Whaka 100 2017
It’s been a while since my last race report. To be honest with you all, after arriving back from Italy and repetitively replaying 24 Worlds in my head over and over and the fact that half way through I ‘gave up’ has really got to me. The fact that my own mind bet me really plays with my emotions regularly. I guess it was the first time in my life that I fell short of a goal I really wanted to achieve. As Garth would say “It’s all just character building”. After his crazy efforts at 2016 24 worlds I like to build character often now. A few races have come and gone. None of which have had enough importance for a race report.
For the month after returning I went back to the drawing board. I’ve learnt that in the long term it isn’t sustainable to continue racing 24 solos on the world stage annually at my age. I will how ever make a comeback to the discipline a few years down the track once I develop more. For the remainder of 2017 and 2018 I will try my very best to attain as much experience in XCM Cross Country Marathon racing. This format of racing is slightly longer than traditional XCO type racing but a heck of a lot shorter than 24-hour racing. With the midterm goal of qualification for the 2019 XCM World Championships along with competing in World Cup races across the globe I feel ready to tackle the next challenge of my life. If successful, from there I could look toward continuing XCM racing or reverting to 24 Solo racing, however I quite like the idea of stage racing. It’s exciting to wait and see what the future holds for me. All I know is whatever I decide to target I will do so 100% committed giving my all to achieve my goals.
With all this fresh drive what better place than to start at the start. The Whaka 100 was my first MTB race aged 14. 5 years later I would take to the start line again for the 2017 Whaka 100. With the Nduro Events team promising the event to be one of the toughest it attracted riders from across the world. More than 100 international riders in fact from across the globe made their way to the Whakawerawera forest for the 2017 race along with 550 kiwis. All with the goal of proving they are ‘one of the toughest’. The race splits into three distances. 25km, 50km and 100km. In the past I have competed in two 25km races, two 50km races and two 100km races. This is my favourite event on the calendar with each and every year throwing up new exciting challenges. This is the event that means the most to me each year I take it on.
The Whaka TT Shootout kicked off the weekend of Saturday afternoon. Riders battled out for start positions in a qualifying flying lap type format. 700 meters of 4WD track followed by a tight techy single-track section of trail made for the perfect Shootout course. After placing 5th in the Shootout and the race last year I was determined to improve this year. With plate number 3 on my bike I had a big task ahead of me as a lined up for my TT lap after Garth Weinberg, Cosmo Bloor and in front of Jason English and Edwin Crossling four hot favourites for the win on Sundays race. I crossed the timing mat in full sprint mode. I dug as deep as I could maxing my heartrate out at 193bpm. I gave it everything I could. Crossing the finish line a few minutes after commencing the lap I had given all I could on the 4WD track and was able to complete all of my planned lines under the pressure of the Shootout. I crossed the line with a time of 5 minutes 20 seconds. Just milliseconds ahead of Jason. The effort was good enough for a front row start come Sunday.
That night I struggled to get enough sleep. Pre-race nerves and excitement was challenging me along with constantly worrying about slippery wet trails if the weather packed in like forecasts had suggested. The sun struggled to pierce through the thick clouds. The weather was ready to dampen the event. The riders and organisers however were not going to stop this from being the best Whaka yet. At 7:50 I lined up alongside Tadeas, Jason, Cosmo, Edwin, and Andreas who’d travelled from Norway to compete. From the front two rows I counted four current or former World Champions in 24 hour or Single Speed disciplines along with 2 former XCO and XCM World Championship riders. Not a bad line up for little old New Zealand. So, there was definitely talent on the first few rows of the grid.
(Cosmo leads me and Tad in the first 10km or so.)
The gun was fired and before I knew it I was off. Cosmo took an early lead as we weaved and twisted our way through the tight single track. Trails such as creek and grinder forced the riders to stretch out into one long line. I was in second place holding it steady as I picked my way through the twisty single track. After 15 minutes or so we appeared out onto a gravel road. I turned to look behind and all I could see was a wall of riders. About 8 wide and as far back as I could see the group of us meandered our way up some of the early pinch climbs. With no one wanting to go on the front to work and not attacks going away it was a weird neutral start. It allowed a lot of the unseeded riders a chance to catch the front pack. I took the lead as we swarmed into Turkish Delight and Soak hole. The Nduro team found a creative way of sending us through these trails. The tight loose single track challenged riders behind me. I held a steady pace on the front. Behind me however, gaps were forming as riders struggled to stay in contact with the wheel in front. The Yo-yo effect was burning some of the competitions energy while I held a consistent pace on the front.
We popped out onto the next gravel road and began what I classify as our first climb. Hot favourite Edwin took to the lead. I followed his wheel as best I could. Cosmo was still right there, Tad and Jason weren’t too far behind either. Once we crested the first climb I began picking my way down the exposed descent that is Gunna Gotta. Edwin led Cosmo and I pulled the gap back before long. We continued down the descent entering A Trail and Tickler. Once we popped out to Pipeline road Edwin received a bottle. Cosmo and I took the opportunity to have something to eat. Jason and Tad weren’t far behind us but we couldn’t see anyone behind that. It appeared to be a break of the top five riders. The five of us came together as we made our way along the gravel road before the next climb. Going up one of the steeper climbs in the forest I found myself again holding Edwin’s wheel. Well I did for as long as I could. As we climbed sidewinder my heartrate skyrocketed and I had to limit how much I was investing this early. Cosmo, Tad and Jason were hot on me heels but none had any interest in chasing down Edwin at this stage.
Tad glued to my wheel around 30 minutes in.
As we reached the top of the second climb Cosmo went on the offensive. He led me into the single track descent of Tokonohi and I followed his lead as we tried our best to reel in Edwin out in front. With a position switch half way down, we managed to catch Ed. Jason and Tad had dropped off a bit and the three of us found ourselves working together to extend the lead. We hit the bottom of the first big climb. The KOM stage one. I tucked in behind Ed and Cosmo and began to spin my way up the climb. It wasn’t long before the blew they legs off me. They held a steady tempo the whole way up. Unfortunately, the pace was too hot for me. I separated from the group and it wasn’t long before the 2016 Single Speed and 24 Hour World Champions caught me. I tucked in with Tad and Jason and continued to the top.
Once we reached Billy T I picked my way down the wet rutted trail doing my best to avoid treacherous roots and rocks. Puncturing at the top of the forest is a very real risk but I did my very best to limit it. The three of us continued to ride steady and before I knew it I had completed Billy T and Kung Fu Walrus. Jason and I had a gap to Tad. Jason wanted to push on insisting he wouldn’t get beaten by a single speeder. It would be a few hours before I would see Tad again. Jason and I worked together for the next 45 minutes or so sharing turns on the front as we navigated around the Green Lake and to the 50km half way point. It was here that we were told we were still less than 5 minutes off the race lead.
Together we pushed on. Jason worked extra hard pulling me up the climbs and I repaid his efforts by taking the lead and showing him the lines on the descents. In true Jason style he commenced having a conversation with me as we climbed lookout road on our way to the next trail No Brains. He asked how I was feeling and encouraged me to keep pushing as we were closing in on the leaders. I couldn’t respond. My heartrate was through the roof. Legs were burning. I could feel all my muscles sizzling as I tried to hold the pace. I feel I rode to the top at a consistent pace however once reaching the top Jason had skipped away and I was left on my own to close the gap to him as we made our way down the trail. That would be the last I would see of Jason until the finish line.
I struggled on solo. Commencing the next KOM climb now just over 3 hours into the race I knew it would only be a matter of time before Tad would catch me. I used every gear on my 11 speed cassette. I was questioning myself why hadn’t I invested in more gears as a climbed Pondy Elevator. Although it sounds like a straight forward climb it was more like finding the steepest, longest, biggest hill in Rotorua and riding from the bottom to the top… In a straight line. I had drunken my bottle I’d received from my brother at the 55km mark and now was struggling my way up this challenging climb. Although the rain continued to beat down on my jacket and my bike continued to grind with the mud on the drivetrain I pushed on as best I could. My mouth was dry, I was sweating hard yet continued to climb into the clouds. As I popped out into the exposed section near the top of our next trail Split Enz I caught a glimpse of Tad closing in. The wind howled and swirled as the rain pelted on my face. The whole climb had tree shelter and I unzipped my riding jersey and jacket to cool myself. But up here at the top of the climb Tad and I were really exposed to the elements. It wouldn’t be long before I’d start getting cold as I made my way down 3.5km trail.
Tad and I traversing our way through the clouds.
Once reaching the bottom of the Split Enz trail I had a small gap to Tad and did my best to maintain it. However, Tad gobbled up any time advantage I had pretty quick. He rode straight through me and set out to finish as soon as he could. I pushed on and gave it everything I had as I worked my way through the flatter trails. Only 10 minutes off the lead with 25km to go I was still on for a great race time. But, I couldn’t hold the pace. I slowly but surely dropped further and further back. Up the final large climb I kept telling myself that the faster a go the sooner I’ll be finished. Direct road seemed to go on for ever and I couldn’t seem to get on top of the gear. Yes, my smallest gear was even too much for me to continue pushing. Eventually I made it to the top and began the rooty, bumpy descent down Hot X Buns. From here it was pretty straight forward to get home. I picked my way through the next trails and crossed the finish line in a time of 5 hours 51 minutes and 10 seconds. Edwin took the win with Cosmo in second, Jason third, Tad forth and I was fifth with Garth not far behind in sixth.
The Nduro team strives to make Whaka 100 the toughest Marathon Event in the world. And if it were easy then everyone would do it. Over 180 of the bravest mountain bikers tackled the challenge this year. 169 can say they were one of the toughest. 12 riders failed to reach the finish line. Times ranged from the fastest rider, Edwin’s race winning time of 5:21:31 to perhaps the bravest rider taking 10:55:36. With the race growing each and every year it is no surprise to see more and more people flocking to Rotorua with the goal of completing the event and being labelled one of the toughest. Congratulations to all the riders taking part in the 25, 50 and 100km events along with the Nduro team form making the event something truly special to all the riders. Photo Credit to the Photos4sale team.