Blenheim to Picton
Everything is fine. I’m in love with cycling again. The last two days are forgotten. Today is my new best day ever on the bike.
I know the roads around the Malborough Sounds pretty well. I first got to know these parts in 1993. I was 16 and by some miracle I convinced Dad to let me come down here with two friends for New Years. The plan was to stuff our backpacks full of gear, bring our bikes over on the ferry and ride to Momorangi Bay to camp for a week and cut a swathe through the hordes of women that would doubtless be waiting for our arrival. Things got off to a rocky start before we even left when I had a bad encounter with a bottle of port the night before we sailed. I had the privilege of experiencing my first full-blown hangover on an Interisland ferry crossing. As best as I could tell from the floor of the ferry toilet cubicle the seas were very rough – probably an 8 to 9 meter swell. Everyone lied and said it was a smooth crossing but I know better. By the time we docked I was back to my old (young) self. We rode to the campground a few bays around the coast from Picton and met no girls at all. We even stole a rowboat one night and rowed across an inlet to the rumoured location of a church youth camp we felt certain would offer up rich pickings of smokin’ hotties but it wasn’t to be.
Fast forward to 2015 and I rode this course in reverse at the annual Grape Ride event. That was the day I learned the hard way eating a huge steak the night before a ride is a terrible terrible idea.
So I knew what was coming and holy crap was I licking my chops in anticipation. So far on this tour we’d not encountered any really technically challenging descents but the final 5 k’s of todays stage would change that. As per usual though there were some climbs to survive before I could be in any kind of position to attack.
At this point in the tour, our closest rivals and the people I most wanted to beat were on another Team Arise team. In general they had better climbers but we had more horsepower on the flat and probably better endurance. The only decent climber in my team was Brendan Jackson. His was the wheel I’d look to hold onto today for as long as I could manage. There were two climbs to survive, neither were particularly long or steep but they would definitely affect the outcome of the day. With all this in mind, I had the following plan:
- Do as little work as possible on the front. Save everything for the first climb at halfway and the last 10k’s.
- Do everything to stick to Brendan on the climbs.
- Throw the kitchen sink at that final descent. Don’t let up until I’m across the line.
The TL;DR version: the plan worked.
The longer version: We set out in the same wave as the other Team Arise team I was eager to beat along with a few others. I did my share of work on the front but for the most part sat at the back of the group and spent as little energy as possible. The climbs themselves are longish but quite shallow – only about a 4-5% average gradient. This suits me a little more. I think I climb better when I can push a bigger gear and use more low-end power than when it’s steeper and I need to spin more. Anyway, I hit the first climb pretty hard and to my delight we actually managed to drop 3 or 4 of the guys we were competing with on the hill. Result! They were well out of sight by the time we came down the other side.
I went back to my previous shirking of any effort on the front. There was another climb coming and my plan required me to be at the front of the group at the top. Approaching the second climb all of a sudden the dropped riders reappeared at the back of the group. Not good! It turned out Paul Odlin, who had saved my bacon on Stage 3 had picked up the stragglers and dragged them back onto the group. Oh well, if we dropped them once we can do it again. They will have worked bloody hard to get back on and I’ve been swanning around at the back of the bunch.
We arrive at the base of the next climb and I move toward the front. Brendan is right in front of me. Tim and Dan, my other two team mates are right there too. We’re well placed. Brendan sets a hard pace and a few guys begin to suffer. I’m okay for now but feeling it. A couple of other guys push up the pace a bit. I’m close to my max but holding on. Brendan looks like he’s waiting for the right moment. Tim and I are working bloody hard and start to slip back ever so slightly. I feel a hand on my back. Dan is still there and gives me a small push. He goes back and forth between me and Tim, giving us a little nudge here and there to ensure we stay on. What a champ. I’m giving it all I’ve got now. All of a sudden Brendan goes. Good boy! He lifts his pace and just like that he’s 20, 30, 40 meters up the road. Then he’s out of sight, lost in the twists and turns. Tim and I move to within a couple of wheels of the front of the group. I see the 5k to go sign. 5 more kilometers to the end of the stage and the tour. The top of the climb appears. Jeremy, Hendrick and Tim are in front of me. Over the top we go and I’m straight into the big ring, hands in the drops and building every bit of speed I can. It’s a fast and windy descent. Tim moves past the two other riders. I move to the inside to take them on the turn. I shout to let them know I’m coming through and push past. Tim and I are in the clear. All tour I’ve waited for this. I get my head down, get as low as possible and go hunting for every apex. Push all my weight through the outside pedal so I can keep my weight balanced and move the bike around under me. It’s all about wringing every bit of grip you can out of the bike. It’s too manic to look back but I know we’ve dropped everyone.
The road levels out for one last short climb before the final descent to Picton. I blow past Tim, I think he’s burned his last match. A couple of minutes of climbing and I push everything I have left through the pedals. A quick check back confirms I’m alone and in front of everyone I want to be in front of. Some dudes get this all the time but for me it’s an amazing feeling. I don’t care how much it hurts. The final descent to Picton arrives. I roll down the last hill and onto the last few hundred meters of the stage. I can see Brendan ahead as he crosses the line. I follow him over and slow up to wait for Tim to finish. 1st, 2nd, and 3rd for our group. I’m elated. What an amazing feeling.
I’ve had good days, great days and terrible days on this tour. Today is by far the best.