There haven’t been too many race reports in 2018 and alarmingly one of the last ones was from a… Fuck… XC race. Even more alarming is that I’m about to drop another one, except this time the XC Bandito levels have doubled in distance, which trends in line with reader’s concerns about what the fuuuuuck is happening here.
For those that land here looking for ENDURO porn, or those that want to fulfil their road fetish with tales of remote missions such as Japan or Girona, a race report about a Marathon XC event pleases about as many people as a Saudi Foreign Affairs press release. But, we blog with the material that we have, not with the material that we would like to have… Hopefully that answers the question some of you may have had of “Where the fuck is the EWS Spain race report?!”
So then, let’s start with the ‘what’ and then finish with the ‘why’ of this post. The ‘what’ is the simple part: The Whaka 100 Marathon XC race in Rotorua, taking in pretty much all the singletrack trails in the forest, assuming it’s legal and not Grade 5, garnished with some good old fashioned 4WD track to stretch the beast out to 100kms, or thereabouts depending on whether or not your Garmin is having a good day. The ‘Why’? Well, that’s slightly more insane, so flip to the end if you like to ruin surprises like that cunt at work who always shits on your Netflix series by dropping key plot twists in a meeting.
A Dirty Century?
There was one fact that startled me in the lead up to the Whaka 100: Even though I’ve been mountain biking since I was 12, I had never ridden 100km’s all off road in a day. Naturally, given the effort involved and the fact it’s hard to find trails where you can do that distance without covering the same ground multiple times the natural question begs and gnaws at the mind: Why would you want to?
We live in a world of shorter rides now anyway right? Short stages, short events, short runs, shorter amounts of time to train and so on and so forth. Naturally this has a break point where one may start to yearn for something slightly more Ep… No, I’m not going to say it, but something more all encompassing than the usual fare, and whilst my passion for riding slowly to the top of hills before attempting to shred down them remains strong, throwing some marathon XC in the mix felt perversely like a good idea.
I’m the first to cop a plea bargain to the charge that I don’t have the explosiveness or interval appetite to race XCO, but whilst my mental strength can be as questionable as the back of Rodfather’s van sometimes, I do have a history of being able to death march through shit when I need to. But it was still bemusing to recognise I had never hit the century milestone with only dirt passing beneath my tires.
And let’s face it, if you’re going to do 100km’s on an MTB, in a race setting, there are few more pleasurable places to do so than in Rotorua… Watch now as anyone who has ever raced EWS there tells me to get absolutely and solidly fucked.
Start as you mean to go on
The story is ultimately about ego’s, and I first got a taste of this when I realised I was late to the party to line up for for the start. Not only was I agar at being faced with a moshpit of Bandito madness, but what lay before me was the manifestation of Mike Synard’s wet dream of dominating the off road MAMIL market with an army of Specialized Epic’s who are just biding their time before being cannibalised by Levo’s. Many of them with ego’s that demanded they line up right at the front of proceedings, overriding any practicality of what might transpire past the 30km mark.
Here’s a lesson I didn’t need to fucking learn, but if you harbour even a single nano of wanting to do well at the Whaka, then you need to start as far forward as you possibly can push in without getting punched in the face from another T Rex. Indeed, if you want to actually contend or set a PR time, then you may want to even consider the TT shootout the day before to secure yourself a prime grid position. Thanks captain fucking obvious, but I was about to get a reminder of what this entailed.
A full 20 seconds after the gun went, I was still standing over my bike adjusting my ball sac in my Dirty chamois whilst being vaguely aware that I was a spectator in a race I was theoretically a participant in while I watched the leaders disappear into the forest. When the bandito mexican wave finally did reach me, it was a rather sedate departure, something I am sure was the polar opposite of what was already unfolding up ahead.
As I settled into the suffocating quicksand of the mid pack racers, I started to do some stakeholder management with my Ego (that’s cuntspeak for: I told myself I wasn’t a total cunt), reminding them that I was only here for a big training ride and it really didn’t matter what would unfold down track, this was a small step towards a much larger goal, so be cool bitch, be cool.
Let me just say, whilst the ‘Be cool’ strategy was a plus for saving energy in the opening stanza, there’s an argument to be had that I ultimately burned that same energy trying to ride behind people who had just discovered singletrack for the first time. There’s a certain red mist that descends when you are witness to flow trail getting mercilessly butchered by a Giant with squealing brakes and realising that you’ve ridden these sections of trail faster on a 26 inch wheeled hardtail in the early 2000’s, or gasp, late 90’s?!
Disclaimer – This post contains prodigious amounts of lycra that isn’t designed to be worn under baggy shorts, if you’re sensitive to the S&M nature of such material, please commence self-moderation, or proceed to the comments section to scream into the echo chamber of Dirty nothingness while we track your IP address.
Yes, at the start you’re in one of the most diverse melting pots of abilities you’ll likely to encounter in a race, illustrated in the above pic with the gent behind me, apart from being on stunning photo-bombing form, would end up having an 8 hour 45 minute trip around the course, which is a considerable afternoon when the leader was rolling in around the 5 hour 11 mark.
As you may imagine, a marathon XC race that consists primarily of singletrack means that dealing with traffic is not only complicated, but expensive from a ‘burning matches’ perspective. I marvelled every time I gassed another 2 or 3 pole position punters how much my heart rate flipped into WTF mode and started gagging to punish me as I threw good money after my bad money start.
I’m not going to even try and attempt to pretend that a blog post about Marathon XC racing is exciting, the reality is that large chunks of the day are a total fucking grind, a slow motion flog or even a silent death march of fuckbaggery. But, you do have plenty of time to find out stuff about yourself and as I failed to once again really capitalise on a section of 4WD track, I had an epiphany given the nature of the build up that I’ve had for this:
“All the training and all the weight loss doesn’t suddenly transform you into a slightly hairier Nino Shurter, it simply makes you a mildly faster version of yourself”
This is to say, that if I grabbed a DH bike and just did shuttle laps for 6 months, I wouldn’t suddenly become a Masters DH champ either… Not to rain on anyone’s power of positivity parade here with a salty dose of dirty cynicism splashed across your horrified face, but as I marvelled how far ahead some riders were (Yes Gav, I’m looking at you) as we shared a section of the course which passed one another, I thought through the comparison between a race horse and a donkey. A donkey can lose weight and run around it’s paddock all day as much as it likes, but ultimately it’s never going to beat the race horse because, well, muthafucka is a donkey innit?
The other strategy I had decided to employ was simply the ‘Hyena Protocol’, which is to say I figured that I would simply wait in the long grass until the weaker members of the Bandito herd slowly fell away and died, feasting on their number plates while cackling and avoiding putting in any hunting effort myself.
However, a few hours in and the Hyena Protocol wasn’t reaping me the rewards I had initially envisaged, to the point that I was alarmed by the company I was keeping on the race course. I know you shouldn’t look at someone and judge your ability based on their appearance, but in this instance I was with someone on a single speed, who was also out climbing me, so I’d be excused for having a slight WTF vibe pulsing through my frontal lobe. Still no explanation as to why I was smiling like a fucking idiot:
Not only were muthafuckas not exploding like hand grenades in pigpens like I had expected, but I suddenly had my first alarm light going off myself. Yes, it was around the 2.5 hour mark, exited my fastest ever run down Kung Fu Walrus, where I got the first twinge of something I hadn’t expected until at least the 5 or even 6 hour mark – Cramp. As you may recall, I’m no stranger to this scenario, but I was aghast at the fact I was turning into a total cunt so early in the day. Everyone knew what this meant:
With not an interval to be seen anywhere in the last 6 months, not a single fast group ride and no racing since March, I had chosen an interesting race to rock up to and have unrealistic expectations in. By interesting I mean insane, which may be unfair to actual crazy people as my actions probably land more in the ‘Dumb Cunt’ category than an actual mental illness. But as I watched another Singlespeed rider climb past me as I whimpered with left leg cramp, I began to wonder if perhaps I had made a significant miscalculation with effort expenditure and what this race really involved.
Speaking of people riding past me, Mad Marcus, who you may recall from such adventures as trying to main yourself at Craigieburn or general fucking about in Christchurch hills (pre bonfire) and active DN Global Collective patched member was killing it ahead of me by some 15 minutes at the 40km mark! On the other hand, I was starting to feel more like Bandito road kill…
Hello Darkness my old friend
It was around this time that the dark times kicked in. There wasn’t a single factor at play here, but more a symphony of fuckbaggery which started to fuck with my head: I wasn’t going fast enough on the 4WD sections, I had shadow cramp, I wasn’t sure if I was running out of water or not drinking enough, I was mildly marvelling that I had found another cycling discipline to be mediocre at and I was once again looking across at someone on a fuuuuuucking singlespeed and wondering what the fuck I was doing here.
Speaking of being around others, it’s been a long time since I had to share a race track with others and I spent a lot of time searching for clear air. You end up in bubbles with people who form part of your ecosystem for the day, you may not spend your whole day with them, but you will spend 20 minutes here, an hour there, 15 minutes and then 30 minutes a few hours later and so on and so forth, but they definitely form a part of your day.
In this regard, my favourite muthafucka was my homeboy clad 100% in Thule branded riding kit and rolling on, you guessed it, a Specialized Epic. He stuck out in my day based on his ability to eat massive shit repeatedly and still get back in the game before. No shit, this dude put crash test dummies to utter shame with his OTB down Kung Fu, another crash somewhere I can’t recall and then finally watching him scramble up a very steep bank on a section of ‘Pondy new’ that made one marvel “How the fuck can you crash there?”
Mr Thule, like most of the units in my eco-system bubble all had one common trait: They were allergic to riding down singletrack… Coupled with another trait often seen on NZ roads at passing lanes; they had a penchant for racing you into the next section of single track, only to slow down to a pace that was embarrassing for everyone. Given this was a Bandito rich environment, I ended up encountering the full range of behaviours and thought processes from my fellow Whakaites when it came to dramatic speed differentials in singletrack:
- I’m familiar with the behaviour of a GC and will let you past without any drama
- I’ll sort of let you pass, but reserve the right to change my mind at a potentially pivotal moment, resulting in you getting potentially maimed as I force you off the track into a hole/tree/bank
- I’ll invite you to pass, but then do fucking zero to help the process, you accept the risk accordingly
- No chance of you getting past here muthafucka, we may be outside the top 50, but you’re the Julian Absalon to my Nino Shurter and I’ll vomit up this gel before I’d let you pass
Whilst I appeared to my fellow racers as a donkey on the 4WD and climb sections, my ENDURO AF heritage meant that there was an alarming disparity on the DH front. Every time I managed to get past a lycra human chicane and get some MF flow on, then BANG the fucking chain came off… Something that has never happened before in the previous 900km’s or so on this bike, but now it was determined to not only happen once, but on 3 successive downhills, all with the same level’s of cuuuuuunt attached to them from an outcome perspective.
With 50 clicks in the bank and that horrible drying sucking sound which introduced me to an empty 3 litre camelbak (for the record ended up going through 6 litres in the Camelbak and another bottle) it was time to piss some time away at the aid station refuelling and contemplating that I was indeed only 50% of the way through… As this tale will illuminate towards the end, my lackadaisical feed zone etiquette would ultimately come back to haunt me somewhat and for those wanting to bag a sharp time, perhaps take advantage of the bag drop available here to have your shit ready to roll as opposed to standing around the water cooler like fucking TOD and/or Chad in the office: “Soooo, how was that first 50 for you maaaaaaatey?”
From this point in, shit was just straight up hard. Fuck deliciously sugar coating it (P.S – Fuck I miss sugar… And fuck I miss sugar coating…), we had now entered the ‘This is fucking hard and won’t be easy for the rest of the day zone because it’s a race to the bottom now’ zone. It was like a knife fight in a letter box with one of JC’s Alpaca’s, except imagine feeling like you’d taken tranquillisers which didn’t numb any pain, but did make you do everything slower… And the Alpaca was on speed and trained in martial arts.
Nothing displayed this better than the ridiculous slow motion drag race up Moerangi Road & Time Warp… In front of me 6 – 8 Bandits and not wanting to introduce any Top Gun comparisons here, I was without a wingman. What lay at stake was a clean run down Split Enz and Pondy New, which is something I was craving to enjoy without it being cunted up by traffic. Like a herd of intoxicated Hippos we surged back and forth, while I rammed my dry mouth with as much food and pocket paraphernalia that I could get my sore hands on. This race within a race was such serious shit that I even locked out both Foxes as my inner Bandito took over control of my brain and made me do skinny person shit. The result was magnificent:
This photo, aside from giving my inner narcissist an involuntary orgasim, definitely prompts me to wax lyrical about the Tallboy 3 for a moment or two. With 120mm & 110mm of travel respectively and coming in a touch over 12kg’s, it’s not exactly what Bandito connoisseurs would consider to be your traditional XC machine, but that’s exactly why it’s so fucking brilliant to ride and it’s inadvertently becoming one of the most fun weapons in the stable.
In a world where we’re over travelled, over tired and over rated, it makes a refreshing change to get onto a bike which is lighter, more responsive but then also retains some of the “Fuck yeah cunt, let’s have it” attitude of it’s more illustrious siblings. I fully encourage and respect the current fever and frothing around the Blur 3 release and indeed, if you’re a hardcore Bandito then it’s the bike for you, but in my estimation the Tallboy 3 is becoming the sleeping giant in the SC line up and if most people are honest about the riding they do and the terrain they ride on, it’s definitely a bike that gives significantly more than you’d think it would. Post all this Bandito madness I shall but putting a big front tire on it and smashing some summer action out on this Master of Fun machine.
The last match in the box
Putting the Direct road climb/grovel towards the end of this race is as sadistic as it is apt to be honest, and I have no doubt the organiser had a little semi starting to stir as he sat as his PC and quietly whispered at the screen “Ha, yeah, this’ll fuck cunts right up” I also knew that at this point we were staring down the beginning of the end, so it was time to either go out in a cramping whimpering mess of fuckwittery, or try and use my last match, probably from a Spearmint Rhino matchbox, to try and grab some unlikely hero status…
I had indeed basically waited around all fucking day to actually drop the hammer, so heading into Lion trail, I suddenly had the urge to set fire to my matchbox and either go out in a scream crescendo of cramping orgasim, or actually make up some places. By a miracle that even I still don’t understand, the latter triumphed and I started to devour muthafuckas like I was a hairy semi-cramping Pacman. Yes, the cramp remained, but as long as I kept the hammer firmly down then I could sort of keep it at bay.
The downside was this including pedalling through some parts that I really didn’t want to pedal, but I was now in that zone which meant any momentary pausing resulted in rods of steel being rammed through the back of my legs. Oddly, I relished this fucked up deal with the Mountain Biking Devil that I’d made, because it genuinely felt like racing at last. I also continued to eat up muthafuckas I had seen for a few hours, willing me on like the scenes from Planet of the Apes when the hairy beasts start to get an inkling that it’s fucking payback time.
Inadvertently it was also during this period that I came across a fast marching Mad Markus, with an emphasis on Mad as he pushed his machine minus it’s SRAM chain, absolutely robbed of a solid Sub 7 hour time by a vaporised XX chain. A gutting result given his impressive pace and form.
I had also glanced an eye to the clock… When I set out, my rough aim was to not maim myself and to hopefully get under 8 hours for the 100km’s. I was now staring down the barrel of a potential sub 7 time, a mirage that further escalated my burn-the-fucking-boats protocol implementation. As I went hairy balls deep on this final card hand, the 5km to go sign appeared and even though my Garmin said we had 8km’s to go, I wanted to believe SO fucking much that the organisers were right and the actual Rocket/Satellite Scientists at Garmin were off by 3km’s.
As I poured lighter fluid all over myself and let the muthafucka burn like we don’t need no water, I was once again into hairy and frothing Pacman mode, even passing Bandits I hadn’t seen for the previous 3 or 4 hours, which admittedly is the sweetest of all feelings to fingerbang someone without a dropper post right at the end of the day. However, as the elusive 6 hours & 59 Minutes marker approached, the horror began to dawn on me that we’d burned through those 5km’s and indeed there were still 3 to go, which as you may imagine reeks of some serious cuntery when you’ve decided to lay it all down in the last stanza. Garmin 1, Race Organisers 0.
But fuck it, I was still going ballistic any way, so may as well burn this shit all the way to the ground, not to mention pick up an overall placing coming through the river crossing with 500m to go on the rabid rush to the line.
Oh, and I wasn’t bull-shitting when I said I totally finger banged my pacing, and I have the evidence to back up my accusation. I present to you the last two data points on this table, which outlines that I fucked about most of the day and then appeared to have a blood transfusion before the last 2 sectors:
In spite of that flurry of respectability at the end when I showed up as the party was finishing and people were staggering off to find somewhere to perform oral sex on one another, I ultimately crossed the line for a 7 hours 6 minutes time for the 100.
For those into results, you’ll recall my faux “Yeah, I’m just here for a big training ride” cover story, this translated into 74th out of 226 overall in the Whaka 100 and 18th out of 69 (yes, seriously) in Veterans, which sort of sounds ok until you realise the Vets winner did 6 hours flat and I was a solid 40 minutes off cracking the top 10, so it’s all relative. And let’s not mention the overall race winner banking a 5.10 time… What the total fuck is that even about?
Which begs the question, how hard was it? Hmmmmm… This is a good question and now the pain has subsided, I’m having a difficult time putting a ranking on it. I don’t necessarily think it was harder than a big EWS day, nor was it harder than say Day 3 on Andes Pacifico, but it was a very different type of hard. Add to that, a type of hard that I haven’t had to experience in a very long time – When you have an absence of that type of riding you quickly forget what it’s like to go out and ride as hard as you possibly can for as long as you possibly can, more than likely having your pace dictated by others in either a frustrating or excruciating manner.
Whilst I don’t really know where to put it on the hardness scale, Strava had a view that it felt this was relatively historic from an effort perspective, which I suspect is more linked to how lazy I’ve become since I went ENDURO AF on it the last 3 years.
It’s certainly a massive day out, but the more I reflected on it, the more I actually realised how much I enjoyed the Whaka. Part of that is the course naturally, the ridiculous all you can ride buffet of Rotorua trails that you may not have ridden in a long time, or in some cases ever, mated to the challenge of just a massive day on the bike leaves one with a nice glowing sense of achievement. I think the final cherry on the top was the variety here, it’s been nice to do something different for a change. For those wanting a rapid fire few tips for 2019, and assuming you want to race it for a time or placing, then get into this nosebag here cunts:
- Turn up early and stake out your starting spot, even better – Do the TT shoot out the day before to snag a spot
- Watch your pacing for the first hour or two – Don’t think this is your normal XC race
- Eat like an absolute muthafucka all day
- Try and get a group working for the long 4WD sections if time is your goal, especially if the wind gets up
- Have a GO BAG ready to roll at the 50km feed zone station for rapid bottle or bladder swap over so you don’t get caught up in fuckwittery
- The last 20km’s can bite really hard – Most people can go hard for the first 80km’s, but it’s that last 20 where the wheels can really fall off.
The Macro level view
That’s cuntspeak for “So then, what the fuck is this all about?” Why have I ripped off my knee pads, which I fetishise so much, to indulge in this Bandito lifestyle? What the fuck is making me wear lycra on an MTB and why am I enduring the awkwardness of rocking up to Rotorua and hiding from my ENDURO-BROs like I’ve just transacted on a new eMTB? The Whaka was indeed not about the Whaka at all, it was merely a pawn in a much bigger game of Bandit porn and in the weeks ahead I shall reveal what much of 2018 has really been about and in our current day creeping dystopia this seems to be highly fitting when you get a load of these fucking numbers:
Stay tuned for a Mission Briefing coming soon which will elaborate on the craziness to come in a few weeks time when the Bandito Apocalypse will be unleashed.