After a few days of rain the Mountainbike Tauranga club rolled up to Waipa Carpark for the Helibike Rotorua 8. The club had 12 solos and 3 teams which was a great turn out. The Junior Academy riders rocked up in strength also. The Tauranga team set up all together as the rain belted down. We grabbed a quick snap and then lined up on the start line.

The Tauranga Academy line up for a photo while everyone is still clean and dry.

Photo: Sam Somerfield

The start line was one row spread out across the field so everyone had a fair chance of getting to the first corner first. The 10 second call is made and then before I knew it more than 80 of us were sprinting to be first into the single track. Off the line, I wasn’t great. But by the time we had worked our way to the first trail (Rockdrop) I had wiggled my way to the front of the field and was in second behind the lead rider which was a team rider.

The race format had us riding an 8.3 KM loop as many times as we could in 8 hours. There were both solo riders and 2 to 3 person team riders. Along with this there was a 4 hour race which started with us at 12:30 and race the same loop until 4:30 where as we would carry on until 8:30. The teams could change riders each lap but us solos were in it alone until the end.

I followed along in second place for nearly all of lap one but once the two of us reached Rosebank the lead team rider made a mistake and I slipped through into first. I crossed the finish line completing my first lap in a time of 23 minutes 54 seconds. I knew this pace was far to fast to maintain for the race but still prior to the race my coach Chris Willet and I had planned to ‘push the envelope’. We need to establish some endurance boundaries so I know how hard I can push when it comes to WEMBO 2017.

On my way through rock drop on the opening through laps. At this stage the course was still dry.

(Photo: Allan Ure, Photos4sale)

I carried on battling with the two top 8 hour teams for first place overall for the next wee while. Then around 2 and a half hours in the rain really began to hammer Rotorua. Within minutes the course began to slow down. Corners lost grip and ruts began to form. The two leading teams an myself however  fought on. It was tough to eat, drink on the short technical course. I found that as the teams would put a new rider in for each lap they would sprint of f for the first half of the lap on the climbs and then I would pull back the lost time in the second half on the decent to the end of that lap.

One a mission! Photo: Allan Ure (Photos4sale)

Now 3 hours into the race the rain was well and truly here. Lap times from everyone was very slow. I found my lap times were in the low 30’s by this point but I was still on par with the top teams. The course had been so ripped up now all the riders were forced to run multiple climbs and it became scary on the descents. I rolled through the pits around 4 hours into the race. My shoes were full of mud which had turned hard creating new pressure points on the bottom of my feet. This became so painful I had to stop and do something about. 4 hours in I had my first break. I sat down for no more than 3 minutes. Ripped my shoes off, saturated my socks in water to rinse of the clumps of dirt. Filled my shoes with water and then banged my shoes back on my feet. It was also at this point I received the news that the race is going to be cut short to 5 hours because the course was nearly at the point of being unrideable and there for I only had time for 2 or 3 more laps. I grabbed some food and headed back into the damp forest. I was lapping some of the other top solo by this stage but because I had stopped I had lost contact with one of the lead teams. The other still sat behind me hunting me down.

Having so much fun in the rain! Photo: Mead Norton.

I planned to get 3 more laps in. All I had to do was cross the finish line before 5:30:00PM to go out for one final lap. This meant I needed to do two laps in under 60 minutes to fit the final lap in. I set out to achieve my new goal but it was tough. I dug myself so deep and buried myself so hard that it took me a week to recover. The rain was starting to eat away the track by now so much so that loads of teams and solos were pulling out. I found the course a challenge. I struggled to keep my momentum around the course with new roots being exposed and ruts developing all over the show. I pushed on and completed the next lap and when out again. I worked and worked on my own. I had opened a gap to the second team behind me but still wasn’t gaining on the leading team in front of me.

Eyes on the prize. Photo: Ezra Newick.

For the length of the race I went to some dark places. Darker than I had at WEMBO the previous year but I kept my composure and timed my run through the start finish to be 5:29:58PM. I had 2 seconds to spare and was enabled out for my last lap. I wanted to ride another 30 minute lap but it wasn’t doable. I had blown up. I dragged myself up the first climb ‘Rockdrop’ only to find myself minutes later walking through one of the exposed trails alpha. The ruts were so deep by this stage that the trail was truly unridable.

Heading out for the final lap. Legs are burning now.

Photo: Someone in my pit crew.

I passed 5 or so other riders on that last lap but it really dragged out, however on the bright side the rain had stopped and the forest was starting to settle. Once I reached the half way point in the trail ‘Soakhole’ I was second guessing coming out for this final lap. But as I walked over and uphill root section (Rare for me as I never walk in races.) I thought to myself how much of a lovely evening it was for a bike ride and how lucky I was to be fit and healthy and have the opportunity to be doing what I was doing. As I reached the 4 km point of the lap my Garmin told be me that my lap time was 23 minutes already. And  I was only half way round. Fortunately it was all downhill from here. I began to descend toward the finish. Ten minutes later I came across John White in the final trail ‘Rosebank’. John is a bit of an legend and knows his way around endurance racing better than most. Not to mention his super friendly character and entertaining stories. Also John will be traveling to compete at WEMBO 2017 in  Italy with myself and around 5 or so other kiwis.

All done, and its still light! “Where is all the food?” Photo: Pit Crew

John and I cruised down to the finish line and rolled across at 6:15PM. I completed 11 laps and was first solo and was beat by only one team also on 11 laps. I was rapt to finally reach the finish and in honesty would have really struggled to last the full 8 hours in those conditions. I was rewarded with $100 prize money which went towards repairing my drive chain after the hammering it suffered over the hours earlier. Next up for me is the Tokoroa Nduro race on the 5th  of March and then followed by the 12 hour solo Moonride on the 11th of March.

Until then. Ride on followers!

I got to share the top step of the podium with the Female Solo winner Nicola Kirkham!

Photo: Anna Haycock