Have you ever had the experience of being exposed to a particular event that grew into either being an obsession or focal point which felt like it was consuming you? Perhaps that’s just me, but either way for today’s flashback I have decided to go back to 2008 and to what was arguably one of the best days I’ve ever had on a road bike, and certainly the best race I’ve ever had.
Big call? Maybe… Time to deep dive into it with the assistance of significant hindsight. Its a long read for an equally long day on the bike, hence I’ve dropped it in on a Friday for weekend perusal.
And to which race am I referring? That would be the K2 Road Race in Coromandel, NZ of course. 200km’s and 2300m of climbing around the Coromandel Peninsula, a particularly scenic mofo part of the world, with more than its fair share of climbing and suffering awaiting those wanting to take it on. As a twist, the race start/finish point moves around the peninsula each year, so its shared around the 4 main towns on the route, making it oddly the same race, but quite different each time… A bit of a head fuck, but the main thing is you probably don’t want to do it when its Coromandel’s turn, small matter of the final climb being a beast:
There is one aim when doing this race, aside from finishing well up place wise in your grade:
To get into the Sub 6 hour club
Yes, they actually had a club for those skinny/strong enough to get through this whopper in under 6 hours. Being naive and more than just slightly arrogant, I instantly decided that I required automatic inclusion into said club… Don’t you know who I am?
Before I can talk about 2008 though, some important context setting, AT and I first took this beast on in 2007, back when we thought training meant a couple of hard rides on Saturday and Sunday and we genuinely thought Lance Cuntstrong was just awesome! I thought that these weekends were so fucking tough, I needed the whole week off to recover before we did it again.
This ultimately pussy-as-fuck approach to training was probably a key driver behind where we ended up that year, which included not only missing out getting into the Sub 6 club, but also cramping, hitting the wall massively and also blowing most of the contents of a gels squeezy bottle all over my face and handlebars like a porn star. Awesome. How did I fare? Er… Awkward:
- 6 hours 21 minutes
- Overall place: 187
- Category Place: 45
I suspect this photo may go some way to explaining a few things… Like… Why it went sideways, where my pet hate of number stickers on helmets came from, or why I decided to start wearing Rapha base layers no matter how hot it is… Its also clearly taken before I realise Valverde was a cunt… Sigh:
So, with 2007 acting like a fingering wake up call, and after a 3 month period of self loathing (mainly driven by that terrible kit fiasco), I was sent packing back to the drawing board to analyse how badly things went and more importantly, where could I find those 22 minutes in 2008?
Well, you didn’t need a very fine-tooth comb to work that one out did you? A dose of reality from the Lizard, who FYI, was the MF winner of the K2 Vet 1 category in 2007, quickly set things on the right track:
- Stopping eating all the chups cunt
- Ride your bike during the week
- Perhaps do some real training and races?
- Stop riding around with your pelt exposed
I also heard
invented in my own mind that I needed to buy all new kit and a Pinarello Prince. And a BMC Training bike… Anyway… To cut a long and cold 12 months short, the basic outline is that I actually trained through winter and during the week in a rather anti social period of life, to prepare for a full 2008 assault on the K2 and the Sub 6 club entry.
I knew something was brewing when a few weeks before the 2008 edition, I was able to hold the Lizards wheel 9/10th’s of the way up the hard side of the Rima’s, arguably the hardest climb around, only getting dropped when I had my usual famous lapse in concentration and the Lizard feasted on me. But either way, it was pretty clear things had advanced significantly. I was ready.
2008 K2 – Judgement day
And so, with November coming around, K2 2.0 was ON and I was ready to roll, complete with a PRO looking base layer and kit that didn’t link me to a doping ring, FYI, this was quality bike/kit matching just quietly:
Also note the PRO folding of the race number… Again, a Lizard speciality. Unlike the Lizard though, I essentially didn’t sleep much the night before. Yes, it wasn’t just the nerves of racing: I was on the cusp of a day that I had prepared for, thought about and obsessed over for 12 months. I had one chance to get it right… I had done more riding and preparation than ever before, for anything. Grinding through a nasty winter, highly anti-social weekends and worst of all: Had stopped eating Salt & Vinegar kettlefry chips for fucks sake! This was serious. No wonder I now have a slight phobia about sacrificing all for ONE event.
Blessed with good weather, the first box that needs to be ticked when trying for the Sub 6 Club, there were no excuses left, my legs would either do it or not. And with that notion, it was time to get down to K2 business. Moments before the gun, the Lizard turned to me and with words and a look I shall never forget he said:
“Good luck mate – Go HARD”
Gulp. I nodded more out of compliance than belief and waited for the hooter to blast. Moments later, judgement day was underway. What lay before us about 2km’s from the start was the first major test: Pumpkin Hill. Only 3.1km’s long, but an average of 6%, its guaranteed a fast and hard start, which, if you fucked up, would consign you very early on to a rather long chase. I was nervous as fuck, but figured that it was worth burning a few matches to stay in the game rather than get pooed out early. Just so happens to be one of my favourite climbs in NZ, so well worth a hit if you’re ever in the Coromandel:
As we went over the top of Pumpkin Hill, I somehow managed to notice that I was in the top 10 or so of the whole field… REALLY?! Was I supposed to be here? Fuck, who cares, I was!! With a much needed dose self confidence fuelling my racing balls, this was looking good as we dropped into the next valley in the lead group.
And then, I was on the front, the front of the whole fucking thing… Empty road in front of me… This was mental!! I was euphoric, until I heard “Get off the front!” growled knowingly in my ear from El Lizardo. Duly complying I settled into the wheels, thinking about the next milestones and hills to be ticked off. Town by town, hill by hill, at the front, but not on the front.
And then around 80kms or so in, the moment of horror occurred that I can still recall like it was yesterday. Some ‘CUNT in a ute’, shall we call them, decided to overtake the entire peloton heading into a blind corner, tooting as he went… a rather massive WTF. May not have been a problem, except for the small issue of a rather large B-Train Milk Truck coming the other way. 3 into 2 this equation did NOT go and so the gimp in the ute swerved in, triggering a chain reaction of staggering proportions.
I’m not sure how many riders went down, but all around me was the sound of screaming, crashing and a locked up semi truck skidding towards us, about to take us all out like lycra clad bowling pins. Directly in front of me, two riders hit each other and went down, only one thought flashed in my head:
“Its all over”
I waited for the inevitable crash and disaster, but as they hit the deck, instead of taking me out, they bounced either way and like a cross between Jeremy Roy and Moses, the sea of carbon fibre destruction parted for me and I emerged unscathed as riders continued to crash and some even ending up under the Milk Tanker. I took half a dozen pedal strokes and in a shaking state of shock and disbelief, looked back on the insane scene behind. What the FUCK?! I had never seen or experienced anything like it… What happens here? What do I do?
Rider by rider people started to make their way up the road… Someone senior, a Patron shall we call them, decided to slow the peloton down until the lead riders regrouped. The image of the locked up and skidding 44m long Milk Tanker coming straight at us replaying in my mind and pushing aside any thoughts of what time I was going to end up with that day. No time to wallow though, suddenly the racing was back to full gas, and fuck, I mean strung out.
As if this wasn’t bad enough, next came the decisive point in the race. 100km’s in, the hardest test so far, the beast that is: WHANGAPOUA hill. I have put it in caps, as when you say it you need to kind of shout it, or say it as ominously as possible, a slightly robotic/germanic accent always useful. Whilst it may be only 3.3km’s long, with an average gradient of 9%, and with half the race in the legs, this one was for the little climbers and a time for the strongest in the race to split things up faster than a bad tinder date.
And split it they did… About 1km in the cycling guillotine fell and neatly chopped the lead group into two parts: The climbing rabbits and the fat hairy hounds. Woof fucking woof, guess where I ended up. Whilst the elite group disappeared up the road, including the Lizard smashing his tail on his top tube in excitement now shit had got really serious, the rest of us realised what lay in store for the next 100kms: Chasing. My tactic at this point was to hold my mouth in strange positions as we ground our way over the two sisters (Not as glamorous as I have in my mind when I say that sentence out loud…) coming out of Coromandel township:
Down the coast road and through Thames going so fast that it didn’t even feel real, this surreal pack riding was the fastest I’d ever been in. I was trying to do the timing maths, eat and prepare myself for the last hurdle.
And then, suddenly, it was on to the FINAL challenge of the race, the 14km sufferfest of Kopu. Whilst not the hardest climb per se, it did have various ramps in it, which combined with cramp, self doubt and almost 5 hours of hard riding in the legs made it one of the hardest climbs I’ve ever done in a race. Only two things got me through without getting totally dropped:
- Coke – Say what you like about it melting your insides, I will trade that in a bike race. #thatswhatlancesaid
- Hams – No, not a sandwich, but I came across the Pork Meteor on the final climb and his encouragement and wise words were enough motivation to stop me completely folding. What a legend (Hams, not me).
Talk about being a fucking Yo-Yo… I can’t remember how many times I was dropped and had to force myself against all normal mental and physical functioning to get back on. One such instance captured in what is both my favourite and most disliked race photo of all time:
After what seemed an hour of this hideous mental and physical torture, I finally sighted the summit and disappearing over the top of it the group that would either carry me to CLUB status, or break me completely if I didn’t get back into it… The flat slog I faced to the finish in Tairua would be a nightmare alone. So, it was decision time: Conserve or go all out. There was only one option available at this stage, given all the hard work on the line and the fact I didn’t want to have to do this again:
Go all out
By all out, I am referring to smashing with insane abandon one of the fastest and most full on descents of the whole race. It also happened to be one of the few times I’ve been over 100kmph on a road bike, I had two types of fear coursing through me:
- Absolute fear of being dropped and having to ride the last section solo, thus missing the Sub 6 club
- Epic fear of the speed that I was traveling at, especially when I passed a dude on a Cervelo who was trying to stay upright and control a massive speed wobble. Do the maths on hitting the deck at that speed with lycra on. Super get fucked.
The ‘all in’ approach (which may have included overtaking a Porsche on a corner I wouldn’t have normally gone near) worked, thankfully making contact with the life raft group just as the next little hill started. As we passed Pauanui, I did a quick maths check on the time and suddenly for the first time realised that we were on track! OMFG!! It was going to happen… Save a melt down, crash or flat tire, it was looking possible. I won’t lie, I was a cauldron of crazy emotions at this point that resemble that of a bunny boiler usually, I was so close, would I make it?! Or would I be cruelly robbed?!
Soon the sign for Tairua and the finish came into sight… I didn’t even think about the sprint finish and looking around our small group of chasing survivors, no one else did either, it felt irrelevant at that point.
As I came across the line cramping like a mofo, I glanced at my Cateye Mitty 2 wireless computer (which were the shit back then, this is pre-strava mind you) and whilst in mind bending pain, a single message was sent to my brain:
We’ve done it!!!
I sort of wish my brain had also said: “Dude, watch out for these fucking cones”, as in my state of euphoria I managed to ride straight into a large collection, coming within inches of going over the bars and taking out race officials… I quickly looked around and tried to act cool, hoping no one had seen me cunt up my moment of glory. With dignity semi intact, and emotions at risk of boiling over, I quickly set off to find the two people that had made this feat a reality, the fountain of knowledge. Lizard had just won his grade again from memory and Hams had done like his 8th K2 or something crazy like that. I still owe these two for getting me into the CLUB:
So… The question I guess, what was the time?! I did a double take when I looked at it on the computer and had to consult the official results before getting all WHOOP WHOOP on it, but fuck, there it was… LOOK AT THE TIME!!!:
The fact I had come 8th in Senior Men was irrelevant to me… It was all about the time… Not only had a giant dildo been stuffed in 2007, but above it… I was in DA CLUB!
Have I been back? Well, no… Not since. I did the 100km event in 2009 with the Lizard and Co as a weekend away, but I’m genuinely not sure I could go quicker than I did that day. It was almost the perfect day and one that I shall never forget, a reminder that sometimes the most lasting memories and achievements are forged in moments of intense challenge and difficulty.
How philosophical is that? Best I fuck off and buy some more ENDURO kit.