The first race of the year is always an important one. In my opinion it sets the rhythm for the year. In 2016 I had a great start with a 2nd at the National Cup in U19. However, this year there is no National Cup. Therefore, I found myself lined up on the start line the first round for the Camelbak Summercup held by Nduro Events. After a wearing in a fresh drive chain from the week before I found myself ready to go. It’s always tough racing 2 weeks after Christmas and in regards to building to peak for World Endurance Champs in June the goal was to go for a top 3 in Open Men. So here I was at a brand-new park called ‘Arapuke’ in Palmerston North, on last season’s race bike, in the howling wind alongside the likes of Gareth Cannon and Edwin Crossling. I managed to squiggle onto the front row in the unseeded start.
Before I knew it, we were climbing the first gravel road. And bam the legs were going for thanks to that secret Endurance Christmas training… Somehow? Anyway, as we reached the first single track I found myself in second behind local lad Gareth Cannon. We wound our way to the top of the first climb and began the decent. It only took a corner or two for Gareth to skip away from the rest of us. The Arapuke Trails have a weird sort of flow to them. They become deceiving. In photos and even just standing on the side of the track they look fast and flowy but when it comes to railing the corners as fast as you can it is hard to keep upright. It was clear to see that Gareth had the course dialled. He knew exactly where to rest, exactly where to make up the time on the rest of us and he knew how to win. By the time we reached the bottom of the first decent I was still in second place with Hamish Dodd, Max Taylor and Edwin Crossling. The 4 of us waved goodbye to the rest of the field. And after the first few corners of the climb none of us could hold the wheel of Gareth. By the time we reached the top Edwin was determined to catch Gareth and went on the attack. Max, Hamish and I looked at each other as if to say ‘Do we really want to try keep up with the front two and then blow up with half the race to go?’ The three of us sat together for the next 10 minutes.
20 minutes into the 36km race the situation was Gareth out in front with Edwin in hot pursuit. Meanwhile Max Taylor, Hamish Dodd and myself were battling for 3rd to 5th. Behind us there was a gap back to Ben Eagle, Ben Mcleod and Taylor Johnston. Before we finished the first lap Hamish pulled a 10 second gap on Max and me. I wasn’t too worried cause I knew I would be able to close the gap later into the race so I continued my plan to conserve energy and ride home strong. Max Taylor was hot on my heels as we crossed the finish line 8km into the race finishing our first of four laps. I had never ridden with Max prior to this weekend and the young gun surprised me with his skill, strength and even endurance. He clung to my back wheel like glue. His local knowledge allowed him to capitalise on my mistakes on any decent and he knew the fastest most efficient lines on the climbs. Part way through the second lap he lost his patience and went out on the attack after Hamish. I underestimated him and by the time we finished our second lap he’d caught Hamish and 2nd to 5th place were all together again.
With 2 laps remaining things got real tactical. Gareth was still pulling a larger gap on Edwin. Our little battle pack was about a minute down on Ed and we weren’t losing any more time to him. However, Taylor Johnston had broken away from the two Bens behind and was chasing the 3 of us down. I have raced Taylor plenty in the last few years and I knew the course suited his aggressive style of racing.
All I could do is try and prolong him catching us. After becoming tired from dragging the group for the lap Hamish pulled a small group on us and much to my disappointment Taylor had caught Max and I. We rolled round through the start finish to head out for the last lap. Hamish was once again 10 seconds in front of Me, Taylor and Max. There was some action in the pits. Taylor hadn’t set his feed up efficiently and was forced to cut across the track. Max who was also reaching for a bottle got squeezed and had the choice of either taking out spectators or going down hard on the gravel road. His instincts chose the latter.
Completely oblivious to what was happening behind me I had Hamish in my Crosshairs and I knew I had to catch him in the first half of the last lap and gain track position for the single track to the finish. I worked and I worked to catch him. We played cat and mouse. He knew I was coming and the gap would stretch from five seconds to 15 and back again. Meanwhile Taylor had pushed hard to get back onto my wheel. And Max had jumped back onto his bike and was chasing all three of us down. Half way through the last lap I knew I was just behind Hamish (five seconds) and I planned to pass him on the Gravel road at the top of the climb. Taylor was still latched to my wheel up the long switchback climb. Half way up he started talking to me. What? Taylor never says anything to me while we race?
Then it computed that he was telling me to hurry up and catch Hamish. I still didn’t react to his comments and kept my tempo consistent. By the time we were ¾ of the way up I could sense he was struggling. I chose not to attack but I knew I had to do something to take advantage of his suffering. I flicked up a few gears and continued to climb to the top. I reached Hamish’s wheel as I began to get tweaks of cramp in my legs. Once at the top of the climb I turned to see a massive gap back to Taylor. Hamish and I continued to push on.
10 minutes later Hamish and I found ourselves with two climbs to go. And we knew that the one of us that rode over the last climb into the single track was almost certain to win. I was hurting. I couldn’t get the lines sorted and half way up the climb Hamish rode away from me. By the time I reached the top of the climb and began the decent Hamish had once again opened a gap and this time I doubted myself to close it down. I rolled down to the finish and crossed the line in forth place. I turned around to find that Max had recovered from his crash and was smacking it to the finish of his home race. Kudos to Max for riding a great race and never giving up.
1st Gareth Cannon
2nd Edwin Crossling
3rd Hamish Dodd
4th Tristan Haycock
5th Max Taylor
I was a little disappointed I didn’t make the podium but it was a good wake up call to how my form was and it was nice to start racing for the year. Next up is the 2nd Round of the 2017 Camelbak Summer Cup in Tokoroa on the 22nd of January.
(Photos from Photos4sale and the go pro mounted to the back of my saddle.)