Monday, January 25, 2010

A long way down at the Big not So Easy.

Saturday the 23rd of January dawned with eager anticipation. The day's challenge was Highland event's 'Big Not So Easy', the euphemistically named cousin of the 'Big Easy'. Both events shared the same much hyped 1500m, 30km descent from the Pisa Ridge to Albert Town in the Valley below, with the former tagging on a 25km climb and decent to the towering Mt Pisa.
Filled to the brim with bikes and bodies, the Volkswagon Emu (rally edition) lurched skyward up Snow Park access road in Wanaka's Cardrona Valley. Spilling out at the top, Tristan, Anja and Ollie lined up for the start just as an eerie mist began to clear. A solid field of pinners was present, with Tony Hogg, Mark Williams and Canadian Rocky Mountain Pro Colin all amping to sample the offered downhill delights.

From the gun it was evident that the aggressive surges typical of a normal singletrack race would be absent as a tight possie of riders wound their way around the benched curves of the XC skiing course. Before long the track pointed towards Mt Pisa, and as if in agreement with the gentlemanly pace set off the line, the climb never got steeper than a middle ring grunt.
By the summit of Pisa at 1900m (reputably the highest point of any MTB race in NZ), a trio remained, with Hogg, Williams and Ollie gappping the rest with a display of steady but powerful ascent.

The smooth and soft dirt of the climbs gave way to rutted gnarl on the descent, and it took a while for nerves to loosen and blood to pump to brake on the rut ridden and twisting descent down to Luggate Creek. The wallpaper for this early descent was a picture perfect vista across the valley, bordered by celestial blue at the top, the aforementioned eerie mist at the bottom, and a smattering of Central Otago's iconic rocky outcrops thrown in for good measure.
Pushing through streams, bogs and a thickening mist the trio began the climb out from the creek topping out at about 1400m and rejoining to field who had started an hour later to tackle the Big Easy.

From this point on, madness ensued as the riders ducked, dived and dodged their way around the clumps of riders that echoed the trail side tussocks. An early victim of the melee was Hogg, who no doubt lost out in the lottery that was two-rut roulette. Committing to one rut early would net you a smooth line past one rider, but a pace deflating block around the next corner.
Attempting to avoid the inevitable block as Mark sped ahead, Ollie performed several daring rut to rut hops, managing to wrestle his Ventana back on line and around a Big Easy rider, narrowly avoiding a freeride-style huck to the valley floor below.

In a haze of arm pump the pair descended through the clouds. Quick glances were cast to the valley floor below only where a respite in nuggetiness allowed it. Hooting and hollering all the way, it was neck and neck when Mark and Ollie hit a lethal combination of knee high grass and fist sized rocks that they had been warned about in the briefing. Striking any of the hidden rocks would end a riders chance at the inaugural title, their dreams deflated in a hiss of air and tire goo.
It was Ollie who emerged from the bottom of the descent alone, Mark's 29er tire falling victim to the insidious slash of this endemic central otago reptile. Gutted.

Not content with the gap, and wary of the furious finish Hogg was renowned for, Ollie pinned it to the line, shredding through a sparsely marked combination of ploughed fields, sand bars, river boulders and even 150m stretch of the river itself! A final sealed stretch to the Albert Town Tavern and a sprint for the line and it was done. 1000m climbing and an amazing 2200m of descent over 55km. Organised shuttle buses and a delicious lunch were the icing on the cake. An epic event and surely on worthy of inclusion on any rider's must dos. With prize many dished out based on the number of rider's entered in each grade, winners (Hogg, Ollie and Anja included) were handsomely rewarded.

Mountain Pedaler out...

Sue rocks it out at Caanan.

This photo is just in from the extreme mum of Ventana in NZ, Sue Heydon...
The photo was taken by Steve Newport on a chute on the awesome Caanan track. Big ups to the Golden Bay Mountain bike Club for creating this interesting and exciting mountain bike adventure trail. A large group of riders intended to do both the Caanan and Rameka tracks. We didn't make the Rameka as someone fell badly on the Caanan track and had to be helicoptered out. Gutted. Fortunatley they are now well on the road to recovery and talking of repeating the ride. Hopefully with less spectacular results!

Mountain Pedaler out...

Monday, January 18, 2010

Ventana crew in pre-Brevet shakedown

With both Michi 'Macguyver' Speck and Ollie locked in for the years most epically awesome event; the Kiwi Brevet, time was due for an offroad shakedown to test their Ventana steeds in anger.
Both have chosen to ride Ventana El Commandantes equiped with the marvel of german bicycle engineering; a Rohloff 14 speed internally geared hub (pronounced Hhchrolloff). With 1200km of sealed and gravel roads, and a sprinkling of 4wd and singletrack, big 29" wheels and ultra reliable hub gears will surely be the hot ticket.

Going into the ride, tire choice between the pair couldn't have been more different. Ollie opting for fast rolling 35mm wide cross tires, and Michi going for the fatties more typical on a mountainbike. Interestingly, by the end of the ride and a raft of sidewall tears Ollie flip flopped, deciding to run some No-tubes Crows coming in at 2 inches wide. Higher volumes would allow for some cush and durability in the rougher sections, without sacrificing the feeling of speed that comes with a slick.

The mission was a circumnavigation of Mt Oxford. Leaving Oxford township with panniers and Jo in tow, spirits were high. The road section leading to the track proper was an ideal warmup, and legs soon adopted a sit and spin approach to manage the extra heft that 10kg of panniers and gear introduced.

To create a full all conditions test, nature had even provided some rain, making parts of the track slick but not to the point of unridable.

All the weight on the rear tires imparted an amazing climbing ability. Balance seemed to be on offer in spades, with traction through the roof. Downhills were also surprisingly straightforward, with the brand new NZ designed Freeload pannier racks offering a second saddle of sorts, and panniers offering some cushion in the event of a rear wheel washout. Normal lines through the often narrow track had to be widened to allow room for the elephantacious girth of the panniers.

With hut dispatched it was off down the valley. Numerous adjustments to racks and bags were required, and many of the lessons learnt will be invaluable come Brevet time.
Saint of the weekend must go to Jo, who aboard her Saltamontes put up with extended delays as her touring newbie companions discussed tactics for securing wayward panniers. Some beautiful gravel climbs and descents were knocked off before the final tar seal stretch to Oxford.

A thoroughly enjoyable adventure and a true test of gear for the extraordinary adventure that will be the Brevet.

Mountain Pedaler out...

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

SI XC Cup Round 1: Living Springs

Last seasons exploits earned Ollie the #10 plate and a front row place on the start grid
Photo: Canterbury Singletrack Club
First race of the new year was scheduled for Living Springs. A super-fun local loop that is the buffed baby of local bikers/builders. I like nothing more than to head over the hill after work for a few hot laps of the course, but the elite race would be next level taking in 7 laps at a furious pace.
Early in the season as it was, it was with trepidation that I took my place on the front row of the grid. I was certain that all out pace would be lacking after a week or so of epic trail riding in the sounds, so would rely on consistent pace and tactical nous to get through.

Photo: Canterbury Singletrack Club

Off the line I drooped a few spots, but peeled a few back, sprinting to the singletrack climb to block any punters wanting to extend their climbing advantage.
Straight into the box for an two and a half hours, although to be fair the sweet decent made it seem like half that. Picking off a few places then trading positions with some fresh new fast faces, it all came to a head on lap 6 when on standing to pump a rise a leg locked causing an arm spasm that nearly ended in a tank slapper. Given this was on the fastest part of the course (50 km/h) it was a rush to wrestle control of my limbs back before heading up the hill to test the legs again.

The river crossing provided little respite from the sweltering heat
Photo: Canterbury Singletrack Club
Cramp can do some strange things so I had taken the precaution of taking magnesium along for the ride. In my haste to down it two laps prior, it had spilt all over the track and on passing it on subsequent laps I gave serious consideration to licking it from the dirt.

The race was punctuated by an amusing leg lockingly funny spasm on the final lap where I was forced to dismount in agony, I managed to nurse the body home for a 5th place.
As with all Elite cup races, it was a tough competition. B. Sharrat led out the field ahead of good mate and Elite newbie B. Miller. Safe to say that with some more intensity I'll be a bit more competitive and the race definitely served as good motivation for an intensity block.
Support out on the course was just awesome. At all the steep pinches and gnarly bits there was always a crew shouting 'Ollie Ollie Ollie!' and this undeserved outpouring of support was the highlight for me. Hopefully I can return the favour for those who made the effort at their next race!
Mountain Pedaler out...

Marlborough Sounds. Best trail riding ever?

Ross shows how to ride the nuggety goodness
Photos D. Blissett

With a solid crew of mates booked in for lodgings at a holiday home in the Queen Charlotte Grove, the stage was set for the ultimate new years break. Combining the beautiful setting and sunshine with the area's notoriously awesome trails Ventana riders Pete and Jo (both El Saltamontes), Michi (El Commandante) and Ollie (El Terremoto) were in store for a week of singletrack delight.
Also along for the ride at various stages were Jordan, Rhys, Big Ross, Mops, Dan, Muriel, Jane and Dom. All up a boisterous crew who were frothing at the bit to shred the regions famed trails before they were smothered again by the blanket of the new year's work/life routines.

Day one - Queen Charlotte (QC) track
Prior to day one, a good portion of the squad had attended a live concert by drum and bass maestro's Shapeshifter. The first day’s ride on the QC had a relaxed afternoon starting time to allow the recovery of assaulted ear drums, sweaty pits and danced-off limbs.
The ride was a suitable tonic, with gradual climbs and flowing descents punctuated by the odd walker, alerted to the presence of bikers by various animal cries including gorillas, eagles and a wookie.

It is a common misconception the the QC is closed for MTB traffic during the summer, but the section from Anakiwa to Camp Bay was open for business, albeit swamped with bi-peds looking to take in the track via a less thrilling transport mode.

Suckers for punishment, Ollie and Michi dropped down to the portage saddle for the grueling 400m climb back to the summit, only catching the crew who had turned around at the summit after Lochmara Bay.

Reformed, the crew cruised back, intercepting Rhys and co. who had opted for an ice cream stop at Mistletoe bay; a particularly delicious proposition on the hot day.

Day two - Wakamarina
Following Dom's recommendation to start the ride from the Onamalutu reserve, we commenced with an hour long forest road climb before hitting the trail itself.
Highlight of the hill-top snack-stop was Pete's daring wall ride, ending in gorse bush facial interface. Pete was doing it tough coming off recent hip surgery, and had only been walking (let alone riding) for two weeks. The latte sipping Aucklander made up for a lack of ride fitness with some scary pace on the downs, hitting drops and nuggety sections with maximum commitment.
Pete's front wheel bore the brunt of his off-track excursions

With prickles removed and pride dusted off, more climbing ensued.

Exotic flora was replaced with much loved native beech. Riders traversed their way up to the first summit with quiet exertion, their dull puffs echoing the cornflake crunch of beech leaves.
Windfall had rendered parts of the track impassable, so in the interests of trail karma efforts were made to clear branches and trees along the way.
Ollie gesticulates the massivenss of the upcoming huck

A final hike-a-bike to the second summit was filled with Fresh-Prince Remixes, the boisterous rapping keeping spirits at threshold.
A quick snack stop (with no wall riding hilarity) and the main course began. Switchback after switchback of flowing corners, interspersed with rooty chutes, break searing straights and a joyful sensation of sliding. All accentuated by the two inch deep beech litter accumulated on the trail.

Out on to the road for Canvastown and bodies began to tire. Fortunately energy levels were quickly replenished on arrival at The Trout. Plentiful helpings of cookies, chips and the devil's drink (Coke). Day two would be hard to top.

Day three – Rest day hanging at Pelorus bridge. Rock jumping and death canoeing. No one died.

Day four - Nydia Bay

A rare respite in technicality leaves Ollie with time for a blue steel pose

Billed as one of the best day rides in NZ, Nydia began with a furious descent from Opouri saddle to Tennyson inlet below. Riding cold with no warm up, the nuggety combination of roots and rocks served as a tasty sample of the treats on offer from the rest of the Nydia.
Onto the track itself, the trail started eased around the bays then ramped up for the climb to Nydia Saddle at 380m. This would have been fairly straightforward were it not for the gnarled roots and rocky slabs that forced riders to keep wits sharp. This kind of riding was a hit with the crew, requiring a delicate balance of aerobic exertion, bike handling and bravado. First ascent knocked off, it was seats down and travel up, Ollie leading the gang in a guns blazing assault on the super techy gnarl.
Less than 100m into the first stretch Pete performed a high speed trail ejection. After untangling him from trailside supplejack he was pulled free, no worse for wear. This would be the first of many spills for this Ruby riding pundit, none of them ending in serious injury to body or bike.

Taken out of context sections of the Nydia descent would be as chillingly technical as anything on offer in NZ. But amped up on the endorphins of cleaned chutes and the hollers of the crew, rock steps and rooty traverses were descended at an ever increasing rate. It takes a ride as nuggety as Nydia for one to realise how fortunate we are to ride modern mountain bikes. With the squish of 7” travel and stopping power of 8” rotors left Ollie giggling with a mixture of fear and delight, flabbergasted as to how he’d managed to blast through some of the gnarlier sections. Post descent ravings confirmed other riders felt the same about their own rigs. Nydia is the very definition of nuggety.
Chillin' on the Nydia wharf

Easing to a flatter gradient, the trail arrived at the Nydia Wharf, where two-sandwich lunch ensued. More than one pundit regretted this indulgence on the exposed climb to Kaiuma Saddle at 387m. After a spot of mustering the climb reached skywards, with only the shelter of tropical native bush providing shelter on the latter portions of the climb.
Jo's mad facials!

With a better understanding of what was in store, riders tackled the second descent with increasing confidence, only now the impact of the deep rock steps began to take its toll with lines beginning to wander in an exhausted but elated haze.
A final climb through exotic forest before a blast to the finish, where Jane and Mops had parked the wagons for quick extraction.
After five hours on the trail it was ice creams all round. A swim at Pelorus and it was home to the Grove, minds and bodies fizzing with the nuggety delight that was Nydia.

Day five - Whites Bay
The crew’s final ride was a short one, a steep climb and a mind blowing descent. Several of the crew had ventured out several months back, with the downpour of that outing replaced by the sweltering heat of a 30+ deg summer day.
Local hard man Glen joined in on the fun, tailing Ollie for the duration of the unrelenting technical climb, forcing him to ride without pause, albeit with all new levels of huffing and puffing.
Climb dispatched and fresh gloves and shirts donned by the more perspirationally profuse, we dived into the swoopy top section, Ollie and Dom exchanging the lead. Cries of ‘off the brakes’ and ‘stick to the track’ were spouted with unnecessary intensity as the pace grew down the hill. Dom’s local knowledge came to the fore on the later sections, entering them with at faster and faster pace. Likening the bar width lower section to the hover-buggy star trooper duel in Star Wars, Dom earned Jo’s description as a geek. But not many geeks can flow a trail like Dom, and it was awesome to witness him and Rex bond first hand.
A final ring clenchingly steep section spat us out on the road, where we rolled back to the cars for a swim and snacks, a short but sweet end to the holiday.

All up the break rates Ollie’s best ever holiday. Great company, nuggety trails and plenty of snacks made a fitting end to 2009 and an exciting start to 2010.

Mountain Pedaler out…