Championship Mondial pt. 1

27 09 2010

It hasn’t exactly been a day like any other. For starters there was a 4am alarm so that I could get to the airport in time for the red-eye to Melbourne… From there it was hotel check in, followed by (take a guess) Black Coffee and straight to the train station; destination Geelong. No I haven’t become some bizarre over night AFL freak, it’s the location for the World Road Cycling Championship; and they’re on this week.

We're not in Kansas anymore Toto - Melbourne looked good for race weekend


Off the train at the other end I bee-lined it towards the (still under construction) finish. Rumours have been starting to circulate that the pure sprinters might not have it their way as originally expected. Well, you should see the finale! If Cavendish wins here I’ll have permanent respect for him beating the odds. The final 800 or so are seriously on the rise all the way. For me this was an exciting moment. This is going to be a genuine smash festival and I think I’ve already had confirmation by the look in David Boily’s eye’s. More on that later…

That's gonna be 50 meters of ouch!


From the finish line I wondered downhill to Geelong’s great seaside Pier to look for Media HQ. At the base of the finishing straight is a 90 degree right hander coming off a downhill; last lap the boys will be hitting some staggering speeds through here, though I think first out of this corner will be way too early. Breaking my day-dream about the race were some riders out on the course; one in an HTC Columbia kit, and one in Cervelo, but I didn’t recognise them, and they didn’t seem to pedal like genuine proffi’s. Then I saw some boys in Australian Kit’s and Jayco shorts, ah here we go some U23’s out for a spin. Coming down the hill soon after in NZ kit with a familiar bull like posture was Gordon McCauley on his TT bike, I gave him a shout and he was his usual jovial mouthy self. Now I was beginning to get it. Spotting the wanna be’s from the Pro’s was going to be easy. The pro’s will be wearing National colours… suddenly the meaning of this one day bared it’s full weight for me to absorb, and it was heavily intoxicating. OK where is this media center? Hey there’s a couple in Great Britain, shortish kinda girl and a big fella. Hey he’s got a sweet custom Pinarrelo to match, must be Geraint Thomas from Team Sky – “Yo Geraint, good luck!” – that got a wave and a smile. Shit why haven’t I got my camera out…

No joke - but it is funny!

OK I’ll skip the formalities, but once in HQ I had my photo taken, received ‘Journo’ accreditation, joked around with the volunteers who were not yet jaded by the enormity, checked my email using the supplied UCI password and went to go find me some more random pro’s. Once outside it started raining; now that would be something, oh that’s an evil thought…

I went back up to the start finish straight, mostly because I wanted to pace it out from the bottom up, I was really quite surprised just how much it rises. Coming down in the opposite direction (on the footpath) were four Canadians lead by Dominique Rollin, they were happy enough to have their photo taken and seemed to be destined a little cafe further down. The Journo juices seemed to be leaching out of the pass in my pocket so I had to follow them and try to get a back page scoop.

Canada eh? Dominique gave the U23 boys a tour of Geelongs sidewalks.

Rollin confirmed my thoughts “Cav likes it (makes flat sweep with his hand), I think it’ll suit a rider more like ah, Gilbert”. Not exactly a revelation, the Belgium native must be odds on favorite, but cool to hear it from someone who has raced them both this year. The other three I didn’t recognise but their Argon 18 bikes outside gave me the clue that they were the Frenchy’s (Québécois) that make up the U23 squad. David Boily (I said I get back to him) had a worried look in his eye’s an also confirmed growing opinion – “It’s really hard, much harder than we thought it was going to be” – spoken almost with a tone that suggested they would have to go back and re-think their tactics; interesting. Well that was cool boys “Bonne chance!”.

Future World Champ?

Right, it was time to get back on the train to Melbourne, fizzing but tired and hungry! Camera now was always at hand. Slovenia pulled up at the lights – “Peter!” Peter Sagan turns around and waves for the camera, now there is someone who could be World Champion one day, outside hope for this Sunday even? Giddy from luck I went to cross the street to the train station and nearly got run over by a flash of Orange/Yellow – two of Spanish armada had run a red light in front of me, both on Orbea. Illegal but cool.

At first I wasn’t sure how I’d react to seeing these guys in National colours. I wondered if it’d be an anti-climax of sorts as all the famed photo’s you see them in through the year they are in trade ‘uniform’. But I have to say it is quite startling and all the more impressive to see the elite of the elite practicing for an extremely select prize, the one jersey to rule them all. The Rainbow with the unbroken bands; stay tuned for more…


A (Tarmac S-Works SL3) gets diverted

20 09 2010

Andy Schleck hurries toward Avoriaz - Specialized v Specialized

The massive ballroom was relatively empty as the conference centre staff reset for the lunch buffet. On large movie screens is stage 8 of le Tour de France streaming live and Lyno and I have snuck in during our demo of Specialized 2011 road range. As he said, “what would a road ride be without a coffee stop?”. Low and behold we had company, very exclusive company. Mike Sinyard and his team are glued to their seats. We’re talking the guys who designed the very bikes that current star’s Andy Schleck and Alberto Contador are racing on and the characters that get their autographs. As the decimated peloton headed under the red kite Schleck fired an acceleration that only Sammy Sanchez could follow and the atmosphere in the ballroom turns electric. On the finish Schleck’s Specialized Tarmac has a last final surge to take victory and the noise in the ballroom almost lifts the ceiling. “Hey Lyno how about we go ride one of them, they look alright eh?”…

Tarmac S-Works SL3 now in Outside Sports Team colours...

To help set the scene here, we had already spent an hour that morning rolling on the new SL3 Roubaix, and I’d already declared that I needed a new bike (see testing above); to replace another bike I also love. So our ride was to be an easy cruise. We heard that a few ‘miles’ down the highway out of the Keystone village was a scenic, gentle rolling road that sided a beautiful Colorado Rockies lake. Sounded like the perfect destination, so once sized up and bike underneath a-rolling we went. Meter’s later I was on a racing bike. I mean earlier I was on a racing bike – the same as the one that in the previous three April’s have one the Queen of the Classics. But now I was on a racing bike, like one that just won a mountain stage of the Tour! Across the gravel car park, everything was felt – as one. This machine moves together like nothing else I’d ever thrown a leg over; back wheel rolls over a rock you feel it at the handlebars, front wheel rolls over a crack it gets translated through the pedals; you know what this bike is doing underneath you, at all times – and I was still only doing 10k/hr…

"Looks great, you go first"

OK lets hit the road, oh yeah that’s better. Americans do build a good road. Damn this bike is stiff. Hey look a pedestrian crossing. Man this is lightning fast. I’m not a big boy so my sprint is never going to rip a bottom bracket free, but then neither could Cancellara when he twisted the throttle up the Muur or when Vinokourov flattened Roche aux Faucons. This bike has ridiculous credentials and it’s easy to see why. Accelerating on it gives you the same ‘oh my god’ reactions of joy you get when your right foot hits the floor in a Porsche 911. I swear my arms were sore from holding on as the g-forces wanted to pitch me off the back. Then after (momentarily) satisfying my new addiction we wandered the streets searching for the lakeside trail, but alas we found better, and none of you will be able to guess what happened next…

Ever heard the term “Cycling is the new Golf”. I have, it’s funny, really. But the fact is Golf is the new Cycling, you with me? Lyno was…

OK, so here’s where I add the disclaimer that we were lost. We had come to a dead-end. You know, the kind where you turn around and re-set your Garmin. However this colder-sac had a secret door to an escape route, and I suggested that we do the back 9. Don’t worry if you don’t get it; neither did Lyno. You see, (good) Golf Courses in the U.S of A have smooth bitumen cart paths that link up the entire course. Seemed like the perfect opportunity to fulfil a recent dream. So off to the 10th!

Anyone seen the highway?

Like a scene of manufactured splendor, this elevated Par 3 was our starting point. immediately into a twisty technical single track for roadies, joining onto the 11th tee and on and on. Flowing corners, sharp power climbs, open chicanes brushing close with flowering gardens, winding through manicured forest, this yellow brick road had it all. I swear probably the most entertaining ‘road’ I’ve ever, well, ever. Of course there was the bike still beneath me; oh yeah, that light weight human-powered rocket. While it’s only fault was that smashing the big dog full gas was such thrill I was getting smashed in the process, don’t apply if you like your easy spin – this bike will trick you into just one more sprint. Cornering (trust me we tested the cornering on the Keystone GC) was as solid and sure planted as they come; point and shoot.

Who wouda thunk it?

Suddenly we were coming up on the 17th green, one final climb up to the 18th and we were outta there. Talk about saving the best for last. Getting to the final hole was a 15%(+), 8 switchback climb, Lyno was loving it. One last hole. I teed off first and the shot landed right on a yard marker painted onto the path. 150 – that means sprint right? So off I go, head down flat-out for the line (where ever that was). A quick glance up and I see an electric Golf Cart coming straight for me – ah crap… I lock up the Dura-Ace stoppers, bike sliding side ways and just before impact I let go of the brakes, regain traction and steer around the mammoth in my way (they were in the wrong), arm glancing the windscreen… Oooh that got heart beating. Lyno caught up (still laughing) imagining the story I’d have to come up with if I took this S-Works back to the Demo tent in 2…

I can't show you his face, and his name has been changed to protect his family

On return it was hard to hide our giddy good times. While some had stories of climbing the epic highway pass up to 12,000″ in the other direction, we had just done our test in a mini Ardennes, landscaped to the max. I’ve still got a Roubaix on order, but that’s because I’m now mostly winning vet’s trophies (that’s right 35 baby!). If I still had the absolute desire to be on the fastest road bike in the world, it’d be pretty hard to argue against this golf cart beating weapon of the star’s.

Putting the Tarmc through it's paces - at least the bike coped fine...

Positively challenged

15 09 2010

In the last week there has been a lot of discussion as to the changes of next years Challenge Wanaka triathlon; in particular the bike course. I’ve been quite surprised at how many people feel that this will make it a harder ride and that this is a negative to their own ambitions for the race. For those who have no idea what I’m talking about the ‘old’ and ‘new’ are mapped below…

Challenge Wanaka 2010 part Bike Leg

Now before I start the argument that the changes I think will produce faster times (ie easier for most), lets look at the concept of easy and hard as relative perception and the mental game you need to develop if your to have a good race day performance. By nature no race is ‘easy’. Most people enter to find out what they are capable of. For some that’s to complete the distance, while others have time or placing goals. Either way you’ll be generally trying to achieve a new barrier and this will involve over coming difficulty; hopefully leading to great satisfaction, personal reward and the desire to do it again…

Once you’ve understood that it wont be easy but could be amazing the entry gets posted and there is no turning back. You’ve commited yourself to a few months of training, joined a local group and or got yourself a coach. But then the course changes!! Well frankly even if it was tomorrow (I’ve been informed of course changes the night before, the morning of and even during a race) the best thing you can do is remain positive. There will always be naysayers on the start line worried about the cold rain in the middle of Summer, the blowing Southerly that should be Nor/West experienced everyday of training etc; let them,  it’ll be their loss. Instead when you open the curtains, welcome the unforcasted; “Ah ha Rain! I can take you on I’m stronger than that”. And quite simply you will be. You also will be immediately streaks ahead of all of your stressed competitors.

The same goes for a change in course, only this is easier to approach the positive because it’s simply a matter of adjusting tactics and/or training. Now is where I point out affirmative for the opening debate. The effort required to cycle the half (90km) and full (180km) distance of Challenge Wanaka is ideally a measured steady effort. Ultimately a course with little rhythm change would suit the fastest times. Also the regular wind blowing from the North West can play huge bearing on your ride, course direction can also effect this too.

Challenge Wanaka 2011 circling the Hawea loop in the 'Normal' direction

Comparing the two courses above the most obvious change is the direction once leaving Wanaka, effectively now clockwise, here are the benefits.

1. The Wind. The road to Hawea on the HWY 6 has better shelter from the wind by being closer to hill slope to the west. The only sections were the wind really starts to be felt is going past the golf course in Hawea but by then your almost there. Then turn right and catch the tail wind ALL the way to Cromwell. Turning for home again the twist and turn in the road and occasional protection from the close by hills face offers more respite from the wind than the exposed Eastern edge of the lake.

2. The Climbs. Again these obstacles are also easier to tackle as they are steadier ‘rhythm’ gradients. Maugawera upwards is a consistent angle, where as the other side is 2 short and sharps steps. The climb up above Hawea Flat is much steadier and easier than the brute coming from the Red Bridge – now a decent. Many people fear the climb up the Luggate cutting towards the airport, but it’s just a matter of approach. The bottom is the steepest bit and this is where people get it wrong they try to attack it from the bottom. The secret is to ease into it with a low gear and spin at first then as you get to the right hand bend the road also eases and you’ll find you have the legs to pick up the pace up and over the top. You might feel slow at first trying this but I promise you that overall the energy you’ll first save will make for a faster accent of this hill. It’ll also leave you will some reserve to hold your speed into the wind passed the airport. Once there it’s then all downhill into Wanaka.

I think this is going to produce the fastest times we’ve seen yet, especially if it is a little windier. So no panic, in fact for me I’d say all the Challenge Wanaka competitors have just been given a gift (come to think of it all of the roughest ‘dead’ road, will also most likely be downwind; it just keeps getting better!).

The main moral of this rant is that no matter what stay positive and on top of doubt. Champion Boxers don’t walk into a punch, they turn with it, if they’re going to take an unavoidable knock they allow it to pass through them so it hurts a hell of a lot less. Really this can be said for all of life too. When it comes down to situations out of our control, it’s often not what we do but how we do it that makes the difference. If you’re still struggling, break it down to just 2 choices; happy or sad. Not so difficult is it? Happy training – that helps too…

One Track Mind

8 09 2010

There’s no wind. Rain is on the forecast but that’s not a problem either. The road ahead is polished, and if you continue riding in a straight line for 20 seconds or so you’ll end up back in the same place. Que? Ahhh Le Velodrome! An ovalised tracked with two banked corners that send you into a 180 degree about-face with gravity defying magic. Indeed riding it is so surreal and exciting it could easily be described as magical. Of the dozen intrepid Wanaka journeymen and women to venture onto Invercargill’s community asset only one had previous experience. None other than ex-National Sprint Champion John Andrews, our leading light and the man to follow, that was until he slipped off on his first turn on the ‘boards’; damn there goes my confidence, thanks John…

Jamie riding 6 ft off the ground

I cruise a lap around the infield getting used to the direct non-stop fixed gear. Stop adjust seat, try again. Repeat. Finally comfortable I slowly build my speed. Time to try riding the gently slopping blue boards; ah that’s not so bad. Next corner I’m going to go on the 30 degree banking… whoa that was weird… OK next corner let’s go a little faster and another line higher… yeah this is fun… what if I go full gas around here? Yeeaaahhh! G-Forces push you to the wall, there is even a strain on your neck as you seemingly look up-hill/around the corner. Damn, this is a blast! Next corner faster again, nothing but smooth wood and the faint rumble of the eiry hollow underneath, ecstasy. Down the back straight keep going, keep pushing. Ooooh hang on this is starting hurt, how fast am I going? How many laps have I done? Maybe I’ll just back off a fraction before that foyer coffee has had enough of my stomach.

Bruce Ross - he's seen a Dernie or two in his day

Kilometers of Latvian Hardwood handlaid by zee German's

For us track virgin’s we had the previledge of being hosted and coached by none other than Mr. Bruce Ross. Infamous in Southland and nation wide in cycling circles. Bruce has for the past 25 years been the driving force behind the Tour of Southland and the Cycling center. Without him most of our great junior and developing athletes would have had nowhere to stay when visiting and it seems unlikely that the very track we enjoyed on our excursion would have come to fruition. Bruce took us from nervous roadies to ‘Flying’ 250 meter TT riders and Team Sprinters; well beyond the progression I believed our motley crew would make. His encouragement and instruction had us all lapping around without drama and with lasting grins. Before too long our 2 hour booking had come to an end. It had been a great taste and tease, yet Bruce wanted us to have a more lasting impression. With typical Southland hospitably he took us behind the scenes into the belly below. Showing and describing the expertise, craftsmanship and expense went into this extraordinary structure. 

The very one and only - Zoopkeepers

OK what next? Lunch time, and when in Rome… Zookeepers, another for those in the know. Zookeepers Cafe has long been an advocate for cycling and through its long running sponsorship of racing teams it has helped many Kiwi riders step up to greatness, including Hayden Roulston, Jeremy Yates, Heath Blackgrove and Gordon McCauley to name a few. Winning countless Tours of Southland AND Wellington the memorabilia and photo gallery is entertainment in itself, let alone other art and sculpture that turns this local coffee haunt into an almost cartoon like must visit for anyone looking for a reason to escape a wintry day.

It had been an early start and a bit of a drive but that was quickly forgotten. This trip will certainly be a regular pilgrimage in the colder months for us up in Wanaka, next thing we’ll be transforming ourselves into sprinters instead of climbers…