Monday, November 21, 2011

Le Petite Brevet 2011 – Sunshine, tailwainds and a thermonuclear steak and cheese

The inaugural 2010 edition of the Petite Brevet was a tortuous experience, so it was with trepidation that I signed up for Tim’s second edition.  Circumnavigating Bank’s peninsula in a rough figure of eight, this year’s  anti-clockwise direction was the reverse of the previous year, and did without the apparently beautiful stretch across the Lake Ellesmere spit.  I’d had the misfortune of traversing this endless sand trap alone at 2AM in the morning in the depths of a southerly, so safe to say it wouldn’t be too missed.
The key difference this year was the weather, with the aforementioned southerly making for a miserable affair last year. For this year’s edition rain threatened to dampen spirits early on, but what eventuated was a spectacularly sunny day that really made a great showcase of the fantastic route that Tim had chosen.
As with all Brevet’s the start is a highlight with anxious newbies mixing with the Brevet gnarled vets, comparisons of bike and tire choice being the default conversation.  Sifter and Megan had come down from Wellington as part of their preparations for the Cape Epic, while Judd form Back of the Pack Racing had made the trip from the US of A, putting aside last minute doubts raised by my report of last years’ experience and jumping on the plane across the pacific.
Gear wise I’d gone for lightweight speed,  a decision driven by the positive weather outlook. Packed into a Cactus zero were a rain jacket, polypro, 3 litres of water, and baker’s dozen of Em’s power cookie bars. This final addition was to be a marked improvement on last year’s nutrition which consisted of lockjaw inducing OSM bars. Em’s cookies made me want to delve into my pockets and wolf them down, an ideal attitude for extended endeavours of endurance like the Brevet.
Before we knew it we were off, and with my ambitious goal of making the Diamond Harbour ferry’s final 11PM crossing for the return to the city any thoughts of pacing or sociable riding quickly evaporated. With 250km of roads and trails, and a robust 7000m of climbing in store, only time would tell whether this goal was realistic.
Straight away adventure racer Ian and I opened a gap, buzzing along the traverse singletrack and onto Summit road past the Sign of the Kiwi. Descending Gebbies Pass we were struck by a block headwind, but fortunately the next section along the rail trail had just enough of a skew to the southerly to give a welcome boost from our tails. The only obstacles on this arrow straight route were the skittery sheep and their ample droppings, the latter leaving Ian distraught at the poo splattered state of his new 29er, barely a week old.
Turning off from the trail through Birdling’s Flat we heeded Charles’ warnings about outlet crossing, and were glad not to be traversing the moonscape at night. The thick pebbly surface hid the only crossing which lay right up against the lake, and with a quick change of direction we were on course and climbing Bossu Road.  Grim memories were rekindled despite the healthy tailwind, and as the driving rain worsened I hoped for my chamois’ sake that it’d clear before too long.
Steaming down the fantastic sealed Kinloch Road descent I made a mental note to come ride the road again, its sinuous curves would surely be heaven on a road bike. Spitting us out at Little River we ducked into the store’s café, pushing to the front of queue to get the greasy fix our chilled limbs craved. I’ve always been greeted by delicious food aromas at this Café, and this time was no different. The threat of an 800m climb on an undigested sausage roll didn’t deter me and I wolfed down the gourmet pastry, promptly pointing my bike skywards towards the mist shrouded Double Fenceline route.
It turns out Ian had spent some time in Little River growing up,  whiling away holidays at his relative’s  farm. While he didn’t say it, I’d no doubts that he was familiar with the spirit crushing steepness of the Western Valley Road climb, shaped as he’d taken an interest in mountainbiking.  A farming contact had informed him that a culvert would be running clear, and as he stopped to fill his bottles I kept climbing, eager to start the Double Fenceline trail.
While I hadn’t pre rode this part of the course, which as for last year was probably the navigational crux of the route, I backed myself at a few key junctions and made it through geographically informed. Just as I dropped on to Pettigrews Road the mist cleared to reveal a stunningly sunny day, with views either side of the peninsula that really did bring on a smile.
Rejoining the tarseal, the route followed Summit Road to Okains Bay which was punctuated by the leg sapping pinches that give the peninsula its fearsome reputation (particularly amongst roadies tall geared roadies). Dropping down to the ocean was a welcome relief, and before two shakes of a lambs tail I was parked up at the Akaroa 4-square, impatiently standing in the queue in my sweaty lycra, Coke and thermonuclear Irvines Steak and Cheese in hand.
At this point I chose to wait for Ian, certain that his company on the remainder of the route would keep craziness at bay. As we saddled up and weaved through the crowds of sauntering Christmas shoppers, the Purple Peak Road quickly signalled its intentions, pitching to 25% early on, then relaxing into slightly less unrelenting grade that quashed any thought of shifting from granny.
My steed for this Brevet was a newly kitted out El Commandante complete with carbon Niner rigid fork, Rohloff and Gate Carbon Drive. Tire choice was a fast and sketchy WTB Vulpine that proved to be a perfect for the par cours. Throughout the ride the bike didn’t miss a beat, the content hum of the ‘hoff complemented the buzz of the belt, and never needed lubing despite puddles, dung and  dust. The only point where I felt out of my comfort zone was on the more corrugated descents, particularly into Pigeon Bay. When the road steepened and under hard braking I found myself wrestling with the road for control. Some more riding on wash boarded roads and perhaps a spot of rock climbing will be in order to build gun strength in the lead up to my bigger goal events, particularly the Tour Divide.
The descent into Le Bons bay that followed was thrilling, and set the tone for the rest of the ride, at least the parts with a downhill gradient.  Wide, open and steep with whoop inducing corners that seemed to go on and on. The descents spat you at a sea level with a grin as the only evidence of the rush.
On the climb out of Le Bon’s I began to count down the eight remaining hills to the finish, a natural tactic I seem to adopt when managing an enormous task such as the one I was presented with. The funny thing was, after this first climb my mind wandered and I threw this approach out the window. It seems the thrill of conquering bay after bay was more than enough to keep my legs and brain ticking over. Okains, Stoney, Chorlton, Little Akaroa and Pidgeon Bay all passed by, each with its own quaint charms that left me eager to return and enjoy the ambience under less hasty circumstances.
By the time I descended to Port Levy it was 7:30PM. My goal of making the 11PM ferry was smashed and now I sought only to make the 8PM sailing. Nature decided to back me with a belting tailwind, propelling me up the climb at a spritely 12km/h. Cresting the saddle with 10 min to go, I dived into the descent throwing caution to the wind, hardly a friendly gesture given the wind’s recent generosity. Despite my efforts it wasn’t to be, and as I reached Diamond Harbour at 8:08PM, I knew I’d have just a bit more riding in store.
The final 30km passed in blissful solitude. With quiet roads and the sun setting, and just enough energy left to knock out the final climb up from Governors Bay to the Sign of the Kiwi.
Along Summit Road then descending Rapaki to complete the route, I stopped the clock at Hansen park at 9:47 PM, exhausted but elated.  Still no dancing girls but this year was different. With sun and favourable winds replacing the dreadful southerly of 2010, I rolled home content with the knowledge that experiences such as this are what makes life rich and fulfilling.
Mountain Pedaler out...


sifter said...

Ollie - that was a super-impressive ride. After overnighting at Okains, Megan and I rode bay after bay of stunning scenery, and I amused myself grappling with the conflict between doing it fast and missing the scenery vs missing out on an exhilarating hitout. Little did I know, you'd seen it all in daylight too! All the best bro!

Quickrik said...

Awe inspiring effort Ollie. Both the ride and the write-up

swtchbckr said...

mind blowing is all i can say. a freaking legend.