With there being just four events for me in 2008 each will be relatively unique. The "Round the Mountain" event is a well timed race, with thoughts of training not wandering far from mind over Christmas when it is known that a 180km race is approaching quickly. This is the second time I have taken part in this event and last year there were approx 200 riders for the 157km event.
A total of 277 riders took part this year, with Solo riders split between the 157km event and the 181km event. The weather was perfect for the event and the start was the usual affair of banter and apprehensive waiting by the masses, with the race starting in one group and my thoughts focusing on how this day would be unique and the events that I was about to experience being the only opportunity I would get for this day...as it wouldn’t happen again.After an initial downhill section the riders started to put on the pace, despite still being in town. I could have caught the leading group shortly thereafter however, as a vehicle stopped at an intersection and created a bottleneck on an already narrower road than we had come off. Knowledge that the leading riders would finish an hour before me were clear in my mind however and I had no intention of unnecessary heroics.
The race was pretty intense for the first 60 minutes. I was suffering a bit, but to be honest felt better than I had on previous races, with the buffer between feeling good and red lining it being more flexible than I previously experienced. The race however settled at the same point as last year's larger ride (later in January) and I went from 90-92% max HR for the first hour down to about 77-82% max HR thereafter. This was unexpected and I relished the opportunity of being in a good sized group (30-45 riders) while feeling good.
Making the decision to try no heroics during the ride I decided to set in the bunch when approaching hills. Last year (on the same course) I would take off ahead of other riders and would then spin to the top, with the hope existing that I could latch onto the back when we reached the top. I stayed with the group up the hills this time and while admittedly suffering on the bigger climbs I either stayed with, or caught, the leading riders after the climb. However, on two occasions I decided to replicate last years approach, with the rational being that I could save energy if I used the descent to my advantage and took it easy up the next climb. This left me needing to sit up for the bunch, with many of the riders probably wondering what I was up to. I am certainly stronger on the hills.Very few of our group turned at the turnoff for the 160km riders. We probably lost just 6-7 riders from our group of around 30 and with several swapped riders from the relay change we settled for the stretch through to Hawera.
It was getting hot by now and my drinks were getting low. At the two hour mark I had just one and a half drinks left of the four I started with. I was conscious that I needed to hydrate, but also think about a Plan B if I ran out of water.We were making good time at Hawera and looked to be on track for a 5:30'ish ride for the event. This was pleasing, as my goal was to ride anything less than six hours. At about this point I started chatting to a two day Coast-to-Coast rider, and I was surprised when he said "I want to shake your hand" when I mentioned completing the Enduro. I encouraged him up the first real climb after Hawea, but he was dropped on the next rise.
Things then started to get weird, with a climb presenting me with the opportunity to stretch the legs and I pushed the pace to the top, gliding past the other riders and then sitting on the front. Several riders passed me to take their turn at the front, and I then experienced cramp in both hamstrings. I never get cramps!! If I had to put this down to anything specific I would say that not having salt on my food is possibly the reason. This is a move I made just before Christmas.I did stay with the group however, and now took my place at the rear of the group, knowing that pushing the pace would see me drop off the back. We were about a km from Midhurst and I was fully aware that this was my possible last drink station ahead. I had not had a drink for last 30 minutes, as my water was all gone and I knew that our group had approx 1:20 to 1:30 to go. So with about 500 metres to go I broke away from the group and sprinted towards the drinks stop. This was my one catch to get a drink and if I was lucky get back with the group.
It was not to be for catching the group however, as I cramped up again trying to catch them. I had to be theosophical and accept that when presented with a choice between getting a much needed drink, or saving a bit of time on a ride, the former option is the smarter one. I did slowly start to catch some riders and eventually I caught a rider who had been in my group. Just as I passed him a group of three riders passed me going at least 10kms an hour faster than me. I jumped on the back and so did the rider I had caught. Not a wise move, as I cramped up and they all left me. In hindsight this was my one mistake of the ride, and I may have been able to form a good team with the rider I had caught if I hadn’t tried to jump in with the faster group.
However, I settled into a good rhythm and passed several more riders. By now the 180km riders were passing the slower 160km riders, so it made for an interesting combination of cyclists heading back to New Plymouth. On pretty much the exact spot I had started my breakaway during last years Round Taranaki event I heard a BANG and the front tyre had punctured on a rise 5km's from the finish. This could have been a lot worse, as the descent was just over the rise and may have gotten messy if I had been flying down the hill when the tyre burst. I also got another drink from a support crew!!
Water never tasted so good.I finished the race in 5:38, with the group I had been in finishing in 5:22. Another rider said I had experienced some "bad luck" on the ride due to the cramps and the puncture, but as I said to him we all finished safely, so it was a good day. And in hindsight it was a very good day indeed, with riders being supportive and the general feel being an inclusive one.
The Yarrows "Round Taranaki" event is next up, and that takes place at the end of the month (26 January). There are approx 2,500 riders in that event and (all things being equal) times should be quicker for that ride. I did 4:48 last year and another sub-5 hour ride is quite achievable if the ride goes to plan. In the next several weeks however I will simply focus on getting through my weekly hours and I will probably get in two KCC Crits this month.