It must be more than 15 years since I did my last ride write up (other than brief ride notes for the group). But I thought I would have a go at one for the Taupo Cruiser MTB event last weekend. The main reason for deciding to do one is that it might help me work out what the heck happened! 

I was unfit (even by my standards), totally relaxed and consciously giving way to other riders intending to just enjoy the view. How I ended up knocking 13 minutes of my best time of two years ago and getting 3rd in age group is a bit of a mystery to me. Especially considering the spectacular show (crash) I put on for following riders during one of the faster sections. 

You see, I love the Taupo event. Road or MTB. I even enjoy the drive up there. The hype around the expo on Friday, the bargain bins, all the people you meet actually want to talk about biking. Then the criterium Friday evening watching some of NZs elite cyclists perform. Oh, the carbo loading dinner! Final gear checking and organising everything for the next day. Checking weather forecasts and selecting clothing to suit the conditions. Ride food and drink prep. The excitement on race day morning, the start and thrill of the ride. Then after the ride, Dole pineapple, almost as much as you can eat, DB Export Citrus and laying on your back in the grass hoping your legs won’t cramp when you get up. Recounting your ride and hearing about the heroic efforts of others. Hot chips, music and spot prizes. Wow! 

It all just feels great! I love it and didn’t want to miss it. 

So, even though I had had over a month of back problems preventing me from training or even keeping fit, plus some minor surgery on one leg, stitched up the week before, I just didn’t want to miss Taupo. I decided that for once I would relax, not compete and just soak in the event, take it easy on the ride and enjoy the view. Just chill and experience the whole thing with a great excuse to not even try to perform. 

All preparations went well, largely because I didn’t really care if everything was spot on or not this time. I had the best sleep I have ever had before an event. Then race morning dawned spot on forecast - wet and a bit windy but quite warm. I made it down to the start area early and exchanged encouraging words with a few others I knew and some I didn’t. That’s the thing about Taupo. Everyone is so damned friendly! 

Eventually it was our turn to get under way. Gently does it, let the others go first through the narrow bits, even giving encouragement to the muppets who have to dismount right in front of you on the slightest incline. I was mellowed out and in great spirits, generously praising the sub par efforts of those around me and grinning like mad. Conditions were great, light drizzle but warm and the pumice provided great grip even in the wet. Just cru - zing, man. Did I mention chilled? Hap - ee! 

After the first few Ks, I found myself in a group of about 6 riders all moving along at the same pace and I happily sat in about the middle. We would occasionally get passed or work our way past slower riders as the track allowed. Enjoying the flowy bits and surprising myself on the short sharp climbs. Hanging in there. Then just after Huka Falls, the three riders in front of me pulled away a bit. There was a bit of downhill so I easily caught up and tagged along. We were on this great little section of flowy turns with the odd bit of a wall ride and a few humps, just big enough to encourage flight. I had not been on a proper ride for a while, with all my old age complaints, and it didn’t seem wrong to enjoy a bit of “air”, following the three in front, who were also obviously loving it.  Then I realised that a little more air was more fun than a little less air. So a wee bit more pace was summoned up, no problem really, and I was having a ball. This is what MTB is all about. The alternate feel of positive Gs followed by negative Gs. It just rocks! And we are a bit starved of that kind of riding back home. Happy happy Joy Joy. Oh yeah! 

Soon we moved out into more open country with anything from a single track to four tracks in places. The lead rider of the group decided the one we would ride in and the rest of us followed single file. There was a bit of a head wind so being fourth (last) in our little bunch was perfect. 

It was all feeling so easy. But I knew we were setting a good pace, passing other riders regularly, hopping out of one rut into another, then back again, never slowing or missing a beat. 

It was in this section, a bit before Aratiatia, that it happened. 

From just behind my right shoulder I heard the call of “On Yer Right!” and a largish rider tore past us in the right hand rut. Now, as I said, I was not finding it hard to stay with our bunch and so in the way you do, when some one is happy to up the pace and take the lead into a head wind, you want to go with them. Right? I was feeling so good and in such a happy place mentally, I decided to follow him. 

Then someone said “are you OK?” 

I wasn’t too sure to be honest. In fact I was sort off asking the same question. Then I worked out that the green was probably grass and “down”. The light was probably sky and “up”. So having regained my bearings I was able to start moving with a sense of purpose and direction. Apparently I had yet to answer the question as it was repeated, by two different voices this time.

I thought “Where’s my bike?”

I said “Yeah, I’m good, thanks.”

Then I found my bike and I knew I was going to be fine. I lifted it up, turned the bars back the way they should be, straightened the GPS up a bit and tried to re mount. At this point I realised something like an elephant must have stepped on my right calf. I decided to re mount from the other side (there is always a way round a problem) and that worked. But peddling was way too easy. So the chain was off. Dismounted, said a couple of “Yep, I’m fine, thanks for stopping”, chain back on and I was away again. 

At the finish, a rider came up to me and asked how I was. He said he was a bit behind me and saw the whole thing. He said It looked like I didn't lift the front wheel enough to clear the edge of the rut that I wanted to vacate and I rolled quite a few times, initially with bike still attached, then separating and coming to rest in the scrub. Quite spectacular, he said. Needless to say, I was thrilled to hear this! A few hours later, I checked my Garmin and found that immediately before my performance the speed was 31 kph. 

The leg with the elephant damage was working ok, at least on the up stroke. The shoulder on the same side had a problem with doing anything much beyond keeping my arm attached to my body. But overall I had come out of it remarkably well. At this point damage assessment was limited to the minimum I needed to know to adjust my style and continue on to victory. Yes, I was now officially in the race! Taking it easy and enjoying the view had left the house. A good old tumble down the track does wonders for your adrenalin supplies and I was pumped full of the stuff.  

I did a lot more passing than being passed from here on. Although I am always amazed at the pace of the elite guys and gals, who have done twice the distance, as they glide effortlessly past me over the last few Ks. 

I had enough juice left for a sprint (by my standards) across the finish line, stop the Garmin – what? That can’t be right! Faster than last time? Nah! Can’t be right.

And then, on dismounting, rediscovered my injuries. I hobbled over to the Dole table, knowing I probably wouldn’t be able to hobble back for a second helping so hogged in. Then I pleaded my case for two bottles of Export Citrus at the DB stand, had it accepted and collapsed next to my bike on the grass. 

Then sudden panic! A wet feeling running down my leg! (no, not that!). I remembered my surgeons advice about not riding and dreaded inspecting the area of my thigh he had stitched up. But it had to be checked. Phew, all intact. I had inadvertently lent my forearm (the one attached to the faulty shoulder) on the bite valve of my hydration pack. Relief.  


The official results later proved the GPS results and so I had taken about 13 minutes off my previous time. The secret of a good performance is, therefore, take a month off immediately before the event, don’t take the event seriously, start relaxed and slow, have a good prang and then go for it.

No? Worked for me!

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