Well we made it. After returning from our last international season you'd think there might be some down time. There wasn’t. Now we're definitely not complaining as it's not often you get to leave behind your jobs, responsibilities, and annoying flatmates and head to Europe to follow some of the world’s best and biggest bike races. We love it but getting back here for the second year running wasn’t easy. After a summer of what seemed a very strict routine of work, train, fundraise, work, train, fundraise we made it to the first round of the World Cup series in Cairns.
Having a World Cup so close to home was a real treat and saw a lot of Kiwis head across the ditch to compete. It was also a nice opportunity for us “Gypsies” who are normally slumming on the outer circle of the pits to show the rest of the world how hard it actually is to travel to the other side of the world and not have the comforts of huge trucks and set-ups to fall back on. The moaning from the Euros was amazing. “I’m just really struggling because I am just so tired from the aeroplane..." Ha!! Welcome to our world, my friend. This wasn’t a typical race for us as we had accommodation to stay in and with the rain that came most days we were very grateful for this. The Bergamont Kiwi/Aussie/Canadian crew let us use their pits to work on bikes etc but a river formed straight through the middle of their tent causing a huge mud pit. Needless to say it was embraced by the team; no shoes were required and everyone felt at home. After battling a few huge spiders, snakes and the actual race we were back to Auckland for one night before jumping on another flight to head to London.
Arriving in London was a crazy feeling. We remember being so amazed at everything last time with it being our first trip overseas but this time it felt so normal. Kate's Uncle Peter picked us up, we drove back to his place and there was “Bumble” our big yellow van ready and waiting to go. Or so we hoped. The MOT (English style warrant) had expired. No worries, we thought, we'll take it to our mechanic mate in London and get it sorted. One day job, tops. We had to take it to a different garage due to it being a big bertha and the response was this: “This thing is a rust bucket, there is no point even trying to fix it, it's stuffed” Cheers for the positive attitude mate! Little did he know that this “rust bucket” was our home for the next five months and not getting it fixed wasn't an option. Luckily for us our mate Mike at MD RACING is a legend and super positive dude and gave us light at the end of what at that stage was a very dark tunnel. For three days Reon was under Bumble grinding away all the rust from underneath, bending up new plates and welding them over the holes. Of course it was a bank holiday on the Monday which held us up another day but when we called to re-book the MOT check at the same mechanics and a lovely phone conversation that went a long the lines of “you’ve got to be joking”, we took her back in and she passed with flying colours! Feeling very smug and only four days behind schedule we left for Austria where Kate had four races in four weekends coming up.
Four weeks of racing flew by for Kate. They were 2 Category 1 races and 2 World Cups. It proved to be a very successful season for with her being ranked 22nd in the World Cup Standings after racing three of the four races and the first non-pro rider in these ranks. With cross-country being a little more taxing on the body and recovery being quite an essential part of the training we had accommodation with the rest of the NZXC Racing team for these four races. Again with the first two races being super wet and freezing the accommodation was greatly appreciated after experience last year of coming back to Bumble wet, muddy and cold which then obviously transferred into the van making the carpets, bed everything in the tiny space cold and super hard to live in.
Reon was up next for two weekends of racing in two weeks, one being an IXS Downhill Cup and the second being a World Cup. We were gypsie-ing for these two weeks, and the first day just about broke us. It was pouring and cold in Morgins and we had to try and cook under an easy up that after a while lets a very fine mist through making everything wet again. Van life is pretty sweet as long as you can locate the four essentials: sunshine, shower, toilet and access to water. More and more huge European set-ups started arriving just claiming huge segments of the footpath, road, people's driveways, whatever they felt they needed. We woke up on the first morning with some dude's tent so hard up against the back of Bumble we couldn’t even open the doors. Needless to say Kate sorted them out pretty quickly.
It was Leogang where we had our true Kiwi/Aussie Gypsie commune going. Hanging out with a bunch of Kiwis and Aussies living out of vans is quite an experience. They had driven from Fort William which is about 19 hours of driving; 35 hours later Jamie Lyall and Stefan Gardner turned up in “Blake”. They won’t admit it but Blake isn’t really the ideal van for this kind of mission with them being unable to fit the bikes in the van when they are asleep, and unable to straighten their legs out while driving and having to resort to putting their feet out the window. Added to that, Blake was less than 1000cc resulting in a petrol stop every 50km (slight exaggeration), reaching a max speed of 100km/hr on the downhill and 15-30km on any slight uphill. Nevertheless they made it and Blake was pretty cute. Reon had a sick race here, qualifying in the tightest race ever with only 15 seconds between 1st and 80th.
Schladming was next for the gypsie group. We all packed up and left Leogang and only had an hour to Schladming (3 hours for Blake) and re-set up our pits. When there is limited internet access, alternative forms of entertainment must be found. With training so hard for the Commonwealth Games, meals are a pretty important part of keeping healthy and energised, not something that the downhill boys seem to worry about. It was the BYO night of the chicken nuggets that maybe made the boys reconsider this? (Maybe not.) We were sitting with them eating our Salmon, cous cous and spinach feast and were listening to the chicken nuggets bubbling away in the oil with comments such as “these ones are still cold in the middle” flying around. Three of the six people who ate the 80-chicken-nugget meal spent the evening pretty dam sick, vomit and all!
It was time for a break so off we went to Finale Ligure to visit Gabby in her new home where we also met up with Sven, Anka, Hannah and John. Holy cow, what a place. Amazing Italian food (free a lot of the time when you ordered a drink!), amazing people, hot temperatures, buzzing atmosphere along the Promenade and, best of all, some of the raddest tracks we have ridden with some finishing on the warm Mediterranean coastline.
We all decided to head off on another mission after a few days in Finale to a cool little town called Sospel just over the Italian border in France. Sospel was a much slower pace and it was beautiful. After 10 minutes of arriving Sven and Anka bumped into their friend Ash who runs the Trans Provence and next thing we knew at 7pm we were gearing up and loading a shuttle to the top of a mountain accessed by roads used in the first World War for an 800m descent. The top was in the mist and with the old war bunkers at the top there was quite an eerie feeling and we were all keen/nervous/excited to hit the trail. With Sven having ridden it before he led the way. This an amazing trail: tight, techy, flowy, it had it all and was very good training for Kate who was on her hardtail with very sore arms and hands at the bottom!
Each day consisted of rad rides like these. The next day we rode up the Col du Turini which is a famous rally road and despite nearly getting killed by some idiot who can’t drive a car, the ride up was amazing. We met met Anka, Sven and Hannah and who shuttled up behind us and set off on another mission again with Sven was showing us the way. Summiting twice by accident we got to descend a very decent 1800m on natural ridgelines and tracks finishing back in Sospel for a much needed debrief of food and beer to reminisce on the epicness we had just experienced and to fuel our very tired but super stoked bodies.
Day 3 of Sospel was just as amazing as the past 2 with another big mission planned. Climbing up Col du Baus this time only 500m of climbing and with everyone in tow, we got to the top, had coffee with the SRAM crew then continued to cross the French/Italian border. The trails down here were incredible, a bit more open, rockier terrain leading down to the small town of Olivetta in Italy unfortunately timing it perfectly with Siesta we missed out on the delicious snacks. It was another 100m of climbing home to Sospel where we collapsed in our usual spot for refreshments and to just sit and be stoked on the last few days.
Next the Mega Avalanche plus the build up to the Commonwealth Games in the next blog