Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Ollie’s brilliant summer of Brevets. Part 1; the Great Southern

Great Southern territory Photo GSB blog
Almost 8 months has passed since I committed to the mammoth undertaking that is the Tour Divide  (a 4400km Epic ride following North America’s rocky mountains),  and two New Zealand ultra-endurance events were destined to play a key role in my preparation. The first is the Great Southern Brevet, a delightful amoeba shaped romp around the barren plains and ranges of Central Otago. At only 1050km in length the scale paled in insignificance compared with the Divide, but when doubled up with the Kiwi Brevet starting two weeks later, the pair would serve as a true test of gear, mind, body and soul.

So far preparations have been going well. Quite early on I began the strangely exciting (but expensive) task of procuringing lightweight touring gear.  Extensive research was compiled in  geeky but useful spreadsheets which compared specifications and allowed objective decisions to be made. I now have accumulated an awesome selection of gear from the like of Z-Packs, Western Mountainering, GroundEffect and Exped.

Gear sacks ready to be loaded
Bike setup is pretty dialled too, and I’ve chosen to run the same Ventana El Commandante frame I used in earlier Brevets, only upgraded to the sliding dropout version that allows me to run a carbon drive belt on my Rohloff internal gear hub. Aerobars are a new (and admittedly naff) addition but their comfort and mounting space makes them a no-brainer. Completing the build is a Niner carbon rigid fork up front with WTB Vulpine rubber, both of which were tested to their limits riding Nelson’s technical trails over the new year break.

El Commandante ready to roll
Perhaps the most demanding of time and thought has been the solution for carrying all my gear. While I’m a massive fan of the Freeload rack and its flexible and durable mounting system, the stock configuration with plastic deck and dry bag strapped on had been a heavy inelegant solution during previous endeavours. With help from Cactus and Tim at Freeload, I set about developing an integrated dry bag with space for 20 litres of gear. While early iterations didn’t fare well during off road testing, the addition of some alloy tubes in place of the carbon and revised clamp resulted in a super durable solution which took all the abuse I could throw. They even survived a high speed ghosting manoeuvre down the sublime Coppermine saddle descent after the Vulpines got to the end of their tether in the slippery conditions.

Rear Freeload with integrated drybag
Up front, I used the same PVC fabric I’d used for the rear dry bag, and glued it into a wedge shaped bag with room for a 3L hydration bladder, as well as four handy pockets to take small items which I needed ready access to. These included leg and arm warmers, lights, snacks and of course ample chamois cream. This bag survived the same forced dismount described above with aplomb, and I found having the extra 3kg of mass up front helped even out the largely rear wheel balance of my loaded rig, the extra front traction helping to mellow out the handling during tricky descents.

Handlebar bag
Besides a few niggles which I have been all to vigilant, the body has been a trooper. Early in the piece I visited Jeanette at Sportsmed to get some stretches to mellow out my bow-string tight ITBs, and these have been great, even allowing me to punish myself with the odd run including a jaunt along the Abel Tasman over summer. Paranoia set in over a bony spur on my foot, but a visit to a podiatrist and a new set of Sidi shoes saw this niggle largely resolved, with the velcro straps allowing me to manage the comfort for this often neglected part of my anatomy. 

Regular core sessions during work lunch breaks (dubbed ‘Fab abs’) have been great for my strength, and while I’m yet to get abs of the cut and definition of Peter Andre’s,  I can feel them working on the bike which frees up my arms for more pressing tasks.

Spot tracker ready to beam my location top the world
So with gear and body sorted, all that remains is to line up on the start line in Tekapo, and ride until I can’t ride any more. I’m excited about what lies ahead, and while this anticipation doesn’t have the same anxious edge of earlier endeavours, it is still present enough to manifest in daily conversations and even in my dreams. While the prospect of following the electronic signal of our spot trackers may sound as dull as watching soup congeal, I'm told it is a thrilling pursuit so encourage all of you interested in the Brevet’s to get involved. In a few days time I will be living the dream, pushing my body to its limits and devouring immense quantities of questionable food in an effort to keep legs moving. As soon as I've recovered I’ll endeavour to post a written report, but it will be a poor substitute for the out of this world sensory experience that lies in store on the Great Southern Brevet!