Saturday, November 19, 2011

Benchmark Series

The Benchmark Series has become the next best thing behind Southland in terms of exposure for our NZ riders…go through the list of winners and see how many have become pro or thereabouts. This series started the teams racing in NZ and the level road cycling has grown massively. I think it’s awesome and hope it continues for years to come.

A few days before the first round in August I got a call up to from Master James Canny to see if I wanted to join the L&M Group Cycling Team, I agreed and this race was my 2nd race back after my 6 month retirement. In Nelson I got my beans! I was 19th and going backwards, I headed home knowing by the time Round 2 rolled around I would need to be firing.

I felt better coming into the second round, the goods were in the legs to pull of a much better ride. The course in Timaru suited me and with 30km to go the hammer went down and a group formed with Paul Odlin, Tom Hubbard, James Early and myself, the last 5km was pretty brutal and we just managed to hold off a fast chasing bunch. Tom Hubbard slipped away to win by 10secs from Early and myself in 3rd, a hard day and happy with a podium. After that race I had my eyes on an overall podium spot and with 2 rounds to go and my race form definitely more coming than going the team knew it could be done.

Round 3 in Cust, cold, wet and a day I’d rather be eating a warm steak and cheese pie but there was a race to do……don’t worry, the pie came later! An early break went with quite a few hitters which wasn’t the perfect start but our team captain Joe Chapman kept calm and said on the way home through the Gorge that the muck would go down and a small group will slip away with about 40km to go and sure enough it did. Joe launched me across part of the way and I finished it off to join a strong group that slowly picked off the riders that were dropped from the lead group. I got 2nd in our bunch sprint and got 9th on the line and gained a few valuable points on a few of the top overall contenders who missed the move. This result moved into 4th on the table and only 10 points off Tom Hubbard.

Round 4 had the making for a hard race and quite tactical. A group including Joe and Tom Francis got away heading into Cust not long after the start, there were no real overall contenders in there but I really wanted to be in there so kept near the action just incase another slipped away. Greg Taylor who joined us for the last 2 rounds was quite active going through Rangiora so I started sifting near the front for action to start, a few k’s later it was on! Myself along with Greg and one other rode off the front in chase of the lead groups, it was a mammoth effort but we got there just before Ashley Gorge. Greg couldn’t quite make it on but he did an awesome effort in helping me get across (good early brownie points with the team Greg!). When we joined there was another group up the road containing Paul Odlin, Jason Christie, Robin Reid and Chris Nicholson. Joe and Tom made sure we caught them and set me up to ride across to them up Summer Hill then from there it was all action till the top of German road where the same 4 slipped away with myself. We were away and fighting it out for the win but Odlin was too strong and took out the win solo and I rolled in 5th, happy and quite exhausted!

This weekend it was the final days work for the series, I got 2nd thanks to my brilliant L&M Group team mates. The first round of this series was our first ride together, after 4 Benchmark rounds and Southland we are starting to get a good sense of how each other operates as a rider and who’s capable of what. Some can get results and some are willing to put themselves on the line to help get a result. It can only get stronger!

Congrats to Sam on his series win, he’s a deserving winner and a rider with a lot of potential to go a long way in the sport. Thanks to everyone who helped out during the series, races don’t happen without the support from people who are willing to put up their own time to help our sport grow.

The last few months have flown by, no idea why anyone would want to ‘hang up their wheels’ when there’s so much out there to nudge at…. then again, maybe the break has proven to be a good thing. I’ll be planning an early get away from work on Friday to join the bumper to bumper convoy up to Taupo….hoping for a day like last year to burn out the last of the ice left in me from Southland. Big thanks to Tom’s parents for having us at their ‘caravan park’.

This will round off the first part of my season with a good break until the next set of races. December will be all about consolidating, focusing on some of the aspects of my race and enjoying the lead up to Christmas.

For those of you heading up to Taupo next weekend go hard and drive safe!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Tour of Southland

Southland. An absolute legend of a race in NZ cycling, and one which I needed to complete to shed away some demons which have haunted me since my first attempt where I failed to finish the first stage. Having come straight from the Melbourne heat that year into piercing sideways hail I didn’t have the fondest of memories to work on!

My goals for the tour were simple – finish. Well maybe that goal in itself can’t really be labelled as simple when it’s Southland we are talking about!

The next goal was to create some action and achieve a podium, to let other riders know I’m someone to watch and someone they don’t want to give too much freedom to.

Happy to report that I achieved all three, I finished, despite a few moments where really I could think of nothing worse than continuing, I got the podium spot, not for a stage but instead as number three in the King of the Mountain points where our team featured also on the top step with Joe Chapman taking the honours, and I created some action, leading out solo at the bottom of the crown range...while it didn’t result in a stage win it did reflect the way I like to race, pinning it and taking opportunities.

The overall result was never going to be flash, read back on my blogs for the ‘hanging the wheels up’ one where last December I decided there were other things I wanted to do, that continued for a good 6 months before the wheels in the spare room started calling me again. I had a good 12 week build up coming into Southland...but 12 weeks of training around work hours doesn’t really cut it with the big fellas who ride all day every day!

After the first two days I was pretty annoyed with myself, I was a bit nervous and getting pushed round, I just couldn’t fight hard enough to hold my position, this isn’t my idea of being ‘in’ the race. I was completely wondering why I had bothered with turning up at the start line and when I spoke with Bex on Tuesday night she was pretty insistent that I needed to man-up, chuck back a can or two of concrete and start racing like I know how to race, instead of getting rammed by others.

Wednesday was a different day, I started to feel my riding style coming out and by the end of the day I was excited to be racing, because on Monday and Tuesday I didn’t consider myself part of the Tour..I was a pack filler and I don’t like that.

Thursday will be remembered for a long time in my little book of good rides. We had a team plan, I even told Bex what the plan was the night before and as the stage progresses she was blown away by how it worked out exactly how I said it would! Joe, Aaron and myself rode aggressive from the gun and we all got in the break that stayed out pretty much all day.

Our breakaway group had some big hitters, guys who win big races overseas and guys I read about each week on the internet, so my reaction was to watch them and wait for them to attack. 15km from the finish and with a fast chasing main bunch I wasn’t sure what to do but I got away in another break with Macauley, Avery, Tivers and Lovegrove, over the next few k’s I started to think the stage win was possible.

We hit the last climb with 5k to go before the Crown Range, my legs felt pretty awesome so I didn’t bother changing to an easier gear I accelerated through for my turn to realise about 30 seconds later I was on my own and charging up that hill solo towards Crown Range. I couldn’t really believe it was me fanging along solo in the biggest stage of the tour. I was eventually caught by young Josh with 2km to go but all I had to focus on was doing my own ride and not losing too much time, I ended up finishing 8th, a 1 minute down from Josh.

I gained a lot of confidence out of this stage, I’ve never backed myself over a big distance and I’ve always looked at the pro’s as unbeatable riders and almost too scared to attack them but I guess they could by just as tired as me?

Friday was painful, my legs were like bricks with no chance of warming up in the cutting southland cold. It was a stage I probably want to wipe from my memory....survival!

By Saturday for the last two stages I felt great again and could walk without too much pain. With the TT cancelled due to snow it left just one last chance to hammer the legs. Joe had an impressive stage and sprinted home to 2nd, I was happy to finish....rolling over that line felt great! If you had told me then that I would be heading out for a big night and not home until 3.30am there is no way I would have believed it...turns out there’s always more in the tank!

I was proud to be part of the L&M Creation Signs Team – a great bunch of guys lead by Joe Chapman who is an impressive and respected cyclist. Legend to come away with the KOM Classification jersey along with a stage podium. Young track superstar Aaron Gate pulled a podium spot too on the very fast stage 3. Sam and “Rookie” Tom had solid Tours as well and Lee had a tough few days in the race and I know he will turn up next year ready to rumble. A few of us had days where we too happy with themselves but I think in a tour like Southland so many things can happen, the best riders have bad days as well and to finish is a good result down there. Finishing last is better than pulling the pin..something I’ve learnt a lot about over the last few years!

Now that race is over it’s time to think about what’s coming up, my next race is the final round of the Benchmark Series down in Oxford near Christchurch. Over the series I’ve slowly crept up the rankings and now sit 4th overall just one point off 3rd so I’m going into that firing!

So for now it’s all about the road, good times while I test myself in a new domain after a couple of years of solid mountain biking. With a mountain bike arriving this week though I hope to have some time to get out and pull a few skids and rail some berms..I do miss it!

A huge thankyou to the team sponsors and everyone else who chipped in during the week to make the tour successful and especially James parents for their lovely hospitality during the tour, the dinners each night were pretty awesome and I'm sure the rest of the team will agree! The chocolate sauce pudding goes down as my favourite, I'll be back next year for that.

See you out there, remember to use that little bit extra in the tank when you most need it!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Road Ahead

The blogs are back! I'll be keeping you updated from now on till my next retirement.

Over the last 4 weeks I've landed 3 podiums, a 2nd and a 3rd at the Fielding Cycling Carnival and a 3rd at the latest round of the Benchmark Homes Series in Timaru. Really enjoying being back on the bike and its great to be part of a brilliant NZ racing team under the name L&M Group racing.

My next race is the Taupo to Napier Classic on the 24 September followed by Round 3 of the Benchmark Series in Christchurch on October 8th.

Will have a proper article over the weekend.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Wurldz in WAINUI

When I moved to Wellington I spent a good chunk of time commuting over the hill and far away to the little town of Wainuiomata. Most Wellingtonians haven’t been there for years, if at all. But hiding away behind that monster of a hill are some of the most wicked mountain bike tracks in Wellington…with more to come, along with a new BMX track and a cool network of walking/running trails. The turnout at today’s Wainui Wurldz feels like just the beginning for the park.

Thanks to some legend track builders the network of trails is slowly increasing, what was marked out today to hurt the legs was pretty cool and with more trails on the cards Wainui will soon become one of the great places to ride in Wellington.

I’ve never done a 6 hour solo, or raced a single speed in an event where beer wasn’t provided at every lap… SISS to check out the wurld famous 5 second skull effort!. But given my current bike selection it was a no brainer to use my old repainted steel KHS single speed. A no brainer as right now that is my only bike!

As we were getting ready this morning Bex was giving me the talk about how I needed to ride a bit differently to the normal go out and smash it hard from the gun, that I needed to ‘pace’ myself. Easier said than done, I’ve always struggled to hold myself back in longer races and tend to want to go all out from the gun. After 2 laps of playing with the kids at the front I had to force myself to drop down a peg or two to make sure I could go the full 6hrs (yep, I listen to my wife!). After Diesel Turbo (or Dirty Bearded) Dave Sharpe rode away from me I was happy to hold on to my 2nd place spot and see how long I could hold off the cramp which did eventually nail me with 2 laps to go. I spent a fair few minutes holding my leg in agony and only being able to move an inch. Of all the pains I’ve experienced over the years cramp has to be on top of my list of hates.

If you hear of me being called ‘nearly Sharratt’ or the ‘under 10 second man’ it will be in reference to my super poor timing on the very last lap. I’d hit through the cut off time with well enough for a lap, but after my jumping around holding my cramped up leg and swearing episode I found myself coming through into the finishing loop with under a minute to go. Despite giving it all to push through the tent sites for the last time I was shut down with only about 2-3 more seconds needed to get over the line….damn that man on the microphone who was creating a lot of interest from everyone as to whether I would make it or not…could’ve slipped in and no one would have noticed if he wasn’t there! So the under 10 second man I am…..but only when it comes to the end of a 6 hour solo…..

As with any great 6 hour event I was reliant on my tent crew. I shifted in for the day with the Bushlove boys, but it wasn’t the lads I was really interested in, I had a heads up that Keryn had made lolly cake which proved to be my saviour at about 3 and a half hours. Bex showed up too and had a great day of yarning on the side of the track (and enjoying Beth’s massage….the best apparently!). She had been out at the third of the Xterra runs a bit further down the valley from wurld famous Wainui in the Orongarongos…sounds like a great place too, she loved the ‘root running’ along the ridgeline and rated it as the best one of the series yet.

Wainui….a great destination for a very sunny autumn day in Wellington!
(their tourism office isn’t paying me,….honest!)

Thanks to everyone who put together the event today and well done to all who got out there and did a few (or more than a few) laps.

Back to it for another week, quite happy that my commute now takes me round the bays to Miramar, the mornings are starting to show signs that winter isn’t too far away, although despite being told that growing a beard takes the chill off in the morning I don’t think it’s something I can get into! Keep warm and keep the legs spinning even when the cold hits.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Decisions come and go....

Well its coming up 5 months since I last raced and I must admit that decision has been a real tough one, I’ve been going through cycles of wanting to race then I’m too busy to commit to racing. I’ve been riding my bike upto 6 times a week and my riding routine hasn’t changed one bit, I still have the desire to ride my bike hard and that’s an addiction I have and will always have. I keep asking myself the same question and maybe theres a lot of people asking the same thing “why isn’t he racing?”. I go out on rides on my road bike in Wellington and can still give the best guys bit of a wind up. I could getting ready for a “out of retirement” comeback like Mr Macauley has done a few times? I don’t know?..some days I know and some I don’t but first I need to commit to a few other things in life then I’ll no doubt be back on the start line, not sure if it’l be on the road or mountain bike..maybe both?

I’m really enjoying being a bike rider in Wellington. Years ago I always heard of Wellington to be a hard place to get some good long rides in or too much traffic etc, but I must say I really love the scene here and theres a real good bunch of strong riders and definitely a lot of solid rides to do. The mountain bike tracks in Welly are becoming some of my favourite, I’m a huge fan of Christchurch trails having done most of my riding down there (after Wanganui) and they’re at the top of my list, I really enjoy rough rocky trails where the rocks don’t move, rocks where you have to really pick the right line or have to jump over and with that I’m a big fan of full suspension over a hard tail!

I reckon NZ should have more 4 day weekends! Easter has been really cool with Bex and I heading over to Martinborough for a few days with our good friend who is over from London plus a few other people. We took our bikes to get out and do an adventure on the Saturday before cruising round some wineries. I only one ride in that area and that is out towards Manuwera Point but we only got to a small settlement called Tuturumuri which was about 35km from the holiday house, brilliant ride with quite a few big hills and a big 4km hill back out the vally upto the big wind turbines. I ended up riding the hills one and a half times which was the challenge Bex set for me and I think I achieved that goal on most of them. Sunday (today) I set of early to ride back to Wellington, I’ve always wanted to ride the Rimutakas and this weekend was a great opportunity and probably a safe one as most people were coming over to the Wairarapa rather than leaving. I had a nice tail wind all the way to Featherston then as I approached the bottom of the climb I met a wicked head wind that got more and more wild the closer I got to the top, some points on the descent I was pedaling at 30kmh which is abit nuts. I got into the Hutt round the time the Sunday morning bunch ride would normally cruise through so I thought I’d jump in and have a burn with the guys which was cool. The bunch always finishes with a mad sprint to the Placemakers on Old Hutt Road, it’s a huge title to win and I’m stoked to have that on my list of wins. After doing a 5km tt down the motorway with my junior days racing buddy Greg Taylor I thought we were in but I got up by an old couple driving at 20kmh which caused me to get caught, but after all that I still managed to pull the sprinting legs out for the title.

April is a special month for Bex and I, we got married last year on the 10th so it was pretty cool to celebrate our one year anniversary with her a few weeks ago. Bex is massive part of my life and has always sorted me out when its needed and definitely been a big part of my racing success over the last 5 years. I look forward to many awesome years with her.

Hope everyone has been enjoying the Summer riding/racing and now getting ready for the winter months which aren’t too pleasant. If you see me out and about come say hi I’m always keen for a chat.

Happy Easter.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Hanging up the wheels

New year….new missions….new goals. And for the first time in 15 years those goals aren’t revolved around racing.

2010 was another super season. My goal was to win every major mountain bike race that I entered and to be noticed as one of the best riders in New Zealand. I came close to that, finishing 2nd in two of the major races and winning lots of other events along the way. Being noticed as one of the best riders in New Zealand is a fairly subjective goal, I’ve loved being able to turn up to a variety of mountain bike, road, criterium and multisport races knowing that I can be competitive and transfer my training, strength and power from other areas. A write up before the Festival of Cycling had me as NZ’s best all round cyclist….perhaps it’s that I added cycle commuting into the bundle also?!

Defending my title from 2009 in the Festival of Cycling in Christchurch ended in victory, a massive end to the year and a feeling of accomplishment for both me and my sponsors. The 2009 Festival of Cycling was my first victory under my new sponsors, Bergamont, who were so excited to see me out there on the local tracks so it’s fitting that the journey was completed with another win in 2010. Bergamont have been a fantastic sponsor, they’ve been in the country well under two years but have already established themselves as a brand/company that are serious about supporting riders in a range of cycling disciplines and experience levels. By teaming up with Endura clothing they offer a great package to their sponsored riders and are constantly looking for new ways to support their riders and get Bergamont bikes out there being ridden and enjoyed.

Since I announced my decision to forgo my sponsorship and take a step back from elite level racing a lot of people have already asked the question…“why am I stopping?”…..good question….it’s a question that I’ve been potentially struggling with for a number of months now. I still have the physical ability to race and win races. I still enjoy going fast. I still have a lot of friendships within the racing scene and circuit which I enjoy. I am still at a level which many aspire to. I still have potential to be better. The list goes on. But the reality is that I just don’t have the spark for racing that I always have. Whether it is the travel, the cost, the time, or that at times I haven’t been pushed with close competition or whether it is a mix of a whole lot of factors, the simple reason is that I just don’t get the pleasure I used to get from it. That’s how I feel now….that’s not to say that in the future I won’t be hitting up the scene again. What I do know is I have a complete enjoyment for the sport of cycling and I’m making a decision now that will only strengthen that enjoyment rather than sticking with something I’m not completely enjoying.

My journey in the sport will continue, the need to be competitive and strong doesn’t stop when racing stops, that’s something that I believe is inbuilt. My journey outside of the sport can now also continue, those things which have had to be put aside to focus on racing are now achievable and the goals I’m choosing to pursue are not all in sport. As far as riding goes I have a huge amount of exploring to do, I’m looking forward to some good adventures and hitting up some new tracks. Over the years I have been racing I have always suppressed the desire to be motox riding to avoid injury or just simply because I haven’t had the time or money to do both. I’m enjoying learning my way through some local tracks at the moment, I’m no superstar but being fit and strong definitely is helping. I’m currently taking on a few riders as a coach, while I haven’t completed formal training in this area I believe my experiences as a rider put me in a position where I can make a difference to the goals of others, I have a huge amount of passion for helping others to reach their goals and understand themselves as a cyclist. My day to day profession has become a far more motivating environment, potentially as I feel I now have the energy to invest into it and using this energy to complete additional study throughout the year in Graphic Design. After a huge amount of interest from the article in the NZ Mountainbike magazine late last year I’m also painting bike frames in my ‘spare time’. That ‘spare time’ is suddenly not looking so ‘spare’ anymore!

There is a lot about elite racing that I will miss…but I think the biggest of them is the people and the conversations, I have a heap of mates in the sport who I hope I will continue to have adventures with and I will be excited to follow their progress. While I’m giving up elite racing I’m not giving away the sport in general, so always keen for a ride or a smash session! Gotta keep the legs turning and you never know when I might just pop out for a race or two for fun.

Thanks to everyone who has been part of my goals and dreams to this point, there have been a number of teams, sponsors, supporters and races which have been such a blast to have been part of – it’s been a cool ride!

Happy New Year to all … I hope that you’ve set your goals for this year based on what is most important to you – you’ve got to follow your heart.