Saturday, March 05, 2011

Karapoti 2011– A muddy puncture-fest

Mini-pinner Anton dukes it out with Dirk on his way to the win.
The youngest ever Karapoti winner at 16 years of age!
Photo Wheelworks Racing

The weeks leading up to this year’s Karapoti had been marred by the tempestuous tantrums of Christchurch’s shakey monster. Ravaging the city’s streets and buildings and causing tragic losses of life, it gave a strange hue to my final preparations for this race which had been one of my season goals. With my home made uninhabitable and teetering like a cinder block Jenga tower, I was taken in by good friends Ross and Anna, and even managed to escape quakechurch for the solid ground of Tekapo for the weekend prior.

Perhaps the biggest effect of the quake on me was psychological, and I felt uncertain whether I could muster the motivation to climb into ‘the box’, with doubts circulating in my mind in light of the precious fragility of life brought to the fore by recent events.

I can genuinely say that I overcame this, justifying the indulgence of racing by telling myself that to let the harsh actions of some tectonic forces control our lives would be a failure of the human spirit. The fact was we had survived and should celebrate by doing what we love.

So it was off to Wellington where we squeezed in substantial Thursday ride where another good friend Rhys took us for an afternoon tour of Wellington’s peaks, taking us down trails which were in his preferred steep and sketchy style.

Come Friday, the pounding of rain on the roof of Rhys’ loft suggested conditions would be greasy, and a day of rain induced inactivity left me twitching in anticipation; perfect for a race like the Karapoti.

Starting with the traditional waist high dash across the river, which felt higher than usual especially after the obligatory tumble finding footing on the rocky river bed, it was off on the sealed rode a furious pace.

I was well positioned here and in the top ten, biding my time as we swerved and splashed through monsterous puddles up the gorge trail. It was only a short while after when disaster struck.  A jagged rock concealed in the murky depths of one pond-sized puddle sliced an inch long gash in my front sidewall, instantly deflating it and sending me careening out of control.

Not disheartened, and clutching at memeroies of sub 2:45 times pulled out in spite of similar failures, I executed a frantic puncture fix, chucking a tube in the front and pumping the crap out of it to avoid further failures. In two minutes I was done and steaming off up the Gorge, passing an Australian rider who had also punctured at this cruel early stage. He, perhaps wisely, ended up pulling the pin.

As I hit the hill I started to pull riders back in. One by one winching past them till I was a good halfway through the field. The descent of the Rock garden is always a favourite and I forgave any line choice in favour of descending via the gushing waterfalls that flowed over the fall line, shredding past more riders and stoked for what lay ahead.

By this stage my attempt at a tire boot had revealed its inadequacy, with a giant rubber zit now bulging out of the sidewall and rubbing on the fork arch. Fearing that this friction would lead to a catastrophic tube failure, I made the painful decision to stop and put another boot in. Again it only took me a few minutes and I was off again, shouldering the bike and running sections of the knee crumbling devil’s staircase. Recent adventures in the Canterbury highcountry and Nepal have made the bike over shoulder position second nature, so it was no surprise when I pulled back some of the people that had passed me.

Big ring boulevard is usually one of my favourite parts of the course, and the top section lived up to its reputation, the fast flowing turns making me feel all too much like a bike riding rock-star.  As if sensing the stoke and wanting to keep spirits in check, a sharp rock again claimed a sidewall, this time on the rear. Throwing in my last tube and pumping with all the vigour I could muster I was off again, and set about the all too familiar game of leap frog I’d been playing with the back of the elite field.

The final two punctures came of all places, on Dopers, which is the very climb one must bury oneself to garner a good result. While I should have been seeing stars from anaerobic exertion, I was trackside fixing one, then a second flat, after the first failed due to poor patch adhesion. Turns out it is pretty difficult to get them to stick when the driest thing around was my growing repertoire of puncture related humour.

All repaired and it was off again, climbing Dopers in personal record time and gingerly riding the final descent, knowing well that another puncture would see my bike hurled off a bank and me walking home.

The gorge is always a joy, its delightful downwards gradient giving a profound sense of speed  and with jagged rocks seemingly shifted by the screeds of tires, and puddles shrinking back into the ground I made it safely to the road with inflation at a maximum.

A final surge across the river for the line and I was stoked for the ordeal to be over. 3:11 was well off my goal but the five punctures that got me there were a fair justification for the blowout.
Such is the fearsome tire munching reputation of the Karapoti, there is even a prize for the most punctures which I duly received.  Can’t imagine how the previous year tallied  a record 12 without some sort of mental breakdown.

Thanks must go to the riders who offered up spare tubes, it is this kind of camaraderie which makes mountain biking awesome. Also to Rhys and Muriel who are always so hospitable on Wellington trips.

Michi and I were generously supported by Cactus Equipment for the race, and they have been staunch supporters of this legendary event for some years.

I can say with certainty that I’ll be back to avenge the punctures-fest that was my 2011 Karapoti, and no earth shattering natural disasters will stop me!

1 comment:

sifter said...

I was sorry to see you on Dopers Ollie! Sounds like you got some wicked riding in, despite the unkind interjections. Nice account, and good that you still managed to enjoy yourself!