Saturday, March 31, 2012

Cape Epic Day 6 - Stage 5... Just When I Think This Can't Get Any Harder...

I bent over and cried today when I crossed the finish line. I've done some hard things on my bike in my time, but this... This takes the cake. We woke up to pouring rain again this morning. To be honest, I felt pretty good, all things considered, and the rain didn't bother me too much... We ride in it all the time at home, so potentially, it could be an advantage for us... Once we smashed into it, though, it quickly became apparent that today was going to be another long day. The dust on the roads here mixes with the rainto form this fine, globular mud that rips through your brake pads like noones business.

John was a superstar again... He did a LOT of towing for me today, which was amazing. My legs feel smashed now, so I have him to thank that they don't feel even worse. The weather would get fine, then rain again, then the sun would come out, then it would rain again... Apparently, at one point, it was hailing or sleeting up near waterpoint two. It was nothing short of miserable. I wasn't feeling too bad, but as we started to get to waterpoint two at the 71km mark, I started getting really cold, and really hungry. I knew I was about to hit the wall. When I got to the waterpoint, I had to get my brakes checked by the neutral tech. I had completely chewed through my front brake pads and my rear brake needed bleeding, which I couldn't do anything about at that point, so just had to deal with a very dodgy rear brake for the last 50km. Waiting for the work on my brakes to get done, we started getting really cold, and as the tech handed my bike back, it started pouring with rain. I told John I couldn't go back out in that... He gave me a big hug and kept me warm for about 5mins until the rain eased then we were back on the bikes.

This was the most miserable part of the day. It was so cold I am pretty sure we were both borderline hypothermic. Our hands were numb, and my feet were numb. I have never wished more for climbing than I was right at the moment... It was the only thing that was keeping us anywhere near warm. As we got to the top of our second last hill, the sun came out and we were treated to some amazing vistas, then we came out onto some sealed road for some easier riding and I started feeling a bit better. We then got into some lovely downhill singletrack (albeit very muddy) and I tried to cheer us up the only way I knew how... I started singing "Bicycle Race" by Queen. We were pinning the singletrack and passed a lot of other teams. I guess that's the advantage of riding in this sort of weather back home... Riding rooty, technical track in the mud is something we do very well... But it was hard work. Riding singletrack was obviously going to get us to the finish line much slower than gravel road.

The last ten kilometers seemed to drag on and on... I started to wane, but was so lucky to have John there to help me up the inclines and egg me on to the finish. We passed two mixed teams in that last ten kilometers and crossed the line smashed. That's when I cried... I feel so broken. My legs and back ache and I don't even feel hungry, except for that amazing f@#king burger I ate just after the finish... OH YEAH! I showered with my kit on to rinse all the mud off it... God I hope the weather is good tomorrow. I would nearly say that was the single hardest day I have ever had on my bike.

We are at a new tent village tonight. Everything is damp and gross and I am so sick of walking everywhere. I don't remember the last time I felt this broken. It's all very emotional. I have no idea how I will make it through the next two days... I'll find a way, I'm sure. We came 10th in our stage today, and with a time of 8 hours 10 minutes, It's a testament to just how hard a day it was for everyone. We are still in 13th place overall mixed teams, 4 minutes behind 12th and about 4 ours ahead of 14th.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Cape Epic Day 5 - Stage 4... Getting By...

I'm not sure how I started todays stage. I woke up feeling absolutely terrible. I had diahorrea, my arm still hurt, I had saddle sores developing and with all of the above, my guess would be that, at best, I had about an hours sleep last night. John wasn't feeling much better and my breakfast consisted of a measly piece of rubbery toast with jam on it and a couple of little hash browns before I started dry reaching at the thought of putting anything else in my mouth. In fact, I didn't even brush my teeth because I was worried that putting my toothbrush in my mouth might tip me over the edge and make me vomit. I remember this feeling before... Such is the life of stage racing... But this was pretty bad. Somehow though, I ended up on the start line anyway. Our category had dwindled from 60 teams to 48 teams over the course of the race, and I had no intention of being the one to reduce those numbers further... To be honest, I'd go to hell and back before pulling the plug on this race... And I'm pretty sure that's what I did today. To be honest,I don't know if I would have made it without John. There's no way I would ordinarily go out for a ride feeling that unwell, but there didn't appear to be a better option going!

I couldn't have picked a worse day to be sick. We had nearly as much climbing as yesterdays stage, but in 40km less. It was brutal. I suppose we pretty much went into survival mode, and we agreed that we just needed to make it through the day and finish. It was heartbreaking watching the bunch disappear as we dropped off the back early on. We knew it would cost us placings, but at least not cost us the whole race. The climbs were steep and rocky with a lot of portaging required, and, being up so high in the mountains, the terrain was barren and unforgiving. Even when descending, the trail was often loose and rocky, requiring a great deal of concentration... Something I didn't really possess today in the state I was in... It was a constant battle. I just kept moving, taking the 103km ten at a time. John was so patient. The course didn't provide many opportunities for towing or drafting, and I knew he wanted to help, but the course just didn't suit it... Later on, I labelled todays course a "weakest link" course, and today, that was me. The even more ironic thing was that to get the rest I really needed, we needed to finish quickly, and that wasn't going to happen today... We were in for a long one.

It wasn't a completely lost day. There was some good stuff, too. I was actually eating really well at the water stations, which I needed to do considering I hadn't really had any breakfast. And, as has been the case the whole race, there was so much awesome support out along the course. It continues to amaze me the random, out of the way places that people have gotten themselves to just to cheer us all on, usually at the top of absolutely heinous climbs. Today, there was also what appeared to be a preschool that had set up camp in a marquee along the course to cheer us on and spray us with hoses, and someone had gone to the effort of transporting random pieces of art up to various points on the hill. I really liked the wire statue of a rider on a bike, but I think my favourite was the cow statue at the top of one of our many false summits which had a big sign that said "MOOOVE IT!" (i really dislike false summits, by the way).

The last 40km we were hit by a strong, nasty headwind... It reminded me of being back in Palmerston North... It was John's time to shine. We had a nice open road and I latched onto his huge manly frame by any means possible for an easier ride home (he cuts a bloody good hole in the wind, that man!)... I got the sneaking suspicion he was really enjoying the wind... Glad he did! The wind must have been heinous, because even when I was drafting him, I was still copping quite a bit. On a number of occasions I was blown off my bike, or at best, off the line I was trying to ride (much to the amusement of a couple of riders from Perth who were behind me... They said they were expecting to have to pick me out of the fence. Cheers guys!). We finally crossed the finish line, very broken, but happy to only have 3 days left. The bonus was that when we saw the results, we still came 13th in the stage! Must have been an equally tough day for all. We have, however, dropped down to 13th in general classification for mixed. A little hard to swallow, but glad to still be in the game.

Tonight is our last night in Caledon, which suits me just fine. It hasn't been my favourite race village. There is a huge walk to get to anything and every start from here is downhill and every finish is uphill! Below are a couple of pictures of the Caledon race village at sunset last night. Right now, it has just started pouring with rain, which should suit us kiwis just fine to tomorrow! Hope this tent is waterproof!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Cape Epic Day 4 - Stage 3... The Long One

Just a really quick post today... And photos to come later. The day started with us packing up all our belongings and loading our bags into the trucks for transport to our new "home" (ie. Tent village) in Caledon tonight. Sleep has been difficult to come by, especially with my freshly sliced up body from yesterdays accident and it's a fine line between keeping hydrated and waking up every 2 hours to go to the toilet. Breakfast is becoming hard work, too... I am losing my appetite and sticking oats and eggs and muesli in my mouth at 5.30am just makes me feel like I'm going to be sick.

Our 143km day started with 40km of road, a lot of it sealed, too... I picked the wrong wheel at the start and got spat off the back of the bunch, but was lucky enough to have John draft me back in, otherwise it would have been a very very long 40km! Our first climb was horrible... Really loose and rocky and saw everyone off their bikes hiking. As wrong as it may sound, at least it meant we didn't lose the pack up the climb. There were four major climbs today, but apart from that first one, they were mostly ridable. At 143km, I had been pretty nervous about todays stage. It's the longest stage they have ever put in the Cape Epic. The last few days had been pretty high intensity, and with John pushing, towing and giving me draft for the last three days, I had been riding well above my likmit, something I was really stoked with, but knew I couldn't sustain for 8 days. We backed it off a little bit today, and it didn't seem quite so bad as we had expected (although, like I said, I was pretty lucky to have the John train). I also did a much better job of eating and drinking today and managed to keep myself quite consistently fuelled throughout the stage... I'm getting bloody sick of sports drink and gel and anything else they have at feed stations, but it's all functional eating. Trying to keep it all down with a cocktail of grape flavoured sports drink, muffin and vegemite sandwich sloshing around in my tummy is a task in itself!

Our accident yesterday had taken it's toll on my body. I was initially pleasantly surprised at how good my body felt when we set off for the morning, but once we started hitting the rough descents, the jarring against the arm that had been so kindly chewed up by the road by incredidbly painful. It felt like someone was sitting on my handbars with a blunt knife stabbing my left arm every time I descended over a bump. I was gritting my teeth with the pain and I could feel it exhaust a huge amount of my energy. I tried to relax and ride loose, but inevitably, other parts of my body bore the force to compensate for the injury, resulting in me needing to double my nightly massage appointment from here until, the end of the race. Hopefully the pain settles down over the next few days.

We finished in 8 hours 16 minutes and 13th place for the day and are still sitting in 11th place for GC in the mixed category (albeit by a huge margin of 44 seconds!). It's probably pretty timely to point out that if I didn't have such astroing teammate as John, we probably wouldn't be sitting so far up the rankings. That guy is a machine!

Anyway, tonight and tomorrow night we are in Caledon. The race village here is a lot more spread out than the one in Robertson and we have to walk bloody everywhere! Tomorrow is 103km day, but at 2600m of climbing, it's going to be bloody tough. Time for me to try and get some shuteye. More stories and pictures tomorrow!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Cape Epic Day 3 - Stage 2... A Top 10 Finish and a Spectacular Crash

It took me a while to find the medics tent at the end of todays stage... I hadn't really paid any attention to where it was because I was hoping I wouldn't need it. The day started off quite well. Moving up one place yesterday meant that we moved up to start C, so we were in a good position to jump straight in with the fast bunch off the line, instead of having to bridge the gap like yesterday. The first 20km were fast in with the bunch, and I felt pretty good. John mentioned a couple of tikmes how well I was riding today, which really meant a lot to me. Todays stage suited us really well... 122km and 1650m of climbing meant that there were no huge hills, and a lot of rolling terrain, which I had been really strong on, and today was no exception. We were absolutely blasting along, smashing out our first 40km in well under two hours. As with yesterday, there were lots of locals and their kids lining the route along the way, cheering us on and slapping out hands as we walked past. It's such an amazing atmosphere out on course.

At about the 35km mark, just before our first water station, I was holding on to John's bag taking a ride on the John Train. As we drew onto the back of one of the bunches, I thought John was goiing to pull out and go around them, but he had actually intended for me to latch onto the back of the bunch as he rolled through. The momentary lapse in communication meant that my front wheel connected with John's pedal (at least that's what I think happened) and we both went down like a sack of horse manure. We were travelling along a gravel road at about 35km an hour, so needless to say, there was a decent amount of carnage. Having said that, we were lucky we rode away from it... It could have been much worse. I took a moment to compose myself. I was surprised everything seemed ok apart from gravel rash and bruises, and as for my bike, the majority of the brunt was borne by my nice new carbon bar ends. I didn't spend too much time assessing the damage... To be honest, I didn't want to know. That could wait for the finish line.

We were told later that it was a spectacular crash, but we got back on our bikes. I think the adrenalin was pumping pretty hard because we got to the top of the hill and I said to John "ok, let's forget about that and let's do this". I actually felt pretty good. The first 90km went pretty quickly, but the pace was, once again, pretty brutal. Both of us knew today was our best chance at a top ten finish. I was on the rivet the whole time, and that made it pretty hard for me to get a hand off the bars for food or drink. There was no way I was drinking enough... The last 30km for the day from. The drink station to the finish line were the hardest. I was running on empty and really struggling to stay on, plus my leg was bothering me from the fall. About 10km from the finish line, we passed one of the other mixed teams. We knew they were climbing better than me, so wehad to smash it on the flats to stay ahead. The last part of the stage just kept throwing these nasty little pinchy climbs at us... Not big enough to register much on the course profile, but enough to cause some pain and make us a bit nervous about how close the other team was. It was such a relief to see the 5km marker when we hit sealed road again.

We held the other team off to take 10th place in the mixed category for the day. We smashed out 122km of mountain biking in about 5 hours 50 minutes, which is an average speed of over 20km per hour! YEAH!!! We are both pretty smashed, though. I had a few tears in my eyes at the finish. I don't think I have ever pushed myself that hard before, and I was really grateful that John pushed me. I felt like I rode really well today, but I really need to sort out my eating and drinking. Tomorrow is our longest stage at 147km and 3100m of climbing, which is going to be no walk in the park and hydration and nutrition will be paramount to finishing the stage, and that's even before we think about our placing.

I hit up the shower to check on my injuries, and I did a pretty good job of it. I have gravel rash from my left knee down my leg and there's going to be a good bruise there, gravel rash on my elbow and the back of my shoulder, a lovely big haematoma on my left hip and a smaller one on my rib. I have a slightly torn jersey and shorts and my new Easton Carbon EC90 bar ends have been chewed up really well, too. I gave it a good painful scrub in the shower to clean it out, then hit up the medic to get some patches and sympathy and maybe a can of harden-up (but they had run out). I feel ok, but it's going to be sore to sleep on and sore to ride on at the start tomorrow, but we carry on regardless because that's what we came here for. I feel privaledged that I have left a piece of myself on the road here in South Africa... A decent amount of my skin and blood is out there somewhere!

So now I'm chilling in the Absa lounge. Free drinks and icy poles on offer, laundry done and a massage and dinner on the way soon. I'm looking forward to getting tomorrows stage out of the way because it's going to be a really hard day in the saddle... And will also mean we are half way through. I am feeling pretty smashed after today. They are big, long, hard stages and there is no rest and it hurts the whole way. Enough to make a hard woman cry...

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Cape Epic Day Two - Stage One... 114km of Brutality

Woken up by bagpipes at 5am, I clambered out of my tent after a very broken nights sleep. I was hoping that as the race went on and we rode more, I would be more tired and sleep a little more solidly. We shoved down a pretty average breakfast in the mess tent. My main concern was getting as much into me as I possibly could. I knew that as the week wore on, I would feel less and less like eating, so while my gut was still in business, I needed to make sure I ate as I could.

Todays stage was 114km and 2350m of climbing. We lined up in our allocated start pen at 7am. The start was fast. I struggled to stay on the back of the pack and as we moved off the road and onto dirt, I struggled to maintain the pace that John was asking of me. It was really frustrating for me, and I was pretty disappointed in myself to have to tell John that we were running too hot at a pace that I didn't think I could sustain. We backed off a bit, but in the end, there were obvious benefits to having hung on to the back of that pack... Ultimately, it may have been worth a good ten or fifteen minutes to us, but it meant that John had to tow me and that in itself would take it toll on John so we would have to make a call as to whether it was worth smashing ourselves that much once we saw the results for the day.

There were three main climbs today, each of them about 400m and each of them pretty steep. There was a lot of hike-a-bike, and I wasn't particularly suited to this with my short legs. Having said that, there didn't appearto be a lot of people either gaining or losing much time because it was just one long stream of ants trailing up the hillside. It became apparent today that my climbing legs weren't firing as I would have expected them to for all the training I had done. I was grovelling up everything, and whilst I had been incorporating as much climbing as possible into my schedule, I guess I just hadn't found a route around Palmerston North that could replicate something this brutal. There were big climbs around home, but nothing this steep and it showed. I was doing an ok job up the moderate climbs, but I lacked legs on the steep stuff. I was really angry with myself... Really f@#ked off, and I could tell John was, too, and I didn't blame him... How I could have overlooked that in my training, I'm unsure, but I had, and now I would have to suffer for it. Hopefully my climbing legs would find themselves over the course of the week. Some of the descending was mega sketchy, too... There was a lot of loose, dusty, off camber, rocky descending, which was fine if you were cautious, but had the potential to be very unforgiving if you made an error at speed. At least it kept things interesting though.

By the time we hit the third water point, we had 40km left to go and were starting to get into the heat of the day. The pro mens winner had completed the course already in 4hours 33minutes... That's an average speed of about 25km per hour! I had become very partial to the cups of coke at the water stations (those of you who know me would know that I never drink coke or caffeine, but races are always the exception), and the boiled and salted potatoes were also a favourite... That last 40km was fast. It was pretty flat with just a couple of smaller climbs, and I was able to sit behind John for some protection and we smashed back the flats at a really solid pace, picking up a few places in the process. The corners and any obstacles were tricky because I couldn't see a thing sitting behind John's huge frame, and it took me a little bit to get comfotable sitting so close to his wheel, but once I got it right, we werein business. In the last 10km, I grabbed on to John's pack and he towed me and we passed two of the mixed teams that were in front of us, picking up two places in our category. He really is a bloody machine, and I have no doubt that without John, I could have easily being out there for another hour. I have no idea how to show my gratitude to him. I'm going as hard as I can, but I wish I could give him more. We crossed the line absolutely smashed, grateful for the cups of water, coke and sports drink that were on offer, as well as the cold face towels.

The results came through and we had come in 12th place, and picked up one general classification place, too. I have no idea if we can sustain the pace we are doing for the rest of the week, but I guess we'll just see what it brings. It's hard work out there. Harder than I could describe... But I probably wouldn't have it any other way... We didn't come here for an easy time. We hit the showers and some food. Tent village looks like a laundromat, with towels and dirty riding clothes hanging all over everyones tents. Then I hit up the Absa chill tent for some blogging.

Dinner is served in an hour and then off to massage again... Tonight, I will try to remember to put underpants on before massage... This wiuld make it much more comfortable for both me and the masseuse!

Cape Epic Day One - Prologue... Good to be on the Bike!

I'm sitting in my little red tent in tent village, my new home for the next three evenings, snacking on nuts and chocolate and trying to stay hydrated until dinner in an hours time. I've just had a shower in the mobile shower trailer (which was like heaven on wheels after today) and am now not wearing any underwear (and enjoying it very much)... Very soon I will venture into the mess tent for dinner and then head off for a half hour massage before bed. Life on tour...

This morning was an early start. Our 27km, 900m of climbing time trial start time was 8.33am so we headed off from Gavin's at about half past six. The race village was a spectacular sight... Our race would start on stage down a time trial start ramp, there were tents and water stations set up, entertainment happening throughout the village and there were even live feeds coming back from on course video cameras and helicopters to display on large screens around the race village. It really is difficult to describe the scale of this event without actually being here.

After a warm up and a couple of nervous toilet stops, we made our way to the start chute where we were herded around for about 20mins until we were called into line for our start. As we climbed up onto the top of the start ramp, I still found it difficult to believe that we were finally here. For the time trial, teams were being set off at 25 second intervals, as opposed to the standard 30sec intervals (apparently over the course of the day, this saves 50 minutes!). As we were called up to the start line for our 25sec countdown, John leaned over and gave me a hug and a kiss on the cheek... Our time had come.

The commisaire counted us down... Five, four, three, two, one... GO! Off we went on the start of our first day of the Cape Epic. We caught a couple of the teams in front of us pretty quickly as we headed into our first climb. Bloody hell John is quick and I felt so slow in comparison to him to sttart with, but as we moved into our first piece of single track, I dropped the hammer and was pinning the trail at a pretty good pace. My strength on the singletrack and flat or moderate incline was really good, but I struggled in comparison to John on the steeper climbs. I got my first puncture not too long into the stage... At first, I wasn't too sure what was happening when my face and glasses got sprayed with something wet and not quite clear... I realised a few minutes later that it was tyre jizz... It must've sealed up ok because it didn't give me any more trouble for the rest of the stage.

As we got further into our ride, we started to figure out ways to utilise each other's strengths. I would sit in front and set the pace along the singletrack and flat to moderate sections, then on the climbs, John would come past and I would grab onto his pocket for a ride on the "elevator Johnny". I felt kinda bad doing this, but as John said "whatever gets us across the line the quickest!". John was also taking my bottle to carry on the climbs and I remember on one climb, when I had to run my bike up, John dropped his bike at the top and then came back down to run my bike up... We worked remarkably well as a team unit and it made me feel really good that there were strengths I could contribute, but that I was also able to swallow my pride and graciously accept John's help... After all, he is a much stronger rider than me. We kept picking up places as we rode... From memory, we only got passed by a couple of mens teams, so we knew we had made pretty good time relative to the other teams around us.

The riding was spectacular, and the vibe along the course was amazing, with spectators lining the course, cameramen and volunteers all cheering people on. It made me feel quite proud as we passed one of our check points and we heard the announcer call out "Team Mitre 10 Mega looking strong". Yeah!!!

Most of the climbs were managable, and provided spectacular vistas of the areas, but the pace was brutal, being such a short stage. It also began to get really hot as we ascended the last climb. We had a hilltop finish and that last climb was absolutely brutal. It climbed right to the finish line... We finished in 1 hour 52 minutes which put us in 13th place in the mixed category and 209th overall. 13th out of 60 international level teams was a pretty good result and it is also pretty exciting the prospect that we may be able to crack some top ten results during the course of the race.

After gathering our breath after the finish and taking in some of the views, we descended back into the race village, picked up some lunch, bummed around a bit then boarded buses for the trip to Robertson. It was a relief to put our incredibly heavy rider bags onto the bus and forget about them for the couple of hours trip through the middle of an amazing mountain range, which towered over the road we were travelling along.

Our new race village and home for the next three evenings is pretty cool. We have an area we can hang out in and watch TV (the chill tent), our little tent village, dinner hall, mechanical services, massage and medics (hoping I don't need to use that tent!).

My legs feel a bit used, but massage should alleviate that. I'm just really glad to have started and finished our first stage. We now have a better idea of where we sit in the field and what sort of terrain to expect. Tomorrows stage is 115km and 2300m of climbing. Time to rest up and get some sleep!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Cape Epic Day Zero - Registration... And So It Begins

With the biggest race of my life upon us the following day, we enlisted the services of the lovely Gavin to take us to the V&A Waterfront for registration (I really do mean "lovely", too... Gavin and Sarah have been the most hospitable hosts... A very hard act to follow!). The waterfront was busling with support crews, teams carrying around their huge team bags, and probably a bunch of other people whol had no idea what was going on.

We made our way around the waterfront. There were Cape Epic displays and signage up everywhere, and a huge stage set up for the briefing and some entertainment in between (including some random 25 minute spin bike challenge). There were also gigantic screens displaying, among other things, TV broadcast times for the event. It was a really cool vibe, and bloody exciting. My heart spent a good portion of the day apparently trying to escape my chest.

After soaking in the atmosphere, registration was first, where they explained what the multitude of tags and stickers were used for... a number plate with a timing transponder attached for the handlebars, a number plate with our name on it to pin to the back of our jersey, a tent identification tag to reserve our tent when we arrived at our nightly stop an identification sticker for our bike, and a wrist tag withour race number that also looked suspiciously like one of those wrist bands they give you in hospital.

We then ventured on to our next stop to pick up a duffle bag with our number on it that would contain all our possessions for the next eight days, then off to the nutrition tent to pick up our numbered drink bottles which we would hand in each morning for volunteers to pass to us as we rode through feed stations. We then went around to every other tent basically just to see what we could get for free and ended up with a bag full of Buffs, t-shirts, towels and a laundry bag with our very own number embroidered on it. We have two allocated laundry days... The 26th and the 30th. John also purchsed his coffee vouchers, of which I think I may be just as grateful for as he will be!! As we strolled around with our race bags, me with mine on my back like a pack, if you were walking behind me, you would have been forgiven for thinking that you were behind a large bag that had grown legs and was walking of it's own accord.

I then headed off on a small mission to find myself a pair of shorts that would fit (it was time to resign myself to the fact that I had maybe under-packed when I only brought one pair with me). We then went to sit in front of the huge stage in the sun for our race briefing and to watch some guy named Kenny break a world trials record for basically the longest bunny hop at 2.9m!!!

Back home, it was time to crack into the preparation. Over the last week, I have been collecting things that I thought I may need... Snacks, clothes and gear... And it currently all lay in a huge pile next to my bike box in my room. Armed with enough ziploc bags to supply a small army, we took over Gavin and Sarah's living room for the afternoon and got packing with some sort of organised chaos. I used a separate ziploc bag for different things... A bag for my nutrition, a bag for my after-race snacks, a bag for my undies and for my spare parts... Then it was all shoved very elegantly into this huge bag, sure to turn into my worst nightmare sometime later in the week.

Number plates and stickers also took their place on our bikes and jerseys, and I was left with a neat little pile of gear for the next day, plus a "stuff to pack in the morning" pile (this pile included bum cream and toiletries).

So it's finally here... And I have a sneaking suspicion that day zero will be as easy as it gets. John asked me this afternoon how I was feeling about tomorrow, and to be honest, I don't quite know how to sum that up in one word... Nervous, excited, keen to just get in and start, maybe a little bit scared. Either way, whatever comes of the next 8 days, the journey to date has still been an amazing experience, and I couldn't think of a better dude to share that experience with than John... Thanks buddy... Let's go rip up some South African dirt and have a wicked time!!!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Babboons, Bikes, Climbing and Views... Week One In Stunning South Africa

So there I was, sitting in the waiting lounge at Wellington airport with a couple of carry-on bags and my cow-patterned "cuddle buddy" to keep me company. My beloved Ninja had been left in the hands of the airline staff after removing an extra kilo of weight from my checked in luggage (more to haul aroiund for the next 34 hours!!). Having done alot of travel with my bike, I have always found that regardless of how inconvenient or annoying travelling with a bike can be, airport staff can make it much, much worse if you aren't nice to them, so I've formed a habit of being exceedingly nice to anyone who works at an airport, ESPECIALLY check-in staff! As I settled in to wait to board my flight, I looked at the two meagre bags next to me which contained, amongst very few other things, one pair of shorts, one t-shirt and 4 pairs of undies and socks, then stuffed full of multiple sets of riding kit. Any other clothes I had, I was wearing at the time, such are the joys of travelling with a bike... It seemed so strange to think that my entire existance for the next two months was shoved into those little bags. Only after I settled in and had some lunch did it finally start to sink in what was upon me. It was nearly unbelievable to think that in one week, I would be lining up with John on the start line at the Cape Epic... It was a strangely emotional moment for me and I felt nearly unable to keep my eyes dry. I wasn't sad, but I wouldn't call it tears of joy, either. It was a feeling that was hard to describe... Like I was ready to burst out and unleash what I had built up inside me over the last year and assault the ground with my two wheels... It was like my "race face" was trying to get out and show itself to the unsuspecting world (lucky it didn't because that would have been very hard to explain!). It had been a good year and a half since I had done a race this big, and I had forgotten about this feeling... I would spend the next week working on containing my excitement and my emotions until the start of the race.

The first leg of my flight landed me in Sydney, and after being swabbed and frisked on my way through the transfer gate, I was back on another plane to Abu Dhabi. The flight was long (14 and a half hours) and I got some broken sleep in between the times when people were either walking past bashing my knees with service trolleys or standing on my toes in high heels (seriously, who wears heels on a long-haul flight?). We finally arrived in Abu Dhabi where I had a 15 hour layover. I had originally planned to leave the airport, put my hand luggage in a secure storage facility and go and check out the sights in Abu Dhabi, but upon clearing customs and getting to the outside of the terminal, I found they didn't have a storage facility, and considering I was carrying my backpack, laptop bag, snuggle pillow and helmet, I figured it was probably going to be more hassle than it was worth to go sightseeing and ended up bound to the airport. I felt really tired. I was now in a timezone very similar to Cape Town, so I was pretty keen to work in to the right sleep pattern and not succumb to falling asleep at the airport. I occupied my time at the airport facebooking and watching movies and reading books. I found an area of the airport where there were no flights in and out for the afternoon and just hung out trying to keep my eyes open. At about 12.30pm, this amazing, hauntingly beautiful Arabic chant began playing at full volume through the airport loudspeakers in a part of the airport that had been otherwise completely silent. It was made even more surreal by the fact that I was in a zombie-like state of fatigue. After a quick google search, I confirmed my suspicion that it was Muslim prayer time (12.31pm in Abu Dhabi).

After a flight to Johannesburg that was delayed by 5 hours (at least the airline ended up putting me up in a nice motel for a sleep) and then then hassle of missing my connection and then also missing my new flight and having to get another new flight, I was finally on the last leg of my trip to Cape Town. It was in Johannesburg that I learned my first valuable lesson of the journey... Do not accept anyone's help unless you are happy to tip them... To be fair, the porter that I had managed to pick up along the way had been very friendly, patient and useful, but it was kind of embarrassing when he asked for a tip and I had no money with me... I had to get him to show me to an ATM just so I could tip the poor guy! The other thing that became fairly immediately apparent was that my NZ dollar here went a long way, especially when you are hanging out with locals and avoiding the overly touristy areas. It was a lovely clear day and as we flew straight over the South African landscape, everything seemed so flat and arid, until we reached our descent into Capetown. Mountains suddenly loomed out of a landscape that had been flat for thousands and thousands of kilometres and the mountains and hillsides were riddled with dirt roads and trails... This is where we were to be spending our 8 days riding over the course of the Cape Epic... I couldn't wait... My legs were just screaming to get at them (especially after having been stuck in transit for the last 2-3 days). This big grin came across my face and I got butterflies in my stomach. My mate Gavin picked me up at the airport and as we drove back to his place I was in awe of the beauty of Cape Town. Table Mountain loomed out of the landscape in the middle of the city, which in itself was spectacular, but it was also a beautiful sunny day with blue skies, the buildings were lovely and old and rustic and everything around meseemed new. We drove past one of the shack villages. Gavin explained how they really struggle to get infrastructure into the shack villages because the people who live there don't want to move. Apparently, the moment someone leaves, someone else just moves in... A bit like squatting... So whilst the city wants to install services into the area for the people to use, the people can't move for this to happen or they effectively give up their homes, which I found really bizarre. I had met Gavin probably about three years ago at 24 hour solo world championships and he and his partner Sarah had stayed with me in NZ recently for Singlespeed world champs. We shared a mutual love of riding bikes for a really, really long time. After enjoying a braai (that's the South African name for a BBQ) with Gavin, Sarah and some of their friends, we picked up John from the airport just after 10pm and headed back to Gavin's to hit the sack for some much-needed sleep. Finally we were in Capetown... Bikes intact and all!

Our first day in Capetown was pretty amazing... We would have these moments where we would turn to each other with this big grin on our faces and say "we're in South Africa!" like we couldn't quite believe it ourselves. We woke late (really late) and headed down the road for some breakfast at Hello Sailor (this was to become our local breakfast and internet spot). It was a beautiful mornning and Table Mountain's prescence dominated the skyline and served as an ever-awe-inspiring backdrop to anything we looked at. I felt mildly embarrassed by my apparent need to take photos of EVERYTHING, however, didn't feel so bad once John turned around to me and said "is it wrong that I want to take photos of absolutely everything?".

Instead of going stir crazy for the day (obviously, we should be resting up for the race on the weekend), we decided to catch the train into the city and go for a bit of a walk around and check out Cape Town. We wandered around a bit aimlessly through the city, finding markets and pavement artwork along the way. I have to say, I felt a bit lost for things to do... I had no training to do, no work to go to that day, and I felt at a bit of aloose end... What do people do when they have spare time??? This is going to take some getting used to. We were slightly amused by the minibus taxis that kept stopping at random spots in the middle of the road. Some guy would get out and run around the van yelling really loudly and whistling at people, then would jump back in the van and they would be on their way, continuing to yell out the windows as they drove along (I found out later that they were yelling out their destination and that apparently, the minibus taxis had originally been used as a form of transport for non-whites, who, up until probably the early 90's, were not allowed to use any other form of public transport). The other thing we noticed was the heat... it was hot, really hot, and it served as a reminder that we are both going to really need to look after ourselves out there while we are racing, drinking plenty and making sure we layer up the suncream. We headed home early and had a little afternoon nap. To our delight, when Gavin got home from work, he asked us if we would like to go for a bit of a ride on the trails at Table Mountain... We sure did!!! After a false start and having to return home to tighten John's handlebars (the one time I wasn't carrying a multitool with me!), we set off again up the mountain on a rooty, ledgy climb to this amazing lookout that looked over the city off Cape Town. It's hard to describe just how incredible this view is, and even photos don't do it justice. We took some family photos with the bikes and then continued on our way, climbing up more tracks. I was trying to keep my heart rate down, having just gotten off the plane the day before, but it was hard to hold back... I was quite excited about the whole thing. I remember catching up to John and Gavin at one point and saying to John "how cool is this? We are riding our bikes in f*@king South Africa!". We climbed up further to an outcrop in the trail and stopped there, watching the sun set over the city of Cape Town. I couldn't wipe the smile off my face. I still couldn't quite believe we were here. "There's a lot of people back home who don't realise just how jealous they are" John said... He was so right. Then we headed down the mountain to go and enjoy a traditional South African meal of bobotie and malva (delicious! I could get very used to this!)

Tuesday morning we made our way to possibly the coolest bike shop we have ever been to, Olympic Cycles, to get some supplies for the race (including this weird little rubber repair kit thing that you apparently use when thorns rip holes in your tyres... Hope we don't need to use that, but best be prepared!). After another satisfying breakfast at Hello Sailor, we amused ourselves by hijacking Gavin's car (thanks Gav!) and heading out on a little tourist mission to the Table Mountain cable car, with a little impromptu side trip to the site of the famous Cape Town Noon Gun, arriving in very good time about ten minutes before the firing. As the host of the show counted down the last ten seconds, I lined up a perfect photo shot, only to have the absolute crap scared out of me by the cannon firing and giving me more sky than cannon in my photo... Certainly not quite as I had imagined. The trip up Table Mountain in the cable car was an absolute feast for our eyes. It's hard to describe just how spectacular a sight it is and photos don't do it justice. From the top of the mountain, you could see 360 degrees around Cape Town and surrounds. We noticed, once again, that the height of the heat for the day was around 2.30-3pm... Best we get our hussle on during the race to be off course for the day by then! We polished the day off with some more fine Cape Town single track on another beautiful evening and then an evening out to hang out with some of Gavin and Sarah's mates, eat pizza and watch a documentary on the Cape Epic... Nerves starting to roll in now!

Wednesday we headed out on a little road trip to Cape Point, stopping at various spots along the way. The route was, once again, constantly scenic. We stopped at the coloured sea shacks at St James, and stopped at a number of other spectacular lookouts. I assumed the responsibility as master photographer for the day once I discovered my legs were too short to reach the pedals in Gavin's car, hence absolving me of any driving responsibility for the day. As we drove along, we discussed how we would approach the race. It really is tough to gauge how well you could expect to do when you are in unfamiliar terrain, unfamiliar climate and against unfamiliar competitors. We agreed the best approach to take was to go out nice and hard on the prologue time trial, see where that put us in the scheme of things and then work on chasing the next team in front of us. John also suggested that unless we had a headwind to contend with, that I should set the pace. This way neither of us would expend more energy than was necessary. Our communication was also going to be of utmost importance (we agreed that neither of us really was all that concerned about how the communication was delivered... I don't think either of us are really all that easily offended!). It all seemed like a good plan, and it was a relief to feel like we had some sort of loose plan ready for the race.

As we enjoyed our lazy tourist drive around the cape, we saw heaps of signs warning us of how dangerous babboons are, but it seemed to be "all sign, no babboon". I was highly disappointed... Until our trip back from Cape Point when we came across a whole family of them lazing around on the road. Add to that a family of Ostrich not long before and a Chameleon yesterday, and our wildlife experience wasn't too shabby so far. We came back along the western side of the point, which was even more spectacular, including a covered-in roadway along the ocean cliffs on the way up to Chapmans Peak (maybe this is what they should be doing to the Manawatu Gorge!). No riding on Wednesday (although I was meant to)... It's actually really frustrating when you are in an amazing place and you want to go on walks and do crazy things but you are constantly reminding yourself of the bigger picture and the task at hand, which stops you doing things you would otherwise really love to do... Essential to rest up and conserve energy for the race!

Thursday morning we set off on a tour to Robben Island. This is the prison in which Nelson Mandela had been held. It was quite a moving experience, made even more special by the spectacular trip over on the ferry, where we were treated to some amazing views of Cape Town from the water, and a visit from a huge pod of dolphins frolicking in the water beside the boat. The enormity of the event we are about to partake in also became very apparent when we were on the V&A Waterfront in the morning. There were signs up advertising the Cape Epic everywhere... Encouraging people to come and watch the prologue and the grand finale and the television coverage... That is something we very rarely see for any cycling event in NZ.

This morning, I headed out for my last ride up the mountain before the race. My legs felt really good, the weather has been stunning and whilst I am nervous as all hell, I just want to get stuck into this race. I still have very little idea of what to expect. It will largely be a matter of rolling with the punches as I go.

It has been such an amazing week, and on a number of occasions over the course of the week, I have found myself feeling exceedingly blessed for the opportunity lying in front of me, and for the fact that I have such amazing friends on the other side of the world who welcome me into their home, share their local knowledge with me, take me out to shred trails, loan me their car and are just good dudes in general. I feel like I must have taken a correct turn somewhere along the way in my life. I've always thought that riding a bike has given me the best friends and the best experiences in the world and the last week has been a very poignant reminder of this. Today will be spent doing final preparations and resting up, then we are at day zero for registration tomorrow. For now though, I'm going a little stir crazy, and Gavin's "fat camp" theory (where you put on a bit of weight pre-race during your taper period) is kicking in. Quite frankly, my body has had enough of this resting carry-on. Bring on Cape Epic in a couple of days time! It's time to rip it up!!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Time Has Come... See You in South Africa!!!

Well, here I am only a couple of days away from flying out to South Africa and the lead up over the last week has been a bit of a rollercoaster, to say the least. I have had some great days, and similarly, some pretty ordinary days. Sleep is a rare commodity... Something seemingly afforded only by a chosen few (of which I am not currently one)...

I can't even begin to describe how crap a day last Tuesday was for me. Everything seemed to conspire against me and I felt like I was getting more and more behind in everything... And I have this huge deadline looming called "OVERSEAS TRIP" by which time everything MUST be done... So fitting two days worth of work into one day, organising the last bits and pieces of my trip and still training are becoming increasingly difficult to balance. To be honest, up until the start of this week, I thought I had it pretty much under control, but I suppose it's all under control until it isn't (and then it's REALLY out of control). I am starting to find I am running out of appointments in my calendar to get stuff done, which in turn is probably giving me a slightly shorter fuse than usual. I had a 3 hour ride on my program for Tuesday evening, and I had planned to leave work just a little early to make sure I hit the road by 5.30pm. As it turns out, I didn't get home until 5.30pm, then I had to change the flat on my hardtail (which I had noticed on Sunday but hadn't yet done anything about) and by the time I was ready to rock, it was 6.15pm. I felt so tired, but I needed a ride so badly... I needed it to clear my head so I could sleep!!! I set off and only five minutes into my ride, noticed something wasn't quite right and realised my back tyre was nearly flat. I had focused so much of my attention on changing the front flatty that I hadn't checked the pressure in the rear. I only had CO2 with me, and I was loathed to waste it, so I turned around and went home to use the floor pump... By the time I set off again, I was absolutely seething... I just wanted to ride, have a feed and go to bloody bed! Too much to ask??? Maybe so. As I rode along, my mind was going a million miles an hour about everything except riding. It was probably a good thing... I failed to notice the first couple of climbs I was that preoccupied. It wasn't until I hit the dirt climb at the end of Turitea Road that links to Greens Road that I started to feel good. My legs felt pretty strong (although a little tired) and my mind seemed to have processed all it needed to for now. As I hit the crest of Greens Road, I was greeted by a beautiful sunset which had turned the clouds pink. It was a lovely evening to be out... Oh how lucky I am that I have a bike or I may miss out on moments like this! I continued out to K-Loop. I had originally planned on maybe cutting my ride back a bit because I left so late, but as I climbed Back Track I felt so good... I was pushing a much harder gear than usual, at a good cadence, and despite being on the hardtail, I felt really smooth, so I kept climbing up to the top, up to that lovely new piece of trail that has been carved into the hillside... I'd been daydreaming about this little 500m stretch of trail all day! I sessioned this little gem until the sun dropped below the horizon and then cranked up the Ay-Ups for the trip home in the dark. This time I was prepared for my night ride (and actually quite looking forward to it!) so I had both my handlebar light and my helmet light, which was awesome! I took out my new set of Ay-Ups to test them out, and, as is always the case with my Ay-Ups, they worked a treat. I bombed down Back Track with reckless abandon, disturbing the night with the crackle of my tyres on the ground and my whoops of delight. As I approached the Green's road turnoff, I had originally planned to head straight down Kahuterawa road and head home, but I was setting such a good pace, and felt so good, that I decided to head back up over Green's road and home the long way. It was quite surreal to climb to the crest of Greens Road and see the bright pink sunset replaced by a cloud-encircled moon with the Palmerston North city lights hanging quietly below... It really was a spectacular sight to be treated to. I arrived home about 9.30pm, cooked a feed, had a shower and jumped into bed to prep myself for the next day. By the time I got home, the day that had seemed so impossible was all of a sudden no longer in my thoughts. I had this big smile on my face, a big smile in my head, and a big smile in my heart. I love my bike(s).

After such a late finish the night before, I awoke early on Wednesday with a bit of a haze in my head (as could be expected), headed off to work and then onto the bike again as soon as I got home. I had hill reps to do tonight, and actually found the opposite to what I had experienced the night before... I felt ok going out, but my legs just weren't firing. I did some rather disappointing hill reps and returned home a little early. To be honest, I could probably put it down to fatigue from my previous evening's ride and from trying to get all my loose ends tied up and prepared before my trip, but I was frustrated nonetheless, especially after such a great ride the night before. Thursday morning brought plyometrics to start the day and then over Thursday and Friday, I had the opportunity for some rest days going into Oceania XC Champs on Saturday.

Thursday also brought the opportunity to catch up with my beloved team mate John and our awesome sponsor Oli from Roadworks. I had some business to take care of in Wellington for the day so we jumped at the chance to have a catch up before John and I jetted off. Oli was kind enough to give my bike a final workover and I felt a little guilty that he had ended up doing it in the dark after a power cut at his workshop, and that my Schwalbe UST tyres had caused him considerable grief when coupled with my XTR rims (sorry Oli!)... I felt a little better about it all after dinner when he accidentally ate my dessert (apparently Kahlua Cheesecake and Citrus Tart all taste one and the same when you are in good company and preoccupied with the conversation!). It appeared we had all had similarly trying weeks in one way or another. In fact, I was slightly relieved when I saw that John was having some similar frustrations to me, trying to tie up loose ends before the trip. It's really hard to get excited about the impending trip when you are constantly on the rivet, getting no sleep and trying to get final details sorted, and I had felt bad that I wasn't excited about the trip (yet). On a good note, our jerseys had arrived that day (and looked bloody cool! Thanks Blox!), I had a great night ride earlier in the week, and John had smashed a personal best ride up Tip Track that had stood for the last five years! As our evening wore on, and our plates and glasses emptied, my worries vanished into the background, replaced with the pleasure of being graced with the presence of two of the coolest dudes I know. It was a pretty surreal moment when I got into the car after dinner, wound down the window and said to John "see you in Cape Town!"... Wow... There it was... NOW I was excited!!!

I arrived in Rotorua Friday evening, had a feed, prepped The Ninja for a day on the trails and hit the sack, waking up the next day feeling pretty good. I was actually really excited about Oceanias. I was racing Masters 1 Category and I was really hoping for some good competition and then a podium placing out of that competition. It made me really nervous, and probably the most nervous I had been in a long time... I'm guessing it was a mixture of wanting a podium position, and also knowing that I should be pretty on top of my game by now in the preparation for Cape Epic. Wednesday night's ride was also still lingering in my head, which likely didn't help. It was a beautiful day down at the Redwoods and I was pretty happy that our age group category (old girls) were racing in the morning at 10.30am (as compared to the elites racing at 3pm that afternoon). I headed out for a lap of the course and was pretty stoked with it. There was some hard climbing at the start and then we rolled our way through some familiar Whakarewarewa trails that had been altered with some little tricky bits especially for the race. I was glad I pre-rode the course, because there were actually some sketchy sections that surprised me as I rolled into them and I had to rework them so I was comfortable to ride them during the race. I decided without a doubt that I would take the chicken run option over the infamous, gnarly rock garden (THE rock garden)... Maybe I'll try riding that some time when I don't have a impending trip for which I have been pouring my heart and soul into over the last year! The general consensus was that riding the rock garden saved about 15-20secs, but unless you were super confident riding it, the risk of having a crash or getting a puncture outweighed the time saving.

Back at the start line for the race, I had been seeded near the front of our wave, so when the whistle blew, I took off up the start of the Longmile Road hill like a rocket... This seems to have been a common theme in my starts of late... I am convinced that training in a constant headwind over the last 12 months here in Palmerston North has turned me into an accomplished sprinter, so off I went to lead the pack out of the start chute. A few people mentioned to me afterwards that they thought I had gone out way to hard, and maybe they were right, but it felt good at the time, and I suppose that sometimes, that's what racing is about... Getting ahead when you feel good and persevering when you don't. I got to the top of our first climb and felt not quite as good as I did when I jumped out of the gate... My body felt good, but my legs were still a little heavy. My climbing felt really laboured as opposed to feeling nice and fluffy. I dropped off the back of a couple of the masters ladies and for the first lap and a half, spent a good portion of my energy focused on trying not to vomit. It may have just been the intensity and the nerves but it came right about half way through the race. It was interesting to note when I downloaded the data from my GPS that my average heart rate for the race had been 168BPM!!! And considering my maximum sits at about 175BPM, I must have been going harder than I cared to realise. The support around the track was amazing... The cheering as we came through some of the busier sections of trail was loud enough to drown out any thoughts or pain that had worked their way into my head (thanks spectators!!!). I was also really happy that I was quite comfortably clearing the entire course without too much concern over the more technical sections. As my gut came right part way through the second lap, I began picking up other riders. I was coming first in my age group category, which was cool, but there were a couple of other masters ladies ahead of me who were in other age group categories, so I set my sights on trying to catch them. I wasn't really content on settling in... I was pretty keen to keep the hammer down to the end. The Ninja was riding really well after some love from Oli at Roadworks on Thursday. I felt really comfortable and I even found I was quite comfortably taking air from little kickers and then getting a well-balanced landing... Something I had never really done before but seemed to be coming to me quite naturally on this particular day (FUN!!!). I picked up one of the ladies, and then caught Sarah Beadle just before the end, but didn't quite get the opportunity to pass and put in any distance. I think I was probably about ten seconds behind her at the end, which was disappointing in it's own way, but I couldn't let it cloud the fact that I had just become 2012 Masters 1 Champion... A pretty cool way to polish off my NZ race season before heading to South Africa!!! I was really stoked to stand on the podium in my new Mitre 10 MEGA - Yeti Cycles jersey that afternoon... Then I headed off on a little two hour training ride (just because that's how I roll!).

Sunday morning I hit the trails in Rotorua one last time before heading home to Palmerston North. It was an drizzly morning, but lovely to be out on the trails, and the overnight drizzle had bedded down some of the dust on the track to make it nice and sticky. I had intentions of doing the XC Eliminator that afternoon, but had decided to flag it and get home early to start on packing (because I seriously had no idea when I would otherwise get it done before Thursday!!!). After carving up some dirt, I headed out for the breakfast at Zippys, bumping into a few old mates and acquaintances along the way (Rotorua is good for that!!!) and then headed back to Palmerston North, feeling quite chuffed at yesterday's effort, but pretty smashed all the same. I spent a few hours giving The Ninja a really good clean. Getting a bike through biosecurity on the way into another country generally requires a toothbrush, detergent and and a great amount of attention to detail. I then packed her up into her box and started laying out everything else I needed to pack. I was pretty satisfied with a productive night's work... It would make it really easy to get everything else packed up during the week. My only challenge remaining would be to balance all my luggage out around my carry-on and checked in baggage without getting stung for extra baggage charges.

So the week upon us has largely consisted of all the "last minute" stuff... Getting massages, tying up loose ends at work (and unraveling more loose ends in the process), doing a bit of training to keep the legs moving, packing and getting my new Tablet set up so I don't have to haul my laptop around everywhere with me (I really should have thought of doing this earlier because it is proving to be very time consuming!)... The "To Do" list is gradually getting smaller, and whilst maybe not as quickly as I would like it to, I'm sure that when Friday rolls around, I'll be chomping at the bit to jump on that plane (and use it as a great opportunity to catch up on some sleep!).

It's probably a great time right now to once again, thank our team sponsors and my own sponsors for their amazing support. Mitre 10 MEGA have not only looked after us as a team, but have been a great employer for me and I am really excited that what I do outside work (carving up trails for the greater good) is something they take an interest in and support. Kashi at Yeti Cycles has united us with our fine racing Machines for the trip. These ASR5Cs really are a bloody amazing piece of machinery and if you get a chance to ride one, you should... Oli at Roadworks has done favour after favour for us and I can't thank him enough. Paul at Blox has worked relentlessly on making sure our jerseys got to us on time, even jumping a few unforseen hurdles along the way. Mark at Adidas Eyewear is responsible for putting us in sunglasses that not only match each other, but match our jerseys!!! Jack at Camelbak has provided us with some great hydration gear (and even a contact in Italy to help me get a support crew for 24 Hour Solo World Champs!). Bryce at Cycletech has to hold the record for shipping out product quicker than I can blink (I wonder if he reads my mind and knows what I am about to order before I even email him sometimes!!!). On the personal front, Ayup Lights have provided me with an awesome new set of lights (that match my bike!) for 24 hour solo world champs, Pedal Pushers bike shop in Palmy have looked after me really well sourcing product at short notice, Barb at Xalt has not only kept my muscles "fluffy" with her awesome massage skills, but has acted as my quasi-shrink for the last six months! A huge mention also needs to be extended to Manawatu Mountain Bike Club (and in particular, the Knight family, and the Bamfords) and to Glenys at Cycling Manawatu for the support the cycling community have given me here in Palmy. And last, but certainly not least, my coach for the last four years, Sadie Parker-Wynyard for subjecting me to pain so brutal it may be illegal if I wasn't asking for it, but having me come out the other end so much stronger for it (I hope I've made you proud coach!).

Now all that remains is to get on that plane, arrive at the other end, and rip it up. I have pretty loose plans outside Cape Epic and WEMBO 24 hour champs, other than my flight booked from Cape Town to Milano on the 13th of April, so I will keep you updated here on my blog whenever I have access to the internet. Stay tuned! It's going to be a wicked two and a half months!!!