The move to Rotorua has meant a whole lot more time on the Superfly. Training on the mountain bike feels a whole lot more productive when big climbs are rewarded with sweet singletrack. My technical skills have also benefited from the greater range of trails in comparison to Northland. To give training some focus over Winter I grabbed a series entry for the Nduro Winter MTB Series, 3 races across 3 months, held in Whaka Forest.
I warmed up for the race with the NduroX cyclocross on Saturday. My training has been focussed on building endurance the last month or so. The higher intensity of the cyclocross was supposed to shock the legs back into XC mode. A small field allowed plenty of room for sliding and roosts on the slick grass of the new Sala St venue in Rotorua. I rode steady and slotted into second place. A good build up for the Sunday Nduro.
Race morning was warm and sunny. I decided against a jacket, instead settling on my trusty Cyco vest and some arm warmers (Nalini NanoDry – awesome gear, get some from Cyco!). Lining up about 3rd row I realised how long its been since I’ve sat on a start line. Lots of faces I didn’t recognise. Thinking back, my last real XC race was 2012 Oceania Champs. It felt good to be waiting for the gun, I have missed the tension of a startline.
With a countdown from 10 we were off into the forest. The long course had a short start loop up the hill past the mud pools to Bakers Hollow and back down to Tahi. I slotted into the front group of 8-10 and followed wheels. My usual race approach is hammer from the gun. Given the unknown nature of my legs I didn’t want to go into the red too much. Heading into the end of Tahi I just couldn’t resist and rolled through to be second into the singletrack. My flow isn’t quite there yet and I had a few guys barrel past on the narrow trails. Heading out into Tahi and Creek I settled in behind Dirk Peters and one of the NZXC Juniors riders.
Flow, flow, flow. I searched for smoothness through Creek. The multiple flat corners need a certain degree of patience. Too much aggression means a whole lot of wasted energy. I tried to pick lines and maintain exit speed through soggy trails. Through here I held the wheel and kept in touch with the leaders.
Up the valley below Be Rude Not To the pace stayed quite controlled. We made it up to the main junction at the bottom of direct road with a group of about 12. The course turned left down Red Tank Road, up around the back towards Lynmore Link the back way up Hill Road. I drifted off the back with a few others up past Lynmore Link, before grinding our way back on for the bottom of Hill Road. I made a conscious decision to ride my own tempo up here. The group in front initially stayed tight, until the second corner of the climb at least. Riders began jettisoning off the back, the pace at the front cooking a few sets of legs. I kept my tempo and rode through these fragments of the bunch. By the time I turned into Frontal Lobotomy I couldn’t see the leaders ahead. I figured I must be 8th or 9th. The even tempo approach paid off here as I reeled in two more on the way through Frontal.
I knocked back some Vitasport and a gel across the shuttle dropoff before we shot into UnderBilly. My lines through the first section were loose. I had last ridden this section in the dry. I was pushing traction a little too far, spluttering and stalling through the first few sections. By the time we joined the bottom of Billy T I had another racer on my backwheel – this snapped me out of my sloppy riding. I also made a classic rookie error, I had left the lockout of the forks on. Once I flicked it off the Trek was back up to speed. I was pleased with my bottom section of Billy, I managed to build a small gap before G Rock.
My pursuant was solid on the downhills, riding back onto my wheel easily down G rock. He kicked out on Chestnut Road to get a gap for the climb back up to the base of Frontal. I took the tempo approach again, slowly reeling the rider back in again. We lapped off a few times on the flatter top section before we shot off down Direct Road towards Hot Cross Buns.
Through Hot Cross, Bunny Jugs and the Chinese Menu we traded leading. Our battle clearly helped lift our pace as we picked up Graham Norman towards the end of the Chinese Menu. It was awesome to have such tight racing. We pushed each other hard, pouncing on any mistakes made. I wanted to use Lion Trail to keep the pressure high, knowing how it is a trail that can really expose the tired rider. Up through here we caught another rider who had escaped earlier up Hill Road. I shot up Katore Road with this new companion, leaving the other pair. His tempo was right on my limit. I took this as a chance to lock on the back wheel and zone out. I took a short visit to the pain cave, checking things were still as I left them last time.
From Lion Trail onwards we hit heaps of traffic. The mid and short course shared the same trails. We passed a solid stream of riders up Katore Road. Diving down Tokorangi we continued to pass riders. We were lucky that our calls of “rider” and “on your right” were generously heard by the riders ahead. My favourite pass would have to be on one mid course rider where he called for us to take the inside on one of the berms down Tokorangi. Locked in a battle ourselves, and keen to stay close, we both had a foot out, sliding on the needles of the seldom ridden inside line. We both stuck it and maintained a good deal of exit speed.
The traffic continued through Genesis, Rock Drop and Dipper. Sharing the lead of our group meant sharing the passing calling duties. By this stage we were a trio again. I tried to save the legs for a later attack. Thinking ahead I figured any attacking would have to happen before the water crossing at the end of Rosebank. The crossing can be super unpredictable, not somewhere I wanted to arrive with two other competitors. I seized my chance at the entrance to Rosebank, capitalising on a clear section of track and the slight rise to lay down an attack. I pushed hard through the trail, taking some loose lines down the steep rutted sections around some other riders. Into the watercrossing I was surrounded by traffic. Unsure how much of a gap I had I leapt off my bike to run across and avoid the carnage. A good choice as more than one rider went face first into the water.
I hit it out the other side and across the bridge into the finish. I was stoked. I had kept a good tempo, had some awesome battles with a few riders and managed to feel reasonably good throughout. I thought I must have been 6th or 7th, so was stoked to find out I was 5th overall and 4th in open men. I don’t think I even managed to get top 5 in an Nduro back when I was racing XC on a more regular basis back pre 2010.
I’m pumped for race 2 in August. I think I have a few dates with my Trek Superfly and Hill Road between now and then.