What am I doing here?
15 months after Rotorua 2016 I find myself sitting on an aeroplane next to my coach Chris Willett and mechanic Tony Jump. Where could I possibly be going. None other than the beautiful Finale Ligure. The 2017 World Endurance Mountainbike Championships is beckoning.
When I crossed the finish line in Rotorua as I earned an U23 world title Italy 2017 crossed my mind but I never saw it as a realistic goal. I hadn’t travelled overseas since around 10 years old. The cost to not only get myself there but someone to support me would be immense. I found it very daunting. When I completed my 21st and final lap in 2016 I was relieved, but I was still hungry for more.
Within the first few minutes of sitting down at the conclusion of the race I was asked about defending my new World Title. I was in no state to think clearly. All I wanted to do is have a shower and get some sleep. My answer was ‘I guess you’ll have to wait and see’. Rotorua didn’t put me off 24-hour racing at all. I love the race format, I love the people, I love the atmosphere, I love pushing the limits, I love riding my bike.
I met with Chris not long after the race and we discussed the possibility of travelling to the other side of the globe with enough support, training and experience to go back for round two. Before I knew it here I am. But believe me I have had anything but a smooth run in to this campaign.
March – June 2016.
What better place to start then the beginning? After I crossed the finish at 11:22 am on the 21st of February 2016 I don’t remember much. I remember that I had the most painful stiff shower of my life. Not only were my legs seized but my upper body was too from the consistent jarring. I remember waking up early in the evening back at the cabin at the Rotorua Holiday Park to get ready for prize giving. I remember not being able to hold a pen to write my speech for the awards ceremony. It was an awesome feeling walking into prize giving, looking around and knowing that every single competitor in the room with you shared the same experience and from now on I will have a connection with each one of them. I felt like I was a part of something big.
As the prize giving worked its way through the categories the U23 females came up. Madeline Bemis springed her way up to the stage and without hesitation gave one of the best speeches I’d ever heard from a 17 year old. Next up was the U23 men. 3rd place Ryan Hunt, 2nd Place Jorden Butler and in 1st place Tristan Haycock. I made my way up to the stage confident I could deliver a satisfactory speech. Once I turned around to see a room full of hundreds of people including some of my heroes, supporters, sponsors, friends and family I stumbled my way through the questions from the MC. Let’s just say if I take a step of the podium in 2017 I will be better than before.
For the week after the race I had all of my bikes confiscated. Chris took care of them and I wouldn’t get them back for a week. I wasn’t too worried as I had to wait for swelling from the race to go down (The human body loves to pedal for that long so much so that it goes all puffy). I don’t remember much of Monday except rocking up to a club night to show everyone my medal and brand spanking new rainbow jersey. Two weeks after Rotorua I found myself at North Island Secondary School Championships. I knew it was unrealistic expecting myself to win the XC race so instead I decided to target winning the U20 overall best rider by attaining points from the XC, DH and TT races. I did so successfully and was crown the U20 champion.
The next week I found myself battling it out at Cadrona Ski field and National XCO Championships. I rolled home in 6th. (I was pretty happy with the result as it wasn’t even a month after World 24 hour Champs). The following weekend was Oceania XCO and XCE Championships in Queenstown. I snapped up at bronzed in the Elite Men’s category of the XCE and an 11th place in U19 for XCO.
After this I found myself getting back into a routine at my final year attending Tauranga Boys’ College. Not a lot of training was taking place as I was enjoying having a break from the race. However, I relied on my base fitness to carry me through each and every race I completed in the next few months. Results from this time include; 4th at Xterra Mountainbike 1st in 6 hour Solo at Moonride, 5th at T42. Finally, a 3rd placing at Craters Classic. From here my base ran out and performance began to decrease.
Meanwhile off the bike with the guidance of Mum I began to seek support for Italy 2017 from companies around the country. Shout out to those first on board around this time. Nduro Events and Brand Display New Zealand didn’t hesitate to support me again along with Squirt New Zealand joining them. Trevelyan’s and the Port of Tauranga provided financial assistance. Another New Zealand Company Contract Mechanical Services came on board as my primary financial partner. Without this team it would be highly unlikely for me to be sitting on this plane right now.
July – September 2016
These were for sure the 3 hardest months of the year for me in 2016 from both a mental and physical viewpoint. I struggled to rebuild strength, fitness and moral. These are also the coldest months of the year in New Zealand. I struggled to complete long rides and left multiple gaps in training peaks. To be honest I wasn’t 100% sure that Italy was still realistic. I doubted myself. Races over this time didn’t go great and although I didn’t become ill I still struggled to give all I had. I was having issues with bike setup and began to second guess a lot. I kept myself occupied over these chilly months with the odd race, and trips to Mount Ruapehu for skiing and snow bike missions.
October 2016 – February 2017
October rolled around and as the country began to warm up I found myself on a plane to Dunedin for National Secondary School Championships. I aimed to attain the National Overall U20 crown by gaining the maximum points from the XC, DH and Super D race. I had one of my best mates James Kirkham join me. His target was to win the XC. I worked for James in the first half of the race setting him up to ride away from the field to take the national title. Meanwhile I blew out half way through the race and rolled home 4th. The Super D (One stage enduro race) was going great. I was on a stunner of a run. Unfortunately, I was going too fast. Missed a corner and lost around 10 seconds trying to get back on track. This punished me as I finished top 5 but only 3 seconds off the leader. The DH couldn’t have gone much better. Kris from Cycle Obsession sorted me an enduro bike for the DH and I made my way to the bottom in one piece with a decent enough time to put some of the DH specific guys in their place. However, it was not to be my weekend as the mistake made in the Super D cost me the win. On the positive side I still had a grin ear to ear as I was loving being back on the bike again.
Later in October I lined up at Whaka 100. A 100km race through the forest in Rotorua. Within the first few kilometres I found myself in the lead group along with riders such as Samuel Gaze, Jason English and Edwin Crossling. I hung on as long as I could be as I had just begun my build toward Italy in June my climbing legs struggled to keep the pace. I rolled home top 5 five hours later.
The following week I rode a strong 12 hour solo at Day night thriller to take the open men win and was my first true gauge on how much work needed to be done over the next 7 or so months. I continued to gain support and signed a deal with Trek Bikes New Zealand attained an ambassador role. Little Rocket had set this amazing website up for me and began to process logos for my racing kit. Camelbak New Zealand supported me with product so I was able to begin some long training rides and sufficiently hydrate myself to get the most I can out over each session.
Also over this time I worked closely with both Perimeter Coaching and Mountainbike Tauranga to create the Mountainbike Tauranga Youth Academy. I have been the head coach of over 25 different riders from 10 to 16 years old. I find it so rewarding to develop these kids into young athletes. I am keen to take up a career in coaching so this is the perfect place to start. I feel that I’m not doing too bad a job either. With multiple Regional and National Champions, I couldn’t ask for much over a better start. They youngsters are getting so fast they’re able to come within contact with me at club racing.
Mid November I had my final day of high school, forever. Following the last day of class I had my final exam and then the next day the Huka XL. I finished 4th place in a talented field and was really finding some great form. Throughout testing over this time with Chris I was smashing previous numbers. I was getting fitter, stronger, smarter and faster. Over the Christmas New Year period I always do some of the biggest rides of the year. This included multiple 200km plus road rides and more than my fair share of 100km plus Mountainbike rides.
January and February included the Nduro Summer Cup which I wrapped up a 1st place in Open men and blow myself to shreds at the Nduro Rotorua 8. After really poor weather the 8-hour race was shortened to 5. I purposely had gone out riding a 3-hour place aiming to blow up and limp my way to the finish line for the remainder of the race. With the rain, I popped around 3 and a half hours and found that the race had been reduced to 5 hours. I took home $100 prize money and a gold medal on my brand-new Trek Top Fuel. Trek was now going over and above to support me.
After an article in the local paper the Tauranga City Sunrise Lions contributed a financial gift following a presentation speech about who am and what I’m doing. The Lions are truly some of the kindest people I have met. Along with Mountainbike Tauranga agreeing to hold a fundraising event for me Steel and Tube New Zealand partnered with me for 2017.
March was a tough a tough time. I worked through the bike set ups and found a love for using dropper posts. So, I now run them on both my hardtail and soft tail. I had some poor weather and struggled to fit quality training in. I worked through a few tough weeks and when the sun came out I found myself spewed out on the road after being struck by a car. Yes, one morning I went out training and a car turned in front of me. I hit the left hand rear door and was flung over the roof. Landed down onto the road very hard. (Yes, it is just like the movies). I picked myself up and scrambled off the road. Fortunately, nothing was broken. Well I was okay. But, after the impact the bike wasn’t so lucky.
After the accident, I was reluctant to ride on the road. My coach gave me a lot of mountain biking instead. I continued to plod away. Some big days in the saddle mixed in with some tough high intensity sessions. I worked my way through. Fortunately, over this time I started studying a ‘Bachelor of Sport and Recreation’ at Toi Ohomai Institute of Technology. I am excited to be on the High-Performance Sports Scholarship for 2017. Since starting I have enjoyed learning about anatomy, nutrition and exercise prescription. In the second half of the year we get new subjects to study including coaching. I have settled into the class well with friends from all over the country and am thoroughly enjoying studying. I note down questions and what not from lectures and then go back to Chris Willett (Coach) and am able to apply new theories and ideas on the bike to make marginal performance gains.
April went great with a win in the Xterra Mountainbike and some solid training blocks completed. April was a balancing act working to maintain high concentration in the classroom and continue to improve my form on the bike. May has been exciting. Obviously reaching my performance peak for the race has been hard work. I had some final efforts to complete before boarding the plane on the 23rd. This included a Solo all night missions with over 100km completed and a lot of climbing in preparation for Italy. I rode the same loop for 9 hours in darkness. Feeding and pacing myself the whole time through zero degree temperatures that Rotorua had to throw at me. I rode Thursday night into Friday morning. I then went back home to Tauranga to sleep for the remainder of Friday. The very next day at 10am I found myself lined up for a 12-hour Solo at Moon ride 2017. I rolled home first a few laps ahead of my competitors at the end of the 12 hours. Sunday was again spent sleeping and recovering. Monday, I went into Toi Ohomai to study but caught an illness that I struggled to shake for 2 weeks.
A few days prior to departure for Europe I recovered from the illness but I had struggled to fit high intensity training in. I was very tired and nervous of what awaited. On the 20th of May, I waved good bye to the boys at Cycle Obsession and thanked them for all the support they’ve given me, packed my boxes up, fitted the Trek bikes inside and then before I knew it I was on my way to Auckland airport.
I’m not sure what to expect in Europe. I’m scared, excited, nervous but most of all thankful for the opportunity. I have the support of many awesome companies, individuals and people from around New Zealand. Without you all I wouldn’t be on this plane right now.