The zone

29 07 2010

Back in his heyday, the great Michael Jordan had games when he didn’t need to look for the basket because he was in the zone. It’s that mythical place of perfection where everything lines up so well that our bodies performance is dream like, almost by coincidence adding to the bigger picture surrounding it.

Surfers strive for the perfect wave. Golfers the perfect round, maybe a hole in one. World Champ Downhill Mountain biker Sam Hill says that when he is in the zone on race day he can barely remember the run he’s just finished. Number one Time Trialist Fabian Cancellara says it’s like he’s not even there, as if he floats above his body and he can’t feel the pedals. I remember at Challenge Wanaka triathlon a couple of years ago after putting in the performance of her life Merryn Johnston said it was easy – at first I felt she’d short changed herself and could have gone faster, but it’s not that simple and yet it is that beautiful.

We all practice various hobbies and occupations that we wish to improve; Maths, Music and Carpentry for some, for me cycling. I’m fortunate to remember three occasions when everything was right. Once was while racing on a short but demanding course from Queenstown to Glenorchy. Nothing that day was difficult. I existed in a bubble of calm. When the moment came to attack, I rode with such force that only two top riders could struggle with all their might to hold my slip stream yet for me it wasn’t even touching the sides – I was en forme. A week later while out on an easy ride by myself I felt the sensation again and decided to seize the moment to find its limits – in some ways I couldn’t. While of course there was a physical boundary to my speed, there was no wavering my in-the-moment focus, control and enjoyment I experienced pushing harder and faster. By the designated finish line the time I clocked I couldn’t have imagined getting close to without having rung myself inside out, yet I was barely breathing.

However ‘the zone’ doesn’t always have to be simply an athletic performance. Often it is just a unique junction of euphoria we cross without warning. A magical selection of your favourites on the radio; those dinner parties where conversation flows with ease, laughter is abundant and the food is three star perfection; or a subtle tilt of the camera that quirks the composition just so, as the sun glints momentarily through a break in the clouds… The zone pops up in mysterious ways, with timing as random as it is reliable.

You can train and practice all you like – it all helps – but unless your mind is relaxed and your soul open you’ll miss these great gifts when they come along. If you think back you’ll find some of them. Remember all of the circumstances and why it all gelled together that one time. You’ll realise that it is not impossible after all. Better still you’ll know what to look out for so that you can be ready to appreciate and take full enjoyment the next time it comes to visit.


Climbing a numbers game

22 07 2010

It’s that time of year when we are sitting at home watching the world’s best battle hell up in the heavens of the French Alps and Pyrenees. The commentary rattling off numbers of percentage to better describe the severity of each climb and it’s category rating. While you sit at home wondering how that relates to your own terrain, in the hope that what you battle with your mates on the weekend has some resemblance to the stuff the pros tackle and give you a glimpse of their relative super powers. Maybe on the occasional lone wolf ride you love to pretend your one of your heros smashing his or her way up an Hors Category Climb having broken away from the imaginary peleton en route a beautiful victory. Maybe I’m revealing too much about myself…

Lets look at some numbers of some famous Tour de France climbs and then relate them back to something closer to heart and home. You might be pleasantly surprised and yet you also might be unsurprisingly humbled. This years Tour is the centennial anniversary of the big mountains inclusion and to celebrate the organisers have devised a route highlighting the Pyrenees. In particular the climb of the Col du Tourmalet, which will cruelly be ascended twice. Once from each side and only a rest day to separate them. Heres a profile of this years Queen Stage 17:- 

No your eyes are not deceiving you that is finishing the stage on top of over 17 kilometers of climbing totalling 1268 meters of vertical gain, at an average gradient of 7.4 with maximum ramps set on serious hurt just over 10%. This is one of the more brutal climbs of the Tour any time it is included, and appropriately carries and Hors (out of) Category rating.

My Favorite; the Col du Galibier via the Col du  Telegraphe. From the north side this beauty in  the heart of the French alps is a regular ‘through route’ and more than likely the highest pass on the Tour de France; often humorously preceeding the infamous L’Alpe d’Heuz. From bottom to top it is a 35km grind that takes you to 2645m above sea level. Broken only with a 5km of descent – in other words, strap in and get comfortable you’re gonna be climbing for a long time. Mere mortals would expect to be going upwards for 2 hours plus! It’s average gradient of 6.1 is skewed because of the downhill interruption, but you can be uncomforted (is that a word) by the unsettling 10.1% near the top – of all places… 

Steeper climbs are used in other major tours. The Italians love seeing the men AND women battle on the excruciating slopes of the Monte Zoncolan during their respective ‘Giro’s’. While the Spanish have discovered the Alto de L’Angliru down south to throw havoc into their three-week ‘Veulta’. Both of these climbs rise for longer than 10 km and average over 10%. The Angliru’s final 6 kilometers are at over 13% with multiple ‘ramps’ hitting 18, 21 and 24%!! While the Zoncolan from the west averages a crushing 12% with several straights holding a femur snapping 22%. The professionals race(?) up these climbs with gears and deraileurs taken from the rear of a mountain bike – and that is the PRO’S!! YouTube both names its quite something.

What am I getting at here? Well what a lot of people ask me is how does that all compare to what we have in the Central Lakes of New Zealand. While we might not be able to provide the same vertical gains, we can certainly seek out some steep gradients, especially around Queenstown. The most famous is of course the Crown Range. Naturally there are two sides but we’ll just concentrate on the majesty of the west ascent.

On the automated software breaks it into three separate sections and destroys its classification. Take solice in the knowledge that this is a genuine Cat.1 climb. The opening ramp off the Cromwell highway up to the first switch back holds on 17% which thankfully levels off at the hairpins to become manageable. Further up however just as you tire the road tilts to a very difficult 19% and sustained for (perceived) eternity – so no shame in being reduced to a slow crawl at this point!

A more pure climb without as much interruption; and one of my favorite genuine test pieces is just across the valley and the scene of the finale to this weekends Peak 2 Peak. The road to Coronet Ski Field.

A genuine Cat.1 climb in our own backyards. Starting from Aurthers Point climbing 8 km is steep straight off the bat; quickly hitting 13% and holding it for a couple of kilometers. There are some moments of respite, but experience tell us to save something for the maximum push after the second “rest area” when after a left turn the road rears up and straight sustaining 14% till just before the switch backs – which offer more entertainment than respite! The views at this stage regardless of your fatigue are stupendous and a real reward for your toil. The decent back down the same way is also (stupidly) good fun.

Still not enough, want something… steep?! Next time you are at the bottom of the Coronet Road walk directly across the highway and peer down Littles Road. That’s what 20% looks like. We climbed it as part of the Tour of Southland stage from Lumsden one year. I was using a 34-25 combination and still was reduced to one leg at a time. It doesn’t last very long, but you desire it over even sooner. Another great steep pitch is used as the Queen Stage and final finish to the annual Easter Tour de Lakes. From Glenorchy finishing at the end of the seal on the Road to Moke Lake. After 4 days of racing and a decidedly ‘lumpy’ course from Glenorchy, this 2 km finishing climb pitches your bike on a 18% angle to set you into the opening 500 metres, thankfully it does get easier, unfortunately your competitors also get faster so it’s difficulty remains all the way to the line.

So next time your watching the box wondering what it would be like, you can take heart in knowing that you’ve probably already knocked off something similar. OK we don’t have the height of the big road passes of the Hors Category, but given that my heart is potentially grateful and might there for hang in a few extra years then I’m quite happy with out them. Dream away, train hard, race your mates, what ever blow your hair back, take pride in climbing these roads they are all great achievements.

Keystone; a welcome.

18 07 2010


“Is anybody sitting here?”

I look up from my scrambled eggs to discover that Sam Hill wants to join me for breakfast. “Ah, umm, no Sam go for it it’s all yours”. It’s my first morning in Keystone, Colorado; the Tour de France is playing live on movie screens and I’m chatting freely with one of the World’s fastest downhill mountain bikers – it’s a good start.

Sam Hill with his all new Demo 8

I’ve got a morning full of product launch presentations showcasing the Specialized bicycle range for the upcoming 2011 season, including one that Sam will feature as he shows off his new racing bike. Of course he has been using it the entire World Cup campaign so far, but soon it’ll be available to the public as well.

Breakfast leaves my belly full and head a little giddy, but I’ll soon grow used to both sensations as the weekend gets longer and my experiences sweeter. Walking down the hall past never seen before helmets, shoes and saddles I spot my first mountain bike hero and the World’s first Champion; Ned Overend. I introduced myself and as a fan paid my respects but had to keep moving to be on time for the latest in Street bikes. Ned assured me that he’d catch up with me later. And on it went. After a Body Geometry presentation showcasing the latest design, development and philosophy in Gloves, Saddles and Shoes; I sacrificed my morning coffee break for 20 minutes one-on-one with Andy Pruit (arguably the number one guru when it comes to scientific and holistic bike fitting, with the numbers and names to back it up). For kicks our first of many conversations including finding out where he has positioned cleats for current road racing stars Cancellara, Contador and the Schleck brothers. To him the Schleck boys are like sons and even though we’d never met he didn’t want me to miss a beat when it came to insuring I have the right tools for my own customers.

A Professor, a fellow Central Otagoian, a dude that pens deals with Bjarne Riis and a well photographed Stunt man

Lunch came around in a flash and that full belly from breakfast was generously topped up with some sweet cakes and anticipation of an afternoon test riding some of the most technically advanced mountain bikes still unavailable to the rest of the world. A chance meeting with Matt Hunter would shape the afternoon further. I showed him the latest ‘Bike’ magazine Photo Annual of which he is on the cover and still yet to have seen. His excitement was genuine and a buzz for me to share. After a few signatures he asked if he could join me for some riding at the demo area, and I said as long as we didn’t have to jump off any cliffs I’d be keen.

A Gondola carried us up to 12,000 ft and with the seat (unusually for me) lowered on a brand new Carbon fibre S-Works Stumpjumper FSR, I was itching for a blast down some of the sweetest single track totalling over 30 minutes and a vertical kilometre. Matt insisted I go first, which was at once a thrill and yet nerve racking to make sure I went fast yet smooth enough to not to put to put him to sleep. Red-Pointing a new trail full gas on a foreign bike is a buzz in itself. Yet on a $12K machine and the world’s best behind it’s a new level again – I can barely remember the run, but I can thankfully remember the thrill. Halfway down I insisted he take the lead and for a brief few moments I witnessed a rider appear in slow motion in front of me yet pulling away as I tried to keep my own comfort zone intact. Wall rides taken beyond horizontal, a small rock turned in a 4 ft high pancake flat “bunny hop”, thanks for the lessons Matt, humbling indeed.

Mr. Overend and a whole lot of Carbon Fibre love

Naturally it didn’t take very long before it was time to race of for dinner. After a frenetic day of action and knowledge Lyno and I were a little late for the restaurant booking, however I’d been saved a seat opposite Mr. Ned Overend and off-road triathlon world’s #1; Conrad Stoltz. Just to listen to their conversation would have been enough, but to be included with sincere interest was something else.

It seemed it didn’t matter where I looked, what I did; it was a day of pure Alchemy. I walked back to the hotel by myself to reflect on it all. Breakfast with Sam seemed like a week earlier, and for all I know it could have been hailing golf balls on the walk back but I wouldn’t have noticed. On the bike I chase that one sweet ‘in the zone’ experience. Yet here was an entire day spent hitting the ball in the middle shot after shot – extraordinarily grateful to all.

Bigger is better

5 07 2010

American’s love their big. Big car’s (“Trucks” any where else), big houses (your nobody till you’ve got 5 stories), big food (ie, people) and big Peanut Butter.

But what about plant pot’s…

2 wrongs make a right

5 07 2010

Thanks Bialetti you make waking up affordable

There is something very disturbing about this photo; 1 x Cream in my Black coffee + 1 x that “cream” is Cool Whip tm = some fine early morning goodness. So wrong it’s right.

a (road) sign of the times…

4 07 2010

All in favour say I...

Thanks for the heads up.

In coming...

...for example.

With approprite placement one of these can be a sight for sore legs

we all decide.

3 07 2010

There's two side to every story...

OK so it’s easy to make sweeping generalisations and jokes at the expense of the American public. But with so many of them (americans) it shouldn’t take too long to figure out that they are surely the most diverse of thinkers there are on this funny earth. Freedom of speech is almost taken to the point of abuse; and because their not all the same, finding a like-minded friend is easy. 

One of the easiest assumptions for us on the outside looking in is the food thing. Fast Drive-Thru’s and Football field Wal-Mart’s the daily diet for their massive census right? Not if you care. In the State’s there is a growing (I love my pun’s) awareness, in this land of the free, that there is a better way. Buying from the little guy has gained enough considerable weight on the veggie scale that in just the Watauga county alone ‘Farmers Markets’ can be shopped at every day of the week. This means that even if you are a modern once-a-day convenient shopper you can still obtain fresh locally grown and mostly organic produce on any given day.

Old School never tasted so good

This is the USA that I think has big things to offer us all. Since when did we forget that good fresh food makes life better for us all. Yes, there are now Farmers Markets in NZ, Australia and most other ‘side-tracked’ parts of the world; but when was the last time you visited and supported the concept. The argument that they are too small and without enough variety. Well, without us they wont be getting any bigger either. Next time your off to grab your groceries, pedal via your local market en route and support the soul rebels so they can bring back more for you next time. Talk to the growers – because you can – learn about the love in your food and let them know what you like. The power of the little guy’s grouping together can be much more rewarding than what you’ll get out of trying to change a Multi-National supermarket chain’s profit margin priorities. Most of all, listen to your body. If you do love the bike, what would you rather fuel up with? 

It's not all Carrot's and "normal" grass raised Beef