Karapoti Classic- Kiwi Crusade- Goodbye NZL!

100_pure_new_zealand-wordsThe last 6 weeks in New Zealand have flown by travelling around touring and racing some great events like The Pioneer, WEMBO 24 HR Solo World Champs and Karapoti Classic .  Throughout the trip  I’ve been spoiled with kindness and support from new and old Kiwi friends alike and it created a trip for the ages.   I look forward to having visitors in Canada so I can return some Canadian hospitality in the future 🙂

As sweet as the journey has been, there were hiccups along they way, one of them being a stage race called the Kiwi Crusade.  It was tight to the 24 hr Solo Champs, just 6 days after, but the race was advertising a 1 million dollar race budget, 400+ riders, and a $100 000 prize purse which would make it well worthwhile draining whatever energy I had left into it. It was going to be fun comparing it with the The Pioneer, as The Pioneer was one of the best all round races I’ve ever done, and on paper the Kiwi Crusade was promising to be as good or better!

Unfortunately the Kiwi Crusade turned into nothing more then a poorly organized group ride as the event talked the talk but didn’t back it up. Showing up expecting 400 riders, Coromandel-Peninsula-New-Zealandwe found a field of 24, the prize money was pulled 4 days before the event although they kept advertising it until I asked them to pull it down in respect to everyone. The million dollar race budget was non existent as we ate white buns and processed meat at the finish line and tried not to crash as there was no medical support anywhere in sight.

I’ve raced a few crazy races in my life but this one took it to a whole new level.  It started with an 8 km prologue in which everyone seemed to take a different route through the half marked course which included random zig zags around a farmers field and circles around picnic tables.   My buddy Justin crashed hard on his head and there was no medical help so he drove himself to the hospital. Other red flags were popping up and my spidey senses told me it was time to get out of there but gong_with_dragon_and_eight_auspicious_symbols_ec04my teammate Ondrej Slezak  wanted to ride another day so we did.

Stage 2 started with a questionable 14 km neutral pre-ride through the city of Tauranga in which we were often led down the wrong side of the road and around blind corners into traffic.  A few of us started following the rules of the road and tried to act like polite citizens so not everyone would hate the next cycling group they saw.

At the official start line we were given directions on how to ride the 80 km course as they didn’t bother putting up any course markings or providing GPS tracks.  “Go left after this bush, right after the puddle, another left by the hill etc..”  We were then instructed not to ride too fast so the marshals would have time to drive around and get into place.  The race started, we all got lost, a lead moto caught up to us and was lost himself and tried to lead us which caused us to get even further lost.  We eventually made it to the finish line thanks to the guidance of Ashley and Adrian as they were a local team who knew the area.  On a positive the first 10 km of the course heading over a small pass through a rainforest was some of the best riding I have done anywhere in NZL!Road-Sign-Lost

That night we were told the race was going to be televised on Fox tv and ESPN and that we would all be world famous. My ears couldn’t take anymore of the nonsense and it was time to move on.  If we had put our race aspirations on hold and took the week as a cruisey, picture taking tourist ride i’m sure we could’ve had a great time as there was a nice crew of racers to hang out with and some beautiful scenery to see in the Coromandel Peninsula.

The biggest problem was based on principles as I grew up in a place where you treat people with respect and honesty.     It’s a shame things like this happen as some of the racers took their annual vacation time, paid big bucks, and flew half way around the World expecting one thing but got delivered something totally different.   In fairness to the organizer, apparently $100 000 of his million dollar race budget was pulled from a sponsor 3 weeks before the race but it still didn’t explain what was happening.   It’s never fun jumping ship but the further we drove from that spectacle the better it felt!

The days following the race were an adjustment as we headed back to Rotorua to digest what had happened and looked for a way to salvage our time in NZL as it was ticking away.  It was time to carry on and get this trip properly back on line.  Some of my Kiwi friends had been trying to get me to race the Karapoti sponsored by The Bike Barn down in Wellington.  I was pretty keen to check out the Southern Hemispheres longest running mountain bike race and its great 31 year history.   My friend Kim Hurst contacted the organizer Michael and he was great sorting out a last minute entry. Harley and his crew at the Bike Barn in Rotorua did some last minute bike work to get the Hei Hei ready for the Karapoti and soon  Tarren and I were bound for the southern tip of the North island!Bike_Barn_Logo

Friday I pre-rode the 50 km old school course which contained numerous steep punchy climbs and rocky descents.
The course was set inside a thick nature reserve with ferns and other crazy New Zealand foliage, ridge top views down to the ocean below and some cool river gorges.    Following the sweet pre-ride, Tarren and I had some chill time relaxing by the river where the race was to start and then a nice evening checking out downtown Wellington.  What a cool city that is!  Saturday morning Tarren flew back to Australia to get ready to return to NZL the day after on a cruise with her family while I headed up to race site in Upper Hutt with 800 other riders to tackle the day.

12299399_797233330422328_679231083025091914_n copyThe race started in a river crossing, which I blew as I took the far right line to avoid what I thought would be a mad bottleneck and ended up in 40th-50th position.  Chasing hard up a tight river gorge I never quite caught the  lead group of 6 riders.  On the first climb I quickly moved into 3rd, but the lead duo, a couple young guns were working together and the gap was 2 minutes heading into the legendary rock gardens.  Riding irresponsibly down the rocky drop offs I came within 20 seconds of 2nd place at the bottom but that was as close as my 24 hour engine could get me as the young whipper snappers would post the 2nd and 7th fastest times ever on the course, with my time of 2:19:45 placing me in the top 10.  Spending the day at this classic race was uplifting after the Kiwi Crusade and was a great way to end what has been one heck of a trip to NZL.

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With only two days until flying out to Vietnam I took off after the race and drove back North on some sketchy winding roads through the hills.  It was beautiful but the roads resembled golf cart paths and were barely wide enough for one vehicle let alone 2 when you had to pass someone!  It took a while but I eventually made it to my buddy Dions house in Lake Taupo for the night. The next morning there was time to check out the sweet trails at Crater of the Moon before continuing onto my friends Clinton and Annes house in Auckland.  I hadn’t realized how much gear I had collected during my travels until it was spread out in their backyard and resembled a small bike shop.

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A garage sale was necessary before my flight to get rid of extra weight, a small cache was made in Clintons garage until next trip and still there was 74 kg left to try and squeeze into two 23 kg pieces of luggage and carry-on.  Somehow it all fit without paying any excess charges 🙂  Sitting here in Dalat up in the ranges of Vietnam at 1500 M there’s now just 24 hours to go before putting forth one last race effort to defend my title at the 3 day Vietnam Victory Challenge.  A much needed rest period and  system reboot will take place after this to prepare for the North American part of the season ahead.

Over and Out!IMG_2774

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