When I was penning and editing Part 1 of the mini-series Pioneer drama race report, I felt an odd frustration that it wasn’t really encapsulating the severeness of the challenge that was unfolding before our finely tuned Masters part time bandit bodies. I suspect part of that was the fact it was light on climbing, combined with the more metropolitan feel of being based out of Queenstown. The move to Alexandra for the middle stanza a clear indication we were about to taste the meat of this mission.
If Part 1 was the awkward first date phase with heavy petting and weird groping that you’re sure made the other person feel good, but was actually just creating chaffing, then Part 2 is very much moving into the Honeymoon phase where you both suddenly realise how this game works and that you both happen to like S&M… No word yet on if Part 3 is where things go to far and you end up in A&E having to explain niche injuries to a frowning ED specialist.
Yes, Part 1 was therefore just the tip, what was the middle going to feel like as we slid towards the inevitable? Let’s find the fuck out with minimal fluffing.
Into the Middle
Given we had over 100km’s to ride in one of the hottest places in the whole of NZ, I had decided the best thing to do for Day 3 was to dress us in a black part-merino riding jersey, with some artisanal pink highlights to really set things off. Bone remained unconvinced, even if Mr Cycling and a legitimate Italian looked on with a sense of man crush flooding their minds… Mixed in with confusion as to why this photo wasn’t in black & white:
And before you ask, fuck YES with a compulsory base layer underneath – This may be full bandito, but some standards need to be maintained. Astute readers may also recognise that the above pic isn’t from the inside of a fart decorated 2 man tent either, but more on that aspect later. Given this covers two Yuuuuuuuge days, let’s cut to the lycra chase.
Day 3 – Stage 2: Alexandra to Alexandra 103km’s & 2,317m of climbing
Ok… Given it was the Queen stage, good chance I will forget a good portion of what went down, especially given the dark recesses of hell that I ended up in. Yes, in theory this was the longest day that we would face, but there was much conjecture it wouldn’t actually be the hardest day that we would have to contend with – Something in itself which provides a good insight into how fucked in the head Marathon XC racing is. I had only done one 100km XC warm up event, so genuine fear existed in my tent about what was to cum. Every time I lifted my flaps however, I got to look out on a deliciously optimistic Labrador in the form of the T Bone, who promised me he knew what was coming, but ultimately had the smiling enthusiasm of someone who really didn’t:
Given what lay ahead I wanted a crazy road race type start about as much as I wanted a Therese May Brexit lap dance, but even the prospect of 100 MTB kilometres didn’t deter Group B from it’s usual start fever. Full gas and driven again by cunted egos who self loathe they’re not in Group A and dream of miraculously bridging across like lemmings on meth. We got dragged along like fingered rag dolls and I hated every second of it given this is always the worst part of the day for moi.
I was therefore relieved when we finally got to the first mini climb and Wade & Al from Cyclingtips blew the whole thing to pieces by going off the front. What were these svelte PRO looking mofos doing in Group B you might ask? Like the pain of losing Airline Gold Status they’d been downgraded from A to B on account of a separation of the likes not seen since Nicole walked out on Tommy C, and lost an hour on Day 2 as Al rode back to Fergburger in search of Wade and one of those epic chocolate milkshakes (Good run down here).
I was in awe of their PRO level coordinated move off the front, as I found myself transfixed by both the way they glided away from the group in perfect unison, as well as obsessively focusing on how they were managing to ride the race packless? My cycling status anxiety pinging on many levels. Speaking of, in the sun strike conditions we were hitting, Bone finally conceded that the alibaba Oakrey lens wasn’t quite cutting the mustard, confirming that while you can fake an orgasim, you can’t fake Oakley lens technology.
With shit blowing up in Group B, it was time to unleash our strategy, codenamed “full tranquilo”, which felt ironic given the only Italian around was up in Group A out-climbing some of the Pros, but Bone and I wanted to take a “Macro level view” of the day, which is cuntspeak for not wanting to shoot our loads before Day 5.
Admittedly I had to muzzle the frothing Labrador a couple of times as it dawned on me that he was feeling fresh and I was feeling like said labradors chew toy. While I did feel like a bit of a killjoy at times when I shook my head and called out the safe word to his beaming excited face, we eventually settled into a good rhythm once we cleared out all the cuntbags who were determined to butcher pristine Alex singletrack because it was fun and not anally retentive enough for them.
Speaking of singletrack, there was not only a lot more than expected early on, so stoked, but it became apparent that climbing it was as expensive and awkward as having a mistress who has a penchant for LV and demands a new bag before business time, so our conservative plan was looking like the right call. Even though from time to time the long range grind of Marathon XC racing was slightly mundane, like a child in a very busy cafe I managed to find high risk ways to keep myself entertained:
The first Aid station didn’t seem to appear where it was supposed to, which was disappointing because I felt like I had aids and this became even more apparent 25kms in when we hit the first big climb… And by hit, I mean it punched me in the throat whilst making me eat a dry Weetbix.
As we got into our work, I had a nagging feeling about my sensations and as much as I tried to deny it given how early in the day it was, if the late great Paul Sherwen had been commentating he probably would have said something diplomatic like “He appears to be in difficulty here Phil” In spite of this, when I looked up the slope in front of us it didn’t look that bad, so I was sure I could fake banditogasim my way out of this predicament.
Wrong – I think I semi blew to pieces about halfway up, which we thought was the top, but was just the tip. Once again our noses were pinched and the chatty/singing New World girls broke out into song as they passed us, deepening my general loathing of Karaoke. As I avoided eye contact with a Rapha clad Bone, I was praying for the DH to rescue me and wash away my shame.
Thank fuck it eventually did, and as per usual we got our freak on and quickly started to reel in climbing nerds like dolphins in an Indonesian drift net, including passing the NW Girls with Bone screaming “Enduro muthafuckas!!!!” as he sprayed them with sweet sweet Alex gnar <<Possible fake news>>.
Let’s take a moment to have a break from how fucked I felt to appreciate what an amazing place Alexandra is for riding. Whilst it’s my second time here, it’s massively underrated and doesn’t get the accolades of it’s NZ peers, but is a truly unique place to ride. I suspect given the trails are almost impossible to find people don’t froth as much, which was the beauty of this day as it was all laid out before us to feast on. I think this shot provides solid justification for ensuring Alex is on the summer list:
The well timed and sweet Gnar injection gave me a great inoculation against Bandito suffering in time for the next climb, which also coincided with the arrival of Peg & Kath, you may remember them from Part 1, where they proceeded to ground us into the dirt/loose shale with their Terminator like one set speed approach. While Bone and I appeared to be frothing puppies who alternated between pissing on ourselves and tearing around, the P&K show were happy to set to one speed and take the next 3-4 hours to hunt us down like ADHD children in a supermarket.
Unlike Day 1 or 2, the climbing was now turning out to be SIGNIFICANTLY harder than expected on the rocky singletrack, sapping and techy, and not to mention expensive from a “But I saved all this energy for tomorrow” perspective. Shit started to go really wrong again about 47kms in as we hit the next climb and I was unable to maintain much of a dialogue with a chatty and sprightly T Bone… A worrying sign of things to come.
It was somewhere around here when we realized the elevation map was about as useful as using your dick to stir hot porridge, so it was just grind after grind, those horrible first gear efforts where you’re making love to the nose of your saddle while performing yoga to keep the front end planted and back wheel hooked up. I was suddenly feeling less stoked with my mildly ENDURO flavoured 120mm fork.
I started to lose my shit and refer to myself as a “Total cunt” out loud as team after team passed us, partly angry that my earlier strategic assessment that “Don’t worry bro, cunts will blow up and we’ll plow them like we’re Genghis khans men taking another village for BAU rape and pillage” was turning out to be not only inaccurate, but WE were the cunts being plowed… Bone patiently suggested there was no time for self-loathing and there was much climbing to come, so best save it up for then.
- Thank fuck I lost 10kg’s for this
- Thank fuck I was graced with the presence of the Blur 3 for this race
Does this suddenly feel repetitive? What I’m attempting to impress on you here is that it was now really dawning on us how much climbing this race had. This was now the zone where logically knowing those data points collided head on with the actual suffering involved with carrying out the task. Or in non-cunt speak: Shit was getting real.
And then the real climb started
And then holy fuck… It was on to the final climb, which I arrived at feeling and looking like fat post winter Jan arriving at the foot of Alpe d’huez. Bone made a perfect Udo Bolts, encouraging this Fat Pig to take the pain. The numbers on this climb were mind bending given we were already 70kms in or so? Fuck knows, but I did know that we were now getting the real and proper pioneer treatment and the previous 2 days were more of an entree and perhaps some of those delicious pass-arounds I threw up at my 40th Birthday party.
Halfway up the master caution alarm went and my central nervous system shut down all non-essential functions, which included talking… I couldn’t respond verbally and through my lifeless eyes I looked at Bone and felt glimmers of shame that I was holding back this chiseled Rapha model. His Labrador DNA was in full effect as he wagged his tail and looked at me with those eyes that begged for me to throw a stick and/or pedal a little bit faster you flogged out cunt. I could see his lips moving and words of encouragement flood out, but I couldn’t respond at all… I was set to receive only mode. My words here can not in any way provide insight into the personal hell and torture I was now experiencing, or that I just wanted it to stop. Much like watching a family of grifters shit into the mouth of democratic norms, I realised that this was not normal.
Bone continued to talk to me like he was the HR guy trying to encourage a group of employees who had just been made redundant and told there was no pay out to do more PowerPoint slides for a meeting that wouldn’t matter. His unbreakable spirit making my hollowed out one somewhat embarrassed. I have attempted to pinpoint the rough coordinates where I blew to pieces like a cheap landmine, unsurprisingly, it happens to resemble a sex toy:
I was now walking dead, literally as it was the first proper walk up a climb. I would say that I was relieved to get to the top, but in order to feel those emotions you’d need to be alive and not a Zombie who was pedalling hexagons. But, I had waited ALL day for the next DH, appropriately named “Enduro trail”, and holy shit was it what, an excellent DH which we took to like looters to a TV store window. I may have been guilty of sending a few jumps, with Bone getting right in on that action as we slayed some more nerds who had been guilty of out climbing us, well, me actually as I was holding the Bone back.
With a final gnar inoculation it was onto the Rail Trail, where Bone proceeded to get into his much loved TT mode and I held on like a child for the tow all the way home. It’s worth noting that after hours of flog on stuff you’re not good at, to get back into your cycling comfort zone whether it be DH or a classic TT section was a total fucking gift and one which we each relished whenever the opportunity arose. With what my Garmin said was 10kms to go and Bone smashing out a 30km/ph pace, I gleefully concluded out loud that “We’ll be home in 20 minutes you beautiful TT weapon!”
Cunt. No sooner had the words escaped my sunburnt lips, we turned off the rail trail and into… more climbing. Just for good measure it was also Hades level hot, sandy and oh yeah, the fucking 10km to go sign magically appeared where it should have been 8km’s to go. Spirits were starting to crack like the safe at Nakatomi Plaza.
By now it was just all a cunt-tail of misery and suffering as we did a bonus lap around the Alex airport with some flat singletrack. I got what vaguely felt like a second wind and finally pulled some turns, as we hit what appeared to be never ending soft singletrack back to the finish. On a logical level I knew we were getting closer, but logic had packed up it’s shit and left some time ago, so in my irrational state it just seemed like we were moving further and further away from the Bacon & Egg Buttie and Coke that we had a date with.
6 hours and 33 minutes for 103kms on a Mountain Bike is somewhat mind blowing given I was 7.06 for the Whaka 100 which was 3kms less and had easier climbs, plus no riding the prior 2 days. What the actual fuck was going on here… We even looked semi normal finishing, something that belies the turmoil hiding within:
And this is a very important point that I will elaborate on later, but this race is all about the person you’re rolling with. I don’t just mean that in a physical sense in terms of being matched, but you have to also have the same perspective or philosophy on riding and how it should roll when the bullets are flying. Given we did fuck all team preparation, I was stoked with how we were rolling as a unit. Speaking of stoked, lying in shaded luscious grass nursing a can of coke never felt so good, even if the prospect of more riding tomorrow left you with a strong aftertaste of WTF.
Stage 2 Results
Some context I missed in part 1, we rolled out of the prologue with 99 Masters teams and 258 teams overall, so trying to hold a top 20 age group spot to the end seemed like a good goal, especially given the Masters weapons on display:
- Masters Winners – 5.21 and 8th on overall GC
- Rivet Racers – 5.38, 6th Masters for the day, 4th on Masters GC and 19th overall GC
- Dirty Rivets – 6.30, 17th Masters for the day, 14th on Masters GC and 65th overall GC
Think we had a long day? The last Masters team in for the day were out there for 10 hours and 23 minutes! That’s a brutal day out given it was only halfway through the event. At the opposite end of the spectrum, a massive shout out to the Rivet Racers (GV and Mr Cycling) who were on another level, if you were to have a look at their climbing times on Strava from Day 3 to realise their dream team combo was delivering on the tantalising promise of combining two of the greatest natural talents kicking around the Rivet Racing WhatsApp forum. And yes, this shot of a casual Bandito post stage catch up looks suspiciously like it’s not in a tent…
Time to broach the non-tent elephant in the room then. You may recall from the Mission Briefing that the forecast called for End of Days essentially, with it allegedly being wetter than the Kush when he gets a whiff of Saudi oil money. As such, a contingency option was developed and evoked which saw all the Rivets de-selecting from camp life into the relative palatialness of the Alexandra Motor Lodge. Stoked we missed the rain which never eventuated… And before you wave around the rule book or accusations of soft cockery; A) Not against the rules and a surprising number of riders did this during the week and B) Let me know how you feel in 2019 after a few nights in the tent #beentheredonethat.
Day 4 – Stage 3: Alexandra to Bannockburn 79km’s & 2,3186m of climbing
Given Day 4 was the eve of Judgement Day, with 3500m of climbing on stage 4, the Dirty Rivet protocol was to roll like the filthy Clydesdales we are and keep shit extra tranquilo (yeah right) given we’re now into the real mountains and our starfishes are being exposed like the first night in Shawshank prison. On paper, this sort of appeared to be an easy day? Yeah, nah:
Ok, so you know the drill by now – No warm up and back in the pen 15 minutes before the start which gives you plenty of time to ponder how the fuck you’re going to back up for another day of marathon MTB insanity, which by now is starting to feel slightly fucked in the head. You may also have realised that while each day is amazingly different from a terrain and scenery perspective, the overall process is very much same same, including the endless 2 Up TT suffering aspect. This is part of the driver behind some of the blurring of days together in tired minds, especially when you started from the same hub. But at least Alex had turned on another banger for us.
I shall try and do this without being monotonous, but surprise, we had to contend with the usual Group B antics at the start, with a slight twist which this time included a smattering of dumb cunts riding up the inside of the group and having to swerve into the peloton to dodge parked cars, Bone gave appropriate Patron level feedback to said idiocy.
XCO style cuntbaggery continued to the point where someone hooked their handlebar under my arm and almost took me down when we hit the first hint of gravel singletrack. Indeed muthafuckas were hitting the lemming button and behaving like it was a World Cup XC Race on the first lap, a phenomenon that always surprised me, and I may have suggested some people were slightly less than awesome given what was to come for the rest of the day. If you’ve ever participated in a work meeting where people relished in talking over the top of one another and then everyone leaves without agreeing on a course of action, then you have experience of a Group B start.
Heading into the riverbank trail Bone and I found ourselves thankfully alone and in a bubble of bromance goodness to tap out our own race. Oddly my HR comfort spot was now around 10bpm less than previous days, and with Bone making the call that sensations were whack, we told that bitch to chill the fuck out.
About 8kms later we were finally caught by a giant group of frothing Bandits who didn’t make the original split and were not only allergic to communicating that they were passing, but also which side they wanted to do so on. Patron Bone was not impressed and sprayed people accordingly. For the record, screaming “Coming through” is about as useful as a hand job with sandpaper gloves people, given it lacks the basic information about the logistics of your passing intentions.
Given it was starting to feel like we were morbidly obese people riding up happy valley on flat eBikes while Wednesday Worlds was coming past, we considered lifting the pace to jump on, but this is where you realize a key thing about these weeks: your pace is your pace and you can’t magically conjure an extra effort… well, maybe you can, but what’s the price in 30kms? Or tomorrow? A terrifying prospect. Trying to hold your effort back when mofos are streaming pass is also quite a head fuck, and a test of nerve that your bet of holding back will pay dividends down track.
Riding across Clyde Dam was fairly epic, apparently not usually open to the public, so it was nice to suffer across enroute to the first big climb… but for fucks sake we were now in a paceline with the New World girls and aside from being sick to death of them flirting with the Bone, they managed to keep anxiety levels alive & pumping when one of them ran wide on a simple high speed down and up into a slight right and ran off the road in front of me… I’m not a misogynist by any stretch of the imagination, but that wasn’t an awesome moment for Mars and Venus relations.
The first climb was exactly as expected given we had eyeballed it the prior day while endurogasiming our way down the DH – a horrible, hot, steep and relentless cunt of a grind. I think it was 27 degs, but I couldn’t really concentrate as I regretted saying to the boys in the morning “cunts, even if there’s a mushroom cloud out the window, you still wear a base layer” idiot.
Bones claims of feeling off par were highly dubious given he still had the ability to chat to me and smile like a Labrador which has just finished a nut sac cleaning, but I had opted for silent sustained climbing mode because this was really really REALLY fucking hard, the first 2.8km’s (of around 20km’s of climbing) averaged 14% type of hard.
Haha, muppet, it was only the warm up climb! The real climb then began and sort of just went on forever. I’m a bit vague about this as there was walking, which I enjoy about as much as when you think you’ve finished pissing in cycling shorts, but then find out you haven’t when you tuck it back in. If you just laughed, then yeah, you know what’s up.
So it had taken two hours or so, but finally the Peg & Kath express arrived and in an exhibition of controlled force climbed up a section of the climb every single other fucker walked. Bone and I stood in awe and almost didn’t notice the dull thud of our egos dying, dropping to the ground and being placed in Gimp shaped latex body bags.
Bone and I then had a quick discussion and decided that we needed to implement the same strategy – consistent single speed. And there is definitely something to be said for setting one pace and sticking to it, ruthlessly… Once we got back on I was quietly stoked with how we rode the rest of the monster climb, tapping out a sustainable pace and picking off gimps who had shot their load, before some DH Radness and a quick feed zone stop.
This is where we ran into our nemesis for the day – a fellow Masters team who were oddball dudes. I didn’t met many people on this race who I disliked, and perhaps I was just cuntstipated, but these units fitted the bill: Quintessential Specialized Epic riding middle managers (likely from Risk or Audit) who not only tried to cut the water refill queue, but also stood around in the middle of the race track with their bikes blocking it while they screamed into their echo chambers. Essentially weird units who clearly wanted to rumble with us, but then oddly walked any gradient over 8%, so we passed them about 10 times back and forth. More to come on that…
The DH off the top was fast and sketchy AF, not the most endearing piece of trail and I laughed at the fact that while we got lots of briefing about the ‘dangers’ of the Coronet Peak day, hitting the deck on this stuff would be significantly more costly to your skin supply.
It was then into the valley of death, which looked like something off West World and relentless ground it’s way up a valley… into a head wind. It was about here that we both discussed and wanted to go faster, but also felt like we were fading out as well, conundrum. A reminder that we were riding through some seriously unique and awesome countryside as well however.
I was smashing gels and food at a disgusting and unplanned for rate and my body was like “fuck off cunt, you’ve basically poisoned me, so go and eat balls if you think I’m going to send you more watts”, super helpful. Unexpectedly, we were also getting gang banged again as people came past us who looked like they had NO business doing so, but this is the nature of the Pioneer and Marathon XC racing in general: Never, ever judge a hard cunt by their wrapper… Especially the Super Masters. A reminder that suffering doesn’t give a single fuck about fashion.
Finally towards the end of the valley we managed to form a resistance cell and dig in with some Open Men to try and rally back some of the loses we had sustained. We could almost taste the Bacon & Egg buttie with our names on it, a significant incentive to get this shit done.
At the base of the final small bump of the day we saw two riders on the side of the road… yes, our multi passing nemesis team from the feedzone who had invested considerable effort in dropping us up the valley. Their issue? A fucked up SRAM rear D! Quicker than you can say “Murghahahahaha” with a Japanese accent, my loins were suddenly flushed with Schadenfreude driven by a powerful combo of SHAM hate vindication and an absolute intent to capitalize on their misfortune in a manner only Mr Armstrong would usually do. In my head I screamed “No gifts muthafuckas” as I went past, mainly as I was too flogged to speak out loud, plus recognising that perhaps I had cultivated this rivalry simply in my own head.
It was now business time: hands in the middle of the bars, head down and started to crank a pace with Bone yelling “up” or “cunt” from behind… we were back! We slapped the hairy pony up, over and then all the way home down the high speed gravel road to the finish, narrowly missing catching another masters crew as Bone TTed that shit all the way home, with the sweet taste of winning our mini battle washing around in our mouths along with Coke number 4. Happiness:
So called ‘easier day’? Well, there wasn’t really any part of the day I didn’t feel in the box and whilst the next 2 days were in theory the hardest, this was already the hardest thing I’d ever done, but spectacular in a psycho kind of way. The result were also looking strangely favourable.
Stage 3 Results
- Masters Winners – 4.07 and 5th on overall GC
- Rivet Racers – 4.24, 5th Masters for the day, 4th on Masters GC and 18th overall GC
- Dirty Rivets – 5.06, 17th Masters for the day, 13th on Masters GC and 61st overall GC
At the end of Part two we were lying in 13th overall in Masters on the GC and even though we had the inevitability of a recovering Cyclingtips team breathing down our sunburnt necks, there was some solid clear air back to 15th overall. We had navigated the middle section of the race with mirror image daily results and a tidy climb up the GC.
As we force fed ourselves bacon butties and protein shakes the Bone outlined to me that he had a weird leg pain towards the end of the day. I think I flippantly remarked that my legs hurt all day as well, so welcome to the party pal. Nothing a student massage session wouldn’t fix brah.
These weeks are all about little decisions made here and there, they end up being an accumulation of all the things you do or don’t do. Retrospectively I wish I had taken a moment from staring out into the hills feeling smashed to fuck to actually listen properly to what he was saying and come up with a plan for some Bone maintenance. Little did either of us know just what that small niggle was going to mean for the script in Part 3… Multiple storms were brewing on horizons both visible and unseen.
Stay tuned as the balls deep part 3 rams all the way home.