Feb 28 Thursday – Alexandra
Follow the pink dots. An overcast day greeted us bat at least it wasn’t raining. Today we load up and head to Alexandra some 100km away from Queenstown. It’s absolutely freezing and the bus feels like a mobile freezer. Alexandra is nothing like the other places we have been riding, it’s dry, dusty and rocky. Conditions not too dissimilar to home however for NZ’ers, they feel like it is another world. There are very few trees and the landscape is nothing but rocks, grass and hills. It is a private property but the owners have very generously worked with the local mountain biking club who have built all the trails. The briefing is essentially follow the pink dots. There are plenty of huge rock rolls and rocky descents to go over and as you ride up to them, the local club has painted a series of pink dots down the rock face. Follow the dots to stay on trail, if you deviate from the pink dots, it is highly likely that you will ride off a cliff. Noted. Follow the pink dots.
The pedal up is nothing like Coronet peak and is relatively short. Cross a few cattle grids and climb over some fences. At the start of the first stage the female race leader wants to do a ‘lady train’ where all of us ladies go off together. There is only 15 of us ladies racing and I’m currently sitting in 9thposition, which means I’m one of the last to go down. Had a pretty good run down, the dry, rocky conditions are familiar and the technical nature of the trail suits. Mops (current world champ) who is riding with us blitz’s us like we are standing still though these are her local trails that she trains on regularly. She is only guest racer and not competing in the actual race as she is only doing a few days. Still, it is awesome to see her in action and just how fast she is. I’m super gutted on the inside. I have to race this lady in the Enduro World Series in a couple of weeks time and there is no way I can be competitive with her. Humbled, I’m very humbled.
We gather again at the top of Stage 2 for another lady train. They are awesome for me as a slower rider, means I not going to get pushed off the trail by some aggressive fast guy. Off I go navigating my way down the trail when I see all the ladies in front of me, waving to stop. The race leader has crashed and she is not in a good way. There is someone with her and word has been put out for a medic but there is a delay in communication with the start gate. A few of us hike back up the trail into the open and wave down the next riders telling them to stop. I was abused by several guys who clearly didn’t want to stop. Talk about taking things way too seriously however eventually they got the vibe of what was going on and stopped. We are in a very remote part of the trail and it takes 25 minutes before the medial crew can get to her. We can’t see her as she is down a steep section and behind a huge rock but the cries of pain can be heard very clearly. A tab sobering. We push back up to the top of the trail and wait for her to be carried. Forty minutes later we are good to start again. It is always hard to race on a stage when someone you know has an epic crash in front of you. The other thing that is playing on our minds, is Super A now has a very real chance to win the race as she was sitting inside the top 3.
Each race stage today gets progressively harder and stage 2 was a doozy. Made it past the corner with the awful crash and had an okay run down. We push up out of the gully we have finished in and make our way up the hill. One of my friends has a problem with her bike and stops. I keep going as I’m so much slower than they are at climbing. However they never passed me and while I’m waiting at the top of stage 3 and nobody arrives. I’m starting to get worried but the start marshall assures me that everyone else has gone to the feed station before coming here whereas we just ride straight there. The other two people there are the super rad ladies Chloe and Shantel. We figured it would be a good time to get started before everyone turned up. Damn what a stage it was. Steep and rocky with insane corners. The further down the track went the harder it became. It was one of those moments where you couldn’t stop if you tried it was just too steep. Brain was in hyper drive trying to process the trail. Well that was 5 minutes of sphincter puckering fun down nothing but rocks. Chloe, Shantel and I were gasping for air when we finished with the sweet relief of getting out unscathed. The ride out and to the next stage was rough as it riding over a trail of nothing but rocks. Once again, I am left behind on the climb. It doesn’t matter how hard I train, I still absolutely suck at climbing (which is really I just suck at riding). I won’t lie it is absolutely soul destroying to constantly be getting dropped all the time. It does my freaking head in but there seems to be nothing I can do but to suck it up and push on. So I do. We reconvene at the food station (when I finally get there), refuel and continue to up to Stage 4. We heard that the first section has claimed a few people so the three of up hike down to scope out the trail. Ohhhh yes. Have to follow the pink dots there or it’s a broken bike for sure. It is deceiving but the trail drops away to the left.
We decide to just launch into it before we mind games ourselves into it being harder than it really is. I drop in first with what I thought was Chloe behind me. Get through the first gnarly section without too much trouble (so glad I had scoped that section out first!). This trail is kinda weird as it goes up and down; requires momentum which is hard as we have no idea which way is what. I get eventually get passed by some guy. It was hard to let them pass as there isn’t really anywhere to pull over. The moron had pushed in between us ladies. At the bottom he was gloating that he didn’t have to put down on the entire trail. I glare at him with the full Biggles effect and then roll my eyes say nothing. I saw him put his foot down several times as he was right in front of me for a good 30 seconds. Ego.
The usual scenario continues after stage 4, I get dropped on the climb out and we regroup at the feed station. This would be our last time here as the final two stages lead us down to the town and straight to a pub.
At least the climb to the start of Stage 5 isn’t too epic. I am starting to feel like I am the last person on the mountain as there is just no one around. The three of ladies take a short break at the top before we start. I must be getting tired I start my fifth race run and realise that had forgotten to do up my helmet. I have never done that before. EVER. Slam on the brakes, correct my error losing precious time and start again. This trail is super technical and hard but I freaking love it. Chloe and Chantel are rattled and shaking when they finish.
The final stage starts directly after this one. Apparently, it used to be one long stage but they broke it into two sections. I am pretty okay with that as the short 2 minute trail is more like racing at home and I’m tired. The only thing we know about this stage is there is a mandatory drop but no idea how big etc. This time I made sure my helmet was done up before. Loved this trail! It was 5 minutes of rocky techy craziness. The drop wasn’t too big and had a great run in and exit. Shantel took a small tumble and came out with some skin missing but she was okay. The three of us cruised down into town and to the finish area, straight into the beer garden of Alexander pub. Now this is a finish! Handed in my timing chip then it was straight for the post race burger and a beer. A pint of beer after riding all day went straight to my head.
Super A finishes the day in third and I had my best finish for the week in 6thplace.
I was really emotional when I finished and was trying not to cry. I’m so far off the pace and I god dammit, want to be a shit load better than I am. Maybe it’s just the fatigue but I found it really hard to be happy with what I have achieved this week (survival). This is tough race and it’s taking it’s toll on me. The guys we have been riding with all week have been really supportive and we have formed this crazy gang of misfits. They are super proud of us and don’t hesitate to tell us so. It was nice to know they are also finding the race tough.
A very rowdy group of misfits stagger onto the last bus of the day. One of crew goes missing and turns up with a carton of beer for the road trip home. It is an out of control party bus for the ride home. The jokes are endless and we get louder and louder. We stopped somewhere along the Cromwell gorge and went for a swim. The carton of beer was empty before we made it back to Queenstown and some very intoxicated people rolled off the bus. I don’t think I stopped laughing the whole way back.