I've had a week in NZ to race the first UCI Cyclocross race in the southern hemisphere. My old man and I were originally going to fly into and out of Napier (near the race location), but decided to fly into Auckland and out of Wellington, stopping at Rotorua (MTB heaven on earth) and Napier/Hawkes Bay on the way.
Poor dad got a bit ahead of himself in Rotorua and nearly burnt out on the first ride of the day.
It's easy to do in Rotorua, Dad managed 4 hours and I ended up with about 6 hours. Not ideal tapering for a race but this place is insane. So much fun.
After a quick stop in Taupo we drove to Taradale just outside of Hawkes Bay, where the race was to be held.
We had a couple of nights there, and met Katie Compton (world #2) and her husband Mark who were over to race and teach a few skills clinics. There was also Andrew Barlow and Dan Warren (reigning CX champ from the year before), who were exceptionally helpful in making sure I was well looked after and had everything I needed for a good race.
The course was brutal. A tarmac section led into some punchy grass hills, before winding around and down a minature vineyard and up another grassy hill to a muddy run up. From there you descend for all of about 5 seconds, before climbing again up to a staircase that was absolutely exhausting. You keep climbing afterwards and ride through more punchy inclines and through some mud. From here you have a fast off camber descent into an off camber bumpy climb before winding through a paddock, over some barriers, up a small pinch and down back to the pavement to start again. Reminded me alot of the courses in europe, though perhaps even tougher! Maybe not more technical than Koksijde and Zolder, but close.
Race day was shaping up to be a real challenge, the field only had about 13 riders, but they were all bloody fast! I had a good warm up on the trainer and was called to the start line first. Off the gun I got the holeshot and held a slim lead for most of the first lap, before BAM Gary Hall came flying past me up the off camber climb, and ended up putting about 30 seconds into me after 3 laps. I had about the same back to 3rd, the winner of the previous National Round Alex Revell. From here the race remained unchanged, with 4th and 5th (Logan Horn U23 and Dan Warren) another 30 odd seconds back, riding together. I was secretly hoping Gary would fade but he gradually put more time on me and I started losing ground to Alex. On the second last lap I slipped out on the off camber climb and slammed my leg into my bar end. After that I faded even further and Alex caught me half way round the last lap.
This was my first hour long CX race, and it took its toll. I was destroyed both mentally and physically, Alex put in a great race to reel me in, and Gary absolutely demolished the field, I was lucky not to be caught by Logan and Dan. For such a small field the quality was a great credit not only to the calibre of cyclists in NZ, but the growth of CX too, the top 7 were all within 5mins of the winner after an hour, with the others not far behind. The crowd really got into it and I pretty much had a grin on my face the entire time.
I'd like to thank the CXHB team, everyone involved in making the event such a success and for making me feel so welcome. I had an awesome time and am looking forward to heading back soon.
As always a big thanks to Giant Australia, Sram, Adidas Eyewear, 4Shaw, Schwalbe, Creux and Champ-Sys.
Worrells, the SRAM distributor helped out with bits and pieces at the race, which made life alot easier. Thanks guys!