Mitre 10 Mega MTB Race

Saturday 25th January 2020

The Mitre 10 Mega MTB race is part of the Taranaki Cycle Challenge, including the BDO Around the Mountain road race. It was a last minute/peer pressured decision to enter the 50km MTB race. I thought I’d be able to handle it and do alright, but XC (cross country) racing is so different from Enduro and it was a very different 3hrs spent on the bike!

The race starts at the start line (obviously), but its a point I keep missing and was casually chatting away while others were making their way to the front. I wasn’t too worried, as it was still a long way until we got to the single track in the forest and I’d been advise not to go off to hot with the front group. So I rode my own race along the Te Henui walkway, passing those that had sprinted off the line and were already in need of recovery. Along the road I focused on tucking in against the wind and keeping a high cadence, so as not to fatigue the legs too soon. The remote lock out lever on the LIV Pique Advanced was perfect for switching between on road and off-road terrain without any fuss.

L2R: Kim, Louisa, Steve, Me. Heading out along the road before dropping into Burgess Park.

We turned left on to Waiwakaiho road and down to the meeting of the waters, where we had to dismount our bikes and walk them down some steps and along a narrow path, before a quick re-mont to continue on through a paddock. My triathlon practise has been good for getting on and off the bike efficiently, but Louisa was clearly a bit more on to it and passed me with her husband just before we turned up Hydro road hill. Both the 50km and 30km racers started together, so I wasn’t sure who was in which race. I didn’t want to burn too many matches this early on, keeping my cadence high and breathing even as I climbed, it was over before I knew it.

Along a farmers race and through another paddock before riding along the bridal trails. I realise I should have had my first gel by now and try to remember which of my many pockets I put the caffeine ones in. With little more than 6hrs sleep last night, I’m going to need all the caffeinated help I can get! Gel in and I’m over the dam, before another discount and across a bridge then into the single track of the mountain bike park.

Pockets full and ready to go!

I’ve lost sight of Louisa, but its not long before I start catching other riders on the trails. 2 guys passed coming out of Katore Tau, another one caught early on Snakes and Ladders, then I catch a glimpse of her yellow/blue coloured jersey. I feel like I am gaining ground on the descents, then she creeps away from me again on the climbs. The final climb in Snakes and Ladders is always tough and I managed to hold it together and keep my pace steady, there is still a long way to go. No time to recover before heading straight into Highway to Hell and its not long before I’m on someone else’s tail. I try to over take at the roots before the steep right hand corner, but get caught in a queue to the corner! I need to be more vocal and assertive when I want to overtake. I clearly need to work on my climbing fitness as it was another 2 trails before the gradient was in my favour to over take again. Another 5 people passed on the rooty, technical Ridgerydoo and I go a bit harder around Lawsons Loop trying to make up some time.

Pushing up the super steep clay track next to Anti- Climb Ax, I see a flicker of yellow at the top. I didn’t know that I was chasing second, I just knew I was chasing another woman. I was hoping that she was doing the 30km, but we’d already gone past the course split and now I’m wishing I’d taken that option. Tim was at the top of the climb yelling instructions and encouragement. I felt so tired already, I almost go the wrong way! But its a down track, so I might be able to catch up.

Focused on the chase.

The mistake cost me valuable seconds and Louisa had disappeared into the distance. I was so focused on trying to catch her, I missed another opportunity for a much needed gel. There aren’t many long gravel sections at Managmahoe to recover and take on food, so you have to do it when you have the chance. Lesson learnt for next time. Up Climb-ax and pinning it down Mandatory, probably wasting precious energy, but jumps are fun. I think we go up Sup next where I can grab another gel, but Nick is pointing me towards Kiwi Mid. Bugger. Then down into HiHi and Fantail. I can see that yellow jersey again as we wind around the tight corners of HiHi, then finally a gravel road and I can take on an overdue gel.

Into Kiwi Kids and I can hear the buzz of a hub behind me. Its getting closer and I am feeling the pressure. I make my biggest mistake of the race and peel off to the side to let the rider past. Immediately are echo’s of coach Jenn in my ear; “Don’t let someone pass unless they ask to”. I just let Kim go past me, as I slip back to 4th place and inside my own head. My focus has now shifted from what is actually happening to thinking about the mistakes I’ve made so far in the race, all the advice from coaches Ryan, Jenn and Andy, and if I have it in me to catch back up to Kim. I feel I am rushing and fighting against the corners, which are not my strongest point and Kim just looks so smooth as she effortlessly rides away from me, getting lost on the many twists and turns of Kiwi Kids.

Louisa Webber, the one that got away.

Into Outhouse and a quick check of the watch, we are halfway. How can I keep going for another 25km? This is relentless torture. WTF was I thinking? I haven’t trained for this. I haven’t slept much this week and have been a bit stressed out and so my mind is playing out everything that I could have done better. Ryan is in my head giving me advice on pedalling smooth and using my gears efficiently, but I’m just getting frustrated and try to shut him up. I keep pushing on, hoping the caffeine gel will kick in soon. Coming out of Outhouse and I am passed by Anita, who yells encouragement as she powers up the gravel road into Sup. In the space of a few minutes I’ve lost sight of second place and slipped down to 5th, I even caught a glimpse of the tail end Charlie, who yells out to me to “Go get Amiee” who is way out in front! Now I am really starting to fall apart.

I feel my throat close over as my breathing becomes rapid and shallow. Worrying that you are going to have an anxiety attack, will most likely bring one on. I need to get through this and calm down quickly. A long exhale empties my lungs, a deep inhale fills them up. Now repeat 10 times. Focus on the breath. Focus on the pedals. Focus on the trail. I am back in the moment and before I know it I am turning the corner out of Sup and along the ridge track.

Kim Sutherland, enjoying a tour of Mangamahoe!

The women’s race was actually quite exciting and pretty close. Aimee Haddon was way out in front with the men, but at the mid point 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th females were all together. With only 6 females in the race, thats pretty impressive and some close racing! We are heading into the more technical trails, where I’m hoping my local advantage and downhill skills will pay off. Its not long before I come across a fallen rider on No2 DH, the most technical and steep trail of the day. Its Anita. I stop to help her up and move her bike off the track. I keep going, hoping Kim cant be too far ahead and start chasing for the podium.

Up Shuttle, then down Track the Ripper, where a guy is looking a bit lost and confused. I stupidly follow him down the wrong way, before quickly realising I’ve just come up that track and turn back to carry on down Track the Ripper, yelling at him to follow. Tim’s Triple is next, onto Rocky road and I do my best CycloCross moves to unclip and run over the tricky rocky sections, as I feel its faster than trying to ride though them and risk crashing. I’ve been going for over 2 hours now and my triathlete urges are taking over as I hop off to run again up a climb. I get a second wind as I know we are nearly out of the forest and on our way home.

I tear along the gravel road and launch into Lap it Up, around the familiar twists and turns of Million Dollar loop and down Cash Flow. I know I can make time up on the second half of this track and do my best to keep off the brakes and pump every inch I can. Onto Headrace and I can hear someone behind me. I’m not going to let them overtake unless they ask to. Its Graeme, who I was chatting to at the start and he is chatting to me now. Its not the time and I let him go ahead in to Ara Hoki so I can focus back on my riding. I made it out of the forest and along the dam before catching the tail end charlie for the 30km race.

I take my final gel and my extra water along the lake road, as the guy from Track the Ripper whizzes past me. I’m sure he’s on an E-bike! Out onto the road and I catch up to Graeme. I try drafting behind him, as we could work together and make up a bit of time. But he doesn’t want to play, so I over take him. We yo-yo back and forth before I drop him coming into the final little climb to New Plymouth. My eye is on the clock and if I keep my head down I could make it back in less than 3 hours. I do my best aero TT position and pedal with everything I have left. The headwind is not helping and I cross the line as 4th Female in 3:01:15. Graeme is not far behind, followed by Anita, who looks a bit battered and bruised but still in good spirits.

When things really hurt, just smile and wave!

I know I still have a lot to work on, especially with my nutrition and mindset. I’m not sure I have another 30 minutes in me, but maybe if I’d started nearer the front, I would have finished nearer the front. Who knows! I’d defiantly like to try and challenge Amiee next year, but that will require more focused training and a much better lead up during race week. It was great to see the women so close together, but it would be good to see a few more. Andie rounded off the womens field coming home just 15 mins later. Half of the women racing the 50km were from out of town, so local ladies you have no excuse!

It was a super tough day on the bike, but I’d kinda like to do it again…

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