Great news; yesterday I won the Karapoti Classic, also doubling as the New Zealand Mountain Bike Marathon Championships. I've recently competed in a few very fun races and I'll give you the lowdown on them in a short while because they're stories worth telling, but this is all about Karapoti.
Saturday was one of those beautiful days where nothing seemed insurmountable. I led from very early on, happy to control the pace through the gorge and avoid the shower of muddy spray that you expose yourself to when following another.
The Warmup climb was a bit of a revelation. Instead of being pushed back by a steady stream of guys coming past, as I expected, I was able to maintain the aggression and shell a few more riders so that at the top it was me, Brendon Sharratt and Stu Houltham. I haven't done so well on the climbs in recent years and so this was the first hint that I might be in good shape to place well today.
Deadwood followed the Warmup climb and it was here that I had a sweet wee moment, passing Stu while climbing. That certainly doesn't happen often and so I quietly savoured that act. I was working bloody hard for it though, with my heart rate at 180bpm since the start.
It was along the rolling ridge at the top of Deadwood that I dropped Stu and Brendon. I'm not sure precisely where it was but it wasn't so surprising. I really like that type of terrain, where you maintain the momentum of the previous downhill to drive up the following climb. It was an area of strength for me, but there were a few more areas of weaknesses ahead—Rock Garden and Dopers—and so I still expected to have company at some stage.
It wasn't to be. I rode the Rock Garden the best I ever have, thankful to be on my Santa Cruz as I went down it. Hiskey had shown me how quick you can ride it a month or so earlier, and while I don't think I even approached his speed, it was hugely useful in resetting my expectations.
I was looking forward to Devil's Staircase where I felt I would have an advantage over all but Cabin, who is also training for Xterra. I didn't quite bound up this hike-a-climb but I moved pretty fast, and crucially didn't have to contend with screaming legs unaccustomed to walking, as it was when I was a cyclist.
Big Ring Boulevard was a blur with a few pockets of spectators at crucial junctions yelling encouragement. Then things got a bit desperate. With one climb remaining my legs were beginning to feel the effects of my earlier effort. My bike hadn't quite emerged unscathed through the muddy bogs / rock gardens / bush either and I'd lost my two easiest rear gears. There was nothing for it but to climb as best I could and adopt an air of fatalism accepting that I might be caught.
Dopers seemed to go on for an interminable length of time as I hurried to stay hidden in the bush. I was having to stand a great deal though thankfully my Maxxis Aspens were hooking up well, as they had done all day, and I didn't have to devote too much energy to maintaining traction.
Finally I crested, and with only downhill remaining I could begin contemplating the prospect of a win. I was riding raggedly though and took a tumble part way down when I fluffed a line through one of the clay bogs. It wasn't major, though I did knock my head, but it was disruptive to my flow.
Once I was back on the flat and I just drove it as hard as I could to the finish. I was still convinced that someone would catch me and so it was with a huge sense of relief that I dropped into the final river crossing, 100m from the finish knowing that no one was immediately behind.
It was a great feeling to cross the line victorious, and a huge privilege to be wearing the Roadworks shirt as I did so. Oli Brooke-White has been one of my best supporters for a long time now and I knew that he'd be thrilled to add a Karapoti title to his already extensive riders' results.
I completed the course in 2hr 21min 09 sec, some 2 minutes ahead of Brendon Sharratt in second place. From my rough reckoning this is the 6th fastest time ever recorded, with guys like Kashi Leuchs and Clinton Avery bettering my effort. I was hoping to go sub 2.30 so was pretty chuffed by this.
The Karapoti Classic was also doubling as the NZ MTB Marathon Championships so I've taken that title too. Attached is a pic of me in the national shirt with Oli—we're pretty happy.
It turns out that my very comfortable Lazer helmet did the job it was designed to do and sacrificed itself when I crashed. It must have been a much stronger impact than I thought.
I would like to thank my sponsors who have all been with me for so long, and who all provide the gear that allows me to perform like this. Cheers Santa Cruz, Pearl Izumi, Maxxis, Roadworks; you guys are the best at what you do.