Low Countries that combines short, hard races on small off-road circuits, usually requiring shouldering the bikes and running, as well as dealing with steeplechase type obstacles such as barriers and water hazards. It is mostly raced on a road bike derivative, with the familiar drop handlebar combined with knobby tyres and cantilever brakes, but this race was run under less stringent conditions to make it as easy for the curious to enter as possible...and some of them were very curious indeed!

Ex-pat Yanks Mike...

...and his wife Allison...

...from Upper Hutt's newest bike store the Bike Hutt put on the race to generate interest in this (hopefully) growing sport, but also to celebrate the USA's Independence Day. Hopefully this is the start of a proper series, adding to other races springing up around NZ. The only downside I can see is that I don't have a CX bike...yet.

Heaps of cool photos in this Vorb thread and some hilarious Bushlove write-ups here, but here are a few of the 192 pictures I took in my duties as pro spectator/Revolution Bicycles Tech Support (holding Millie's Winnie the Pooh bidon for Jonty).

The day looked like it might deteriorate badly, only for it to clear up and get almost warm by the end of the race. I was disappointed, as I was ready for any kind of inclement conditions with gumboots and cut out rubbish bags in true CX fan style.

After some excellent mingling with the racers and other fans, it was time to race. Alison rang the cowbell and they were off!

The bulk of the course was on the wet grass, with some parts taking in the gravelled paths that meander around this lovely park. A sharp climb was followed by a twisty little descent that Vaughn (I think?), Jonty, Davo Bushlove, Nick Bushlove, Alex Revell and (just visible) Clive Bushlove all navigated with aplomb.

Part of the CX ethos is the fun aspect. I'm actually not sure how much fun narrowly avoiding (or actually) spewing is, but Ashley Bushlove certainly made a good fist of it with her Wonder Woman outfit - in this shot she is using the mighty Power of Aphrodite to good-humouredly resist the foul and lecherous advances of Davo "Is that a pump in my pocket?" Bushlove.

Talking of spewing, Jim had some issues but did his cheerful best to survive.

Good to see the famed Jonathan Kennett giving the race a decent nudge, especially as he was rolling on the pair of wheels I built for his lovely Niner.

As was rising star Alex Revell, who had a great race, coming 2nd, 4th or winning the lesser race class depending on whose results you believed. I'll go with the prestigious 2nd in the Main Event thanks.

Local MTB and PNP stalwart Marco Renalli's eternal quest for lightweight bike parts almost resulted in an uncomfortable operation, as his seatpost failed after a remount. No quitter, Marco ran the entire rest of the race. Legend.

Jonty and fellow Revolution Bicycles rider Mike had a ding-dong battle, with Mike pushing Jonty hard for a long patch in the middle of the 45 minute race...

...before Jonty eventually took control of this particular duel and cleared out.

I wandered around the course trying to find different vantage points to take photos from. I spent about ten minutes simply trying to stay both casual and upright on the tractionless techy climb, captured in this awkward photo taken by my friend Daryl.

Makara Peak Supporters were reprazented by Committee member Peter, riding on Simon Kennett's ex-GDR Giant.

Also present were a few of NZ's up and coming pro-elite MTB XC riders including Tom Bradshaw and Samara Sheppard - this is Samara putting the hurt on the boys as she gears up towards the MTB World's in Canberra later in the year.

Here is yet another shot of NZ MTB legend Jonty Ritchie, showing his class with a faultless display of barrier leaping. Clive Bushlove's technique improved as the race went on.

Another shot of the very game Wonder Woman - note the Lasso of Truth draped casually on her star-spangled hip. All she needed to take out the win was her invisible plane.

A complete dearth of Roadworks riders at this event left me with little choice but to focus on my good drinking buddies from Revolution Bicycles. Mike is pictured here powering up the increasingly muddy start of the grassy climb.

The race finished with local rider Jordan Blake from VIC Cycles taking out the big prize. There was some dispute about the minor placings, so I'll leave it there, apart from to show a top shot of Davo finishing his race off with a fine Superman into the tape.

Mike and Jonty talk through their race long battle...

Before joining the others in the Revolution Posse for more post-race banter and tall tales.

Jonty's bike somewhat the worse for wear. I notice five days later that he still hasn't chipped the mud off, despite my evident consternation.

Hopefully this cool, event is the first of many. I'm not saying I'd actually race one, but I'd spectate other people racing anyday! Good stuff indeed!

Like the Tour itself this blog post is a long and gruelling one, but we are nearing the metaphorical Champs-Élysées. A blog from me wouldn't be complete without a ride report of some kind and, even though it may be too much for some, this one is no exception.

On Sunday I had a very cool MTB ride with Alex on his newly augmented Enduro - we went up onto the muddy and foul bog of Skyline via Chartwell Drive, then slithered down a damp and dark Cemetery Trail, finishing off with an urban sift in the dark down to Makara Peak carpark to wash our filthy bikes. I also had a superb hammerfest on the roadbike on Monday morning, but unfortunately I took no pics of either of those rides, so it's up to my final pre-blog effort which proved to be my best ride of the week...

As I said many thousands of kilometres/words ago this week is the start of the school holidays, so at our first opportunity Bodhi and I packed a picnic lunch and set off on an Epic Journey from Here to Hell. Or to the Devil's Gate at least.

I'm not sure how far it is from B-pore to Red Rocks, but a stiff Southerly wasn't making it any easier. Still we made good time down through Island Bay and around the first part of the unsealed road that leads to the famous seal colony by Devil's Gate (arrowed).

Negotiating the deep sand drifts was made heaps easier with Bodhi adding weight to the rear wheel and using his prodigious power to add a turbo boost to my feeble pedaling, and after bumping into Jonty's partner and kids having a bonfire on the beach with some friends, we reached the eponymous Red Rocks...

The cold south wind didn't dampen Bo's enthusiasm, and he decided to get in some quick tai chi.

Next was a stream crossing at the bottom of the feared Red Rocks descent, scene of much MTB carnage over the years. Again the extra traction and power from my little stoker meant we navigated this potentially dangerous hazard with ease - no repeat of the infamous "Wetteh" Koru Stream incident this time!

Suddenly, there they were. Seals. LOTS of seals. Some stupid German tourists were doing their very best to be attacked by trying to cuddle up with the cute but stinky denizens of the sea, but we decided to be more circumspect and record the moment on film rather than with scars and x-rays.

To get away from these Teutonic twits we crossed over the Devil's Gate, then parked up for our picnic lunch in the bracing sea(l) air.

To avoid hypothermia we decided to just take a quick look around the point at Karori Rock before beginning to make our way back home.

Back over the Gate, where pushing the bike was only marginally less difficult than attempting to ride it!

Our legs had lost their snap after the best part of two hard hours of riding, so the sand we had cruised through on the way out became our nemesis on the way back. The front wheel wandered and we were suddenly walking...

The rest of the trip home was a blur of pain and suffering, much like reading this blog will have been, but we did make it safely home, where we cleaned up and spent the afternoon dozing on the couch and watching Asterix movies, feeling the satisfied exhaustion that comes from completing an Epic Journey.

Talking of Epic Journeys, if you've made it this far you're a true Champion, so good on you! Thanks for sticking with it...

Vive le Tour, Oli