Sunday, December 05, 2010

Civil disobedience at the Festival of Cycling

Grinning after the Witches Hill traverse
Photo Rebekah Tregurtha
On a beautifully still Christchurch morning I made my way down from Mt Pleasant for what must be the shortest ever race commute, not more than a minute and a half to the race start at McCormack’s bay.

Living in such close proximity was a treat, as the tracks down Greenwood Park and Captain Thomas are personal favorites. I’ve a depth of familiarity that has been honed from countless runs down these nuggety gems, often on a rigid forked, one-geared steed.

Warming up it was clear the field was pretty stacked, with young local pinners and a few big names from the North Island all making the trip with the hope of grasping the generous purse on offer. From the gun it was a furious tailwind assisted smash, testing the spinning abilities of the few who chose a 1 x 9 gearing. As the road pinched up to the Bridle Path, it was immediately apparent that my legs we’re staging a protest at the very thought of exertion. A week of intensity training is the likely culprit, with fatigue making the grind up the farm track a disheartening experience. Battling on and loosing places faster than confused cartographer it wasn’t until the final stretch of the Rapaki climb when I finally regained some rhythm and could start to recover from a terrible start.

Riding the Witches Hill link was a welcome break, mindful of the throng of spectators I played it cool and cleared the tricky first section. This technical trail served to break the mental blockade, and rolling back onto the road I could start to push again.

Pulling back two riders by the bottom of Castle Rock, I set about reeling in three more and diving into John Britten I knew I’d be able to grab back some time on the extended descent.

Getting the stoke on down Greenwood Park
Photo Logan's olds 
A delightful combination of rockiness and flow carried me down to Evan’s Pass and with telltale puffs of dust on the trail it was clear a competitor was only seconds ahead.

Here is where the purpose of the race changed for me.

Save a precious few boundary pushing events, there has been a depressing trend towards dumbing down the cross country discipline. Whether it is by shortening event durations, removing technical sections or even cancelling events at first sign of adverse weather, I strongly believe that these actions are undermining the adventure and risk that makes XC such a rewarding pursuit. If this decline continues I can picture us riding flat paved trails, cocooned by layers of body armor made mandatory by knee deep stacks of waivers.

With this in mind I hit the compulsory dismount section of Captain Thomas resolved to make a stand. Sacrificing my result, I hoped my disobedient actions would provoke some discussion in the community, perhaps even raise some questions about whether this is the direction that XC racing should be heading.

Knowing the organiser well, I could understand her position and the implications of responsibility should someone hurt themselves on the course. The fact is mountainbiking is inherently dangerous, and as soon as we start removing self-responsibility from racing we will lose the ability to assess the risks and push boundaries in spite of them.

Bouyed by my stand, I proceeded to shred the reminder of Captain T, catching a rider at the bottom of the jarring step section.

From here a manic duel ensued, with the rider clawing back any small gaps I could make, and both of us dispatching roadies at the tail end of their Long Bay’s loop with an ease that belied our knobbly tires and hairy legs.

Coming into Redcliffs, traffic had stopped at a zebra crossing and at the front of a queue a bus was rolling away. Seeing the opportunity I jumped, and was treated to a 50 km/h motor pace all the way to the McCormack’s bay turnoff. This move could be considered by some as dangerous, and the sour look at the finish line on the rider who’d missed the jump meant he probably thought so. Perhaps he was just disappointed that he hadn’t taken the opportunity.

Finishing in 11th position, but dead last on time due to my ‘bad boy’ behavior, my first ever race disqualification gave substance to what would have otherwise been an average result. The grind up the hill to home did little to quash what had been an exciting race on fantastic trails, and I was smug in the knowledge that I’d made a stand on a subject I feel strongly about.

2 comments:

Juan Gear said...

good stuff Oli. You bad ass.

Timo St Anton said...

I agree with both you & the organiser... Maybe we should all be told at briefing that we ride at our own risk, (oh...we are...) and just as a roadie takes a risk crossing the white line, we all have to weigh the consequences of our call. The dismount suited me...but not there. For some reason I can ride that but not ride another on Capt T. But whenever I ride, it is MY call, just as the number of times I cross the white line is...no one made me.
When I saw you riding away post race, I had no Idea of your rebelious stance.
What a webel!