Pure Yellow

26 01 2011

OK I never intended this blog to be race coverage but today I have to give a shout out to a mate, James Williamson. Jimmy just took out the first stage of the Tour of Wellington, one of the biggest races in NZ and with style; escaping a very select break with fellow neo pro George Bennett and out sprinting him to be first across the line. James has had some great U23 victories in the last few years and while he is still in that category it’s awesome to see him get a geniunne big win against a star studed open field. Pure Black Racing should be pretty stoked for that one and breathing with even more relaxed confidence with their upcoming Freshman season in the States to come. Very cool buddy, bravo!

James Williamson salutes the Tour of Wellington 2011 stage 1

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The Bluff

22 01 2011

In Poker a bluff is a crucial tactical play where the player feigns a superior hand as a show of strength to scare off their combatants. In cycling a rider can also (to a degree) ‘bluff’ their way into the minds of the bunch in order to fool them into mistakes and panic manoeuvres. As the road turns upward this can become more difficult as the speeds drop and drafting becomes less effective. Some climbs have a league of their own and there will be no faking it.

New Zealand’s southern most township is also Bluff. Most famous in culinary circles for its Oysters, Bluff also strikes fear in the cycling community. The road peaking on the tip of Bluff Hill is as notorious as any in the country. While it may not be as steep as Dunedin’s infamous streets or long as our great mountain passes, it’s reputation as the finale to the Tour of Southlands traditional first day means that anyone approaching does so with respect. Every year a few of the nations best will be reduced to walking. While those hunting for stage glory will bring out the special occasion gears; tall dinner plates at the back and compact crank set’s at the front, and yes we’re talking seasoned professionals.

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Of course it doesn’t have to be impossible. Local club riders simply out for a challenge will cruise out from nearby Invercargill and after a hard but short final push on the steep ramps bask in the glorious views of the mighty Southern ocean, Stewart Island and the dangerous Foveaux Straight .

However the true legend of the climb is on that first Monday in November after the heads of state in New Zealand road racing have been forcing the pace for an already exhausting 80 km. As winds howl in from the North West the peloton stretches in a single file fighting for every inch. On the approach to Bluff township they start to arc around the horseshoe bay. The final punishing slopes of the hill top finish now in plain view of the racers just across the water to their left, striking fear in the weak and further exciting the hopefuls. The gentle curve in the road gradually moves the wind off their tail and onto the shoulder. Echelons form in the hope of some reprieve but the big boys are now racing for position leading to the start of the climb and the speed remains.

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There is a downhill run into the beginning of this beast acting to disrupt leg speed and climbing rhythm. One right hand corner away from the water though and all the gravity feeding is over.

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Tour of Southland 155All that stands before them is a rising bitumen surface that will leave even the strongest of men grabbing for lightest gear their machine allows. The hard climbing starts immediately, though the wise know this only to be an appetiser. A slight tilt to the right brings them to the first K.O.M points line (this climb is so bad it has two K.O.M’s). Then as if sent from the heavens a downhill dip allows the weak to blissfully freewheel momentarily before the fires of hell rise up. This second part is where the game face turns to survival mode. Immediately angling at 20%, part 2 is where the strong really start to separate from themselves and the fallen resign to simply finish.

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Again though this climb teases with temporary respite. While it may not be exactly another coasting downhill, the lessened angle will be welcomed by many as the front runners shift down the cassette and prepare for the main course.

Tour of Southland 159A left hand turn brings ‘the straight’ into view and every bluff up to now will come under scrutiny as rider after rider forces the pace for stage glory. It is on this straight that Tour folklore is often created. Pitching at an average of 19% for close to a kilometre this is where legend is made. Still the wise hold a little more in reserve; desert still awaits. As the straight is devoured fans pack a right hander at the top like hungry wolves. Just when you thought things were tough a wall appears.

Hero’s will be humbled, resorting to a humiliating zig zag in orderTour of Southland 162 to keep forward momentum until finally, finally rounding a long left the most beautiful finish line in domestic racing appears before them and an epic 2 km is over. The body cries for joy in relief. Satisfaction over comes pain. Vast expansive panoramas open up from the tar seal that has taken up all the previous focus. Reward of another climb conquered overwhelms.

Climbing can make you feel like a disaster. But climbing can be beautiful. The suffering has a end, and at that end is a rainbow like no other. Find your Bluff and enjoy the conquest.

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