The 2015 Whaka 100 was a weekend full of excitement, determinations, tactics, strength, endurance and satisfaction for me.
On Saturday the 22nd of October, I arrived to Waipa Carpark to another great Nduro Events atmosphere building. The start finish shoot was set up along with the event village and the course. It didn’t take me long to register and hit the trails. I was keen to learn the lines of the TT (Qualifying) course. The course began with some Zig Zags through the event village and then up Mud pool road before shooting down the grade three trail Rosebank. After a few practice laps I decided the qualifying course would take around seven and a half minutes. Throughout my practice laps I spent time looking at different lines and learning to flow the corners as the course was changing with the amount of rain the forest had had. After waiting around for 30 minutes at the event village I was called up to the start line where I had a joke or two with the event organiser before getting into the zone. Out of the gate I was quick to clip in and got off to a brisk start. As I spent the first few minutes of the lap climbing the legs were in agony, heartrate through the roof but I pushed on. Once I hit Rosebanks single track there was no time for a rest as I had to get my flow on rolling down the trail. I was able perfectly execute all my practice lines and smash it to the finish. My time was 7:26 and I ended up in 5th place.
On Sunday the 23rd as I travelled back through to the Whakawerawera forest I watch the sunrise out of the car window and the weather looked as though it was going to hold off. After my warm up I lined up on the front row thanks to my TT the previous day alongside the likes of Jack Compton, Gary Hall, and big names like Edwin Crossling and Commonwealth Games silver medallist Samuel Gaze and I knew 7 times Elite World 24 hour Champion Jason English was only a few rows behind me. The gun went and the initial jump off the line was frantic. To get clipped in and out of the event village being chased by over 200 riders was always going to be difficult, especially when it is alongside some of your childhood heroes and role models. After the first ten or so minutes the lead pack broke from the field consisting of Jack, Gary, Edwin, Sam and myself, however I knew Jason was not far back and would be hunting our pack down. After being caught by Jason around 10km into the 100km race I could have a bite to eat and start my taking on board hydration.
I was sitting comfortably in the lead group with some of the biggest names in the Mountainbike world. I was comfortable with the pace that Gary and Jack was setting on the front of the group and I focused on choosing fast, smooth and economical lines to save energy, time and my muscles for the test ahead. We began hitting the climbs around 15km into the race. I knew climbing was going to be my weakness and I would need to be on top form to hold pace with these big engines. We began the first climbs and as I expected Jack and Sam were sitting at the front pushing the pace with Edwin hot on their heels. Eventually the pack began to split and I found myself battling for 3rd to 6th place with Gary and Jason. We did however keep in contact with the 3 leaders until 30km into the race. From here Sam, Jack and Edwin rode away. Jason plodded along behind as his 24-hour legs haven’t got the power to bridge gaps unlike the XC and Marathon specialists ahead. I found myself catching Gary riding up Hill and Moerangi roads. At the top of Moerangi Road we hooked a left turn and began our decent down a ruthless ‘Kung Fu Walrus’ towards the green lake.
After popping out of the grade 4 trail onto the fire road I was less than 100 meters to Gary. I decided it was a great chance to take on some nutrition. Gary spotted this and as I packed my mouth with a bar Gary began to ride away. By this stage we were 50km into the race. I was giving it all I had to catch him. I was able to get a glimpse of him riding up Lookout road on my way to ‘No Brains’ trail. At this point my legs began to seize up and I was forced to back the pace off. However, it could have been worse. A few minutes in front Sam was attacking off the front of the race leaving Edwin and Jack behind. However, by the time the top 3 reach the bottom of ‘No Brains’ Edwin and Jack had pulled Sam back in. But, it wasn’t because they were faster. Samuel Gaze the 2016 U23 World Cross Country Champion had cracked. By the time they had begun the biggest climb of the race they had dropped Gaze and Gary and I were quickly reeling him in. As I climbed up to the top of ‘Time Warp’ I spotted Sam. After smashing it down a brand new ‘Split Endz’ trail I found myself promoted to 5th place.
Before the race I had set myself the goal of placing top 5 and I was within reach of it now all I had to do was finish without anyone else passing me. I knew the gap ahead to Gary was only growing and I needed to switch to a survival mode a pose to an attacking mode. I continued to slog it out on some of the best trails Rotorua has to offer and before I knew it there was only 5km to go. But then I spotted something in the corner of my eye. I had been caught. I dug deep almost in tears of pain I pushed on through ‘Rockdrop’ and ‘Rosebank’ somehow able to pull out a solid gap and cross the line in 5th. Of the 205 riders entered in the Whaka 100 only the toughest 145 riders finished. In the U19 age group I stormed away to win by 1 hour and 15 minutes over second place. The excitement for Whaka 2016 is already building. The next big event I plan to focus on in the build to World Championships next June is the Huka XL on the 26th of November where I aim to place top 5.
(Photos courtesy of Ezra Newick)