Monday, February 22, 2010

Back In Black

We are slowly easing into the New Regime as Jacq begins her first semester of nurses training, and I take up the reins of house husband. So far so good, with no missed school pick-ups or burnt meals, although the flow is about to be disrupted briefly by me heading off to do the Women's Tour of New Zealand as mechanic for the BikeNZ Team. The Team looks super strong although Ali Shanks has pulled out to be replaced by up-and-comer Courteney Lowe. I'm looking forward to taking the tools on the road again, and I hope to be relaying a story of great success in a week or so!

Anyway, I thought I'd quickly (yeah, right!) run through a few jobs and rides I've managed to cram into the New Regime...Dave's Pegoretti isn't the only Marcelo I have had the privilege of working on - I built Paul's lovely one up several years ago, and it was in for a well deserved new chain and cassette and a new set of cables and housings. Man, these bikes are cool!

Paul's lovely Ribble randonneur bike also needed some tenderloving Oli time, after many, many kilometres in fair weather and foul as Paul trained for his sadly aborted tilt at the legendary Paris-Brest-Paris event.

Joel is putting together a dedicated TT bike, so until his Trek TT bike turns up...

...he's been putting together a mean substitute. Please let the trainspotters note he has some fast Reynolds wheels to go on instead of these training hoops. ;)

Always the trendsetter, my friend Hamish is getting an Independent Fabrications cyclo-cross bike from the US soon so he asked me to build him up some affordable but sturdy wheels. Some Tiagra hubs laced into Salsa Delgado Cross rims using Sapim spokes should be the business.

Brent has treated himself to a new bike after riding his venerable Avanti Corsa into the road. He picked up an amazing deal on the latest Pedalforce QS3 that will give him all the latest (non-electronic) bells and whistles. He dropped off the bits and I slowly built it up over several days...

An amazing event was held recently that I was lucky to be a small part of, as a mechanic to two of the competitors (John Randal and Bill Brierley), a wheelbuilder to several more, and also as one of three adjudicators. This event was, of course, the inaugural Kiwi Brevet - a predominantly offroad 1100 kilometre odyssey around the top half of New Zealand's South Island that had to be completed in no less than four and no more than eight days. If you didn't get caught up in the addictive online realtime following of the SPOT Trackers and you haven't already read the various blogs, I urge you to do so immediatement - gripping stuff indeed! Try John Randal's extraordinary telling of the tale, Jeff Lyall's perspective, the story of Charlotte Ireland or John Morris's well-writ angle for a start. Inspiring stuff indeed.

I went along to the initial gathering at Revolution Bicyles on the Thursday prior. Nominally a "briefing" it was mainly for visionary race originator Simon Kennett and John to get a leg-up on handing out the SPOTS and waivers, but also a chance (as is so often the case when cyclists get together!) to quaff a few quiet ales and say hi to some of the fellow Breveteers before the Adventure commenced in Blenheim two days hence...

John had his Oli-serviced Brevet machine in full trim, weighing less loaded than many standard hardtails would weigh!

Although the night's sample of bicycles showed that there were as many different approaches to the equipment challenge as there were participants. Sadly you'll have to forgive the appalling phone pictures however and take my word for it. There was a Surly Pugsley, a couple of touring bikes, fullys and a variety of 26 and 29" wheeled hardtails, suspended and fully rigid.

On the Saturday once the Brevet commenced (and after a wee ride myself!) I sat riveted to my computer following the start and early dash as they made their way towards Nelson, only to experience the frustration of it crashing early on Saturday evening! Apart from some texts from John I was completely in the dark until I eventually managed to figure my modem out on Monday evening...

A couple of very evocative shots of John's ride.

Somewhere on the road (Arthurs Pass perhaps?)

And on the Porika Track.

Without wanting to spoil the ending of John's Brevet blog, he did a superb job and finished in very good time. On the Friday morning once he had caught up with some sleep and his life back in the Real World I caught up with him for cake and coffee and got to hear some of the story firsthand, and it is bloody good stuff! The bike performed pretty well, I was glad to hear, and as John showed me it was even still relatively clean - the lessons are finally paying off lol...

It was very cool to head back up to Revolution later on Friday night to drop Hamish's wheels off - I was just having a natter with Selwyn and Alex when John popped in, followed by Jonty who had literally just ridden off the ferry!! More great stories were spun over some cool refreshments.

And great to see the wheels I built Jonty had lasted the distance! One spoke came loose and he had a couple of punctures but otherwise he too had a mechanical free Brevet on a bike not best suited for the rigours of the more technical parts of the route...

One fine day during the week I'd tortured my office-bound friend Al by sending him photos from a ranking ride I took along Skyline - I headed up Parkvale Road, along Skyline...

...then down to Chartwell Substation, shortly after which I hung a right and descended into the Valley of the Horses.

I then climbed up out of the Valley, dropped into the next and then meandered back up onto Skyline where the cows that earlier seemed so placid and amiable now appeared menacing and more than a little sinister as they totally blocked my way.

I approached gingerly (Rickyily?) and spoke in soothing tones, finally managing with calm reason to persuade my moon-eyed friend I was no threat to her or her calf, whereupon she shuffled aside and let me past.

As I slowly moved around the bovine behemoth things were quiet until suddenly in a Hitchcockian twist things turned ugly - a sudden and surprising cacophony of frantic bellowing behind me preceded a sudden stampede of cattle from my rear, front and even above as the cows and their calves clearly decided I wasn't welcome on their treasured turf and scattered in several different directions - it was only blind luck that prevented me being ground underhoof into their plentiful poo-patties! I made my escape, glad my prodigious power and an admittedly massive surge of adrenaline enabled me to throw it into the Big Dog and sprint to reach the safety beyond the nearby cattle stop...I certainly won't be so complacent in dealing with cows in future!

I turned off towards Cemetery Trail and stopped for a breather in the safe haven of this sheltered trail.

Before scuttling down it at warp speed, though naturally mindful of potential oncoming traffic...CT was as dry as I've ever ridden it and I had a ball from top to bottom of this short but funky trail.

While the sixty-four brave men and women were engaged in the Kiwi Brevet I too was riding my bike, admittedly for a slightly lesser amount of time and without quite as much suffering. Wellington had turned on a stunning weekend of weather so I took the Bianchi out for a spin around the Bays, as I'm oft wont to do of a summer's day. For several days the still weather was causing morning fogs that took until the early afternoon to dissipate.

But the fog didn't obscure the many and varied sights along the waterfront as punters made their often inebriated way to the Caketin for the famous Wellington Sevens. I wasn't too impressed with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle who tried to grab onto my moving wheel in a drunken parkour attempt, but it was hard to stay angry for long in light of the often spectacular scenery that abounded.

With my computer still down it behooved me to ride again, so when Alex whistled I jumped at the chance. Over a cup of tea we decided to head out and ride up to Belmont Trig, an old school ride we have been meaning to revisit for quite some time. We loaded up the Sex Wagon and headed out along the Hutt Road, parked up at Cornish Street then slowly cruised up the road through Korokoro and Maungaraki then down Stratton Street before starting the arduous climb up the Trig itself. I took many photos of this climb, and the stunning views that unfolded as Al and I struggled manfully up this at times brutal ascent, but after a mandatory and well-deserved rest while ogling at the panoramic vista, virtually as soon as we began the fun descent I had a mong crash and munted my poor old Pantech phone - all I could get is a photo of the screen with the last photo I took on it before it died, and now even John's Brevet texts couldn't get through...

...the crash was stupid; a waterbar that was dry was running through a patch of bog and as soon as I came around the corner and saw it I thought, "Be caref-ough!..." WALLOP! Then the screaming began - not from the pain of the crash (I was moving slowly when I crossed up and went OTB) but from the intense and excruciating pain the cramp in my right calf was causing! The two walkers standing agape at the side of the track must have been terrified, but I soon regained my decorum and off we went down this fun and at times tricky downhill that leads to the infamous Baked Beans Bend and down to Korokoro Stream, and the fun trail that follows the Stream back out to the car on Cornish Street.

Despite my crash and the less than savoury uphill action this was a super fun ride and, like the Cemetery Trail earlier in the week, I've never seen the trails so dry. This meant we cleaned the tricky sections with aplomb, waterbars aside...Cheers Al for the great ride and (as ever) the many laughs!

The rest of the week was pretty full-on so I wasn't able to slip out for a ride at any stage, although as the days went on various aches and pains began to appear after my man/ground interface on Belmont. On Monday a sore coccyx made sitting mildly painful, but I was sure the Brevet guys would be suffering worse in the saddle so I did my pathetic best to man up and deal with it. However, the next day a remarkably debilitating sort of whiplash made turning my head difficult and nagged away at me until I threw enough Nurofen at the issue. Luckily by the weekend it was all but gone, as I had a job to do...

During the week I had received an email from Sarah Ulmer asking if I could step in as emergency replacement event mechanic for the Martinborough stop of her famous Molenberg SUB Stride and Ride Series, and when Sarah asks I say hell yes! I looked forward to catching up with her and the day sounded like great fun, so at 5am on Sunday morning I ignored the fact it was Valentines Day and threw some basic tools, my stand and a track pump into the Wagon and drove up to the Wairarapa for the day.

I had been asked to turn up at 7.30am but turned up slightly early, as the superbly organised event crew were still setting up. I made my way in the early morning mist through the start/finish gates to introduce myself to Nicola, Roger, Bryce, Kate and the rest of the hard-working crew...

The day before had been lashed with gale-force winds, sending tables and chairs flying and even tearing a vast hole in title sponsor Molenburg's main tent! This meant that Saturday's usual pre-event registration and expo had sadly been canned but luckily Sunday had dawned a lot calmer, still and cool at this early hour. After briefly helping set up the massage tent I unloaded my gear and waited to be shown where to set up.

Once Sarah had arrived with her sister-in-law and vital helper Lauren she showed me where to put my stand up, so I opened up shop in a corner of the tent she would be selling her cool women's SUB kit from and we had the first of several welcome coffees.

It was neat to catch up with Sarah again - working with her on on the New Zealand Team in Geelong and NZ on what sadly ended up being her last ever pair of races was one of the great highlights of my race service career, and she is great fun and very inspiring to be around. The energy she puts out staggers me every time I'm around it, as she is besieged by people who want to experience some of that Golden Glow she so naturally gives out. She easily chats to everyone, signs a zillion autographs and her clear genuine love of and interest in other people shows little apparent effort. She managed also to sell boxes and boxes of clothing and benevolently oversee the whole SUB shebang, all the while dealing with the energy-sapping demands of beautiful new daughter Lily. I was in awe.

Here is one of the many bicycles she signed, this one for a woman who had obviously become one of Sarah's mates through being one of the many repeat participants that the seven years of SUB events have attracted.

As the morning went on and the riders (and walkers and runners) gathered it soon became clear that my main job was to pump up tyres that had been forgotten in the rush to head to the event. I am used to pumping the tyres for a team of six or seven, as well as their spare wheels, but after 30 or 40 tyres in the increasing heat of the clearing Martinborough morning I was beginning to resemble the poor sap in the Lynx ad! I was also able to quickly tune a few gears and adjust some sticking brakes, although I like to think my calming (if perspiring) demeanour helped calm a few nervous women also. Making sure many tyres rated to 90-100psi were no longer inflated to 120-130psi hopefully made their days more comfortable too...

Sarah gave a pre-race welcome/briefing/pep talk, and I was humbled (but not so humbled I won't repeat it!) to be announced by her as "Wellington's best bike mechanic" - no small thing to be called by a Legendary Olympic and World Champion!

Before long it was clear I was all but done at the tent. Bryce had asked earlier if I'd be Voiture Balai for the mid and short length road rides, so when the time came I jumped in the Sex Wagon and fell in behind the women about to start.

Before long they were off on their 20 or 38 kilometre journeys and, as in all cycle races, before very long at all the front runners had settled into their work while the backmarkers perhaps wondered quite what they'd let themselves into!

I cranked up the iPod and settled in for a nice drive in the country...

...all the while nervously keeping half an eye on the cattle - at the speed I was going it wouldn't take much for them to lunge through the windows at me.

The women ahead of me didn't seem at all afraid of the wildlife, but seemed to relish the bucolic charms of the lovely gently rolling Wairarapa countryside.

Time passed nicely and before very long riders started coming back towards us - I couldn't tell if they were short or mid course riders, but the pace suggested the latter.

As we approached the turn around point we passed a carload of enthusiastic youths with a sign saying "GO MUM!" parked on the side of the road - both out on the road and especially in the event village itself I was blown away by the awesome support the mums, daughters, sisters and grandmas were getting from their families - very cool indeed.

I hit the turn around and sat tight while I waited for three women who had started 15 minutes after we had left! It's not a good look when the broom wagon is in front of the last riders on the road...before long they arrived and I set off again. Soon a bunch from the long (69km) ride passed by, working a decent paceline. Keep your eye on the woman in blue...

...for shortly after that pic I saw a cluster of women gathered on the side of the road and the unmistakable aftermath of a bike crash, with bikes being checked, detritus scattered on the road, and clear concern being shown by several of the women towards another one dressed in blue.

I pulled over wondering why the hell I didn't have a first aid kit with me and was introduced to Rachel, who had had a touch of wheels and come off worst. Her elbow had a nasty gash and she had much road rash on her knees. Like all true bike riders though she was most concerned about her Argon18 bike, which sadly was in worse shape that she was with badly damaged wheels, brake-shift lever and forks.

I loaded the bike into the car while Rachel carefully climbed into the passenger seat, refusing my offer of calling the ambulance. As the women who had assisted her climbed back on their bikes and set off again we followed slowly behind, quickly catching up again to the slow but determined backmarkers. Rachel was in a lot of pain so I put a shirt over her knees and tried to engage her in conversation to take her mind off it. It transpired she had only begun riding a bike last year when a friend challenged her to ride 80km of Taupo - the same 80km I rode, it turned out. Clearly the bug had bitten hard as she was riding well until the accident. Hopefully the crash won't have put her off...

Soon we saw an ambulance, alerted by the other women involved in the stack. By now Rachel was really feeling shady so I flagged them down, transferred her to their tender care and said good-bye. I would return her bike and gear back at the event village.

I more soberly resumed my slow parade behind the last dogged and gutsy woman on the road. Really the short course would have been a test for her but she was absolutely not going to let the mid course defeat her and she bravely plugged on as I escorted her home...

Back to base where I unloaded Rachel's broken machine and wheeled it over to the tent to meet her as she climbed out of the ambo swathed in dressings. By now the day was scorching and riders, runners and walkers came in to be greeted by the mellifluous tones of event MC Jono. Stories of the day were shared over coffee and free Molenberg toast.

Sarah just kept on making people's day - here she signs the shirts of some delighted angels, the eventual winners of the best dressed team award.

Talking of awards, Sarah and Jono made sure the podium finishers of each category in every event were made to feel like true Champions, culminating in the winners of the various races being awarded a Maillot Jaune each - wicked!

The day was then done so I packed up my stuff, said good bye to Sarah and the crew and took my leave - not before getting my picture taken with her, and not before she kindly gave me (and helped me choose) a cool hoodie for Jacq (Valentine's pressie?).

It was really neat to be asked to help out, but even neater to check out the amazing atmosphere Sarah and her crew have created at this great event. The supportive and inclusive nature of the SUB ethos is manifestly apparent and I can see why these days are so popular all over NZ. Whether or not I'm working next year I'll definitely be back, bringing and supporting Jacq who is super keen to ride. Cheers, Ulms!

The week following was a shakedown of the life to come, as Jacq headed off to Orientation and I began to take on the mantle of school dad/house wife. I did manage to slip out for a ride on the Monday, inspired by the efforts women the day before. Yet another nice day (summer at last?) and after dropping Bo to school and doing the shopping I headed around the Bays and over a few hills. Nice. The rest of the week didn't really give me much of a chance to ride, but mostly it seemed to be time-management issues on my part I'm quite sure I can sort out as we all settle into this new era.

On last Friday I received a small shipment of my jerseys, mainly to resolve some sizing issues from previous purchases, but also to get myself a couple of custom Il Commendatore Roadworks Reparto Corse special edition jerseys as a kind of thanks to myself for putting up with me for ten years. Vinyl Sluts Club on Friday night...

...totally put the kibosh on riding in my new kit on Saturday (or doing much of anything, to be honest...) but I took the Bianchi out to purge the poisons on Sunday on a fine but breezy day. Surprise, surprise I headed around the Bays! It was a lovely ride and I looked most fetching in all the window reflections I could find, if I do say so myself.

Finally, big props to Tim Wilding for his fine second place in the Coppermine Epic Race behind Olympian and repeat winner Robin Reid this weekend. Good stuff Timmah, and the build up for Xterra looks better and better...

I'll be back in a week or so with some Tales from the Tour. Until then, thanks for reading. Cheers, Oli