Whitehill Windfarm Classic
After an early start (7am, for a Saturday!) we packed up our bikes and left Dunedin bang on 8.30, stopping in Balclutha at 10.30 to feast on some carbs and grab some bananas for the trip. Approaching Mossburn and seeing the windfarm, I flipped out at the sheer size and intimidating stance of the turbines! After calming down slightly, I established with Ben (much to his absolute hilarity) that the “black” ones (shaded by cloud) were evil and the white ones good, but we were both to avoid being eaten up by either...
All jokes aside, after passing Mossburn, we headed up to the windfarm site, marvelling at the size of the beasties up the hill. After a quick registration, we set our bikes up and parted our ways in an attempt to get into the race mentality. I headed off for a quick warm up spin, casing out the place and discussing the track and race strategy with Ben’s Dad, Jeff. We managed to beat the pre-briefing rush for the tinkler and met up to rip out the posers and psych each other up.
To my surprise, the starting lineup was both the short and long course field. Ben worked his way up front hoping for a strong start, and I held a modest stance in the middle of the pack. In the traditional Southern way, the race was started by a shotgun, and after a strange moment’s hesitation, we were off! The first 500m was undulating, short hill climbs, in preparation for the long slog ahead. After a tiny descent, we turned a corner and saw the 2200ft, long, hard, slog up to the top of the farm. At this point I was struggling with the demons going on in my head and was, to my absolute disgust, quite ready to turn around and DNF. It was an uphill struggle (scuse the pun!) to even attempt to comprehend this so I gritted my teeth, tried my best to block it out, and dropped into granny for some mad spinning motions!
A quick check behind me and I pulled into an optimal line. To my horror, a lady behind me, knocked my rear wheel, belted out a surprised outburst, and came off her bike. I was so shocked and remorseful I hesitated for a second, wanting to help her up, but then reason overcame me and I realised I just simply had to keep going. I checked behind after climbing around a hairpin and it made me feel better to see she was back up on the bike and going hard. I made a quick resolution in my mind to hunt her down after the race and apologise.
The 2200ft climb was bloody hard yakka and I really started to feel the pinch after about 1800ft. Somehow, Lisa’s bank concept suddenly popped into my head, and I decided it was time for a big withdrawal (cheers, Lisa!). I chucked Bella down a gear and started pushing her really hard. After a few more minutes it started becoming inefficient to ride so I hopped off the bike and ran it up until the gradient became more welcoming. I passed a fair few guys and girls in the process, which did wonders in chasing out those bloody demons lighting barbeques in my head. After the majority of the climb I was starting to feel good, getting into my groove and finally sorting out those demons. So I chopped her up into chainy2 and really dug it in. Joel’s last-minute, Friday night mechanical and technical advice of pushing my spin gears rather than struggling with the grunters kept crossing my mind and pushed me to dig it in even more. So I smiled, and dug.
After the long/short course split I was feeling pretty bloody good and just absolutely went for it. I turned a corner and 5 wild pigs skittled across the road, I should have picked em up for the Barbie. Coming up there was about an 1800ft fast gravel descent so I compressed myself into Bella and really went for it, very nearly coming a gutser numerous times. I could see the race village coming up and knew it was a matter of 800m or so to go so I picked the fast line and gave it everything I had. It was an amazing feeling hearing my name come across the speakers and people cheering for me to dig. I finished in a time of 1.09.00 clear, so had a quick spin to cool down and then returned to the finishing chute to help Ben through his last 100m. I was so happy to see him pushing hard with a giant grin on his face!
After refuelling with even more carbies and having a quick debrief with Ben and Jeff, we conveniently decided that there was no water on site (haha ;)!) and instead resorted to the Speights tent. Ben was the gentleman of the ladies and shouted us a beer each. Damn, I have never tasted anything so bloody good than that first drag of the iciest southern drop around! After a bit of a yarn to the boys and copping some stick for “knocking some poor lady off her bike” I decided to hunt said lady down.
I inquired at St John’s to ascertain whether or not she came under their care. Turns out the didn’t even know about her, which was a huge relief. In my tipsy state I chatted to a couple of ladies in blue shirts... (who turned out to be runners not bikers) then found the girl I was looking for. I asked her if she was ok and expressed my deep remorse and offered to shout her a beer, wine, sausy or a combination of all. She said, “Don’t worry about it mate” and had a good laugh. She turned out to be the local Doctor so probably could have fixed herself anyway!
Everyone started trickling in over the next hour or so, more and more results coming through which was great. We sought out shade under the MC stand and with time passing pretty quickly and everyone shouting beers, before I knew I was 3 beers down, lighter in the wallet and everything was requiring immense concentration! It was a wobbly walk to the loo, so I decided to ease up and grab some food. I continued to receive stick from everyone about knocking Doc off and I was continually reiterating that no, it was not a race tactic, and yes, she is in a different grade to me!
After the last few riders trickled in, prize-giving was announced. I was pleased to hear Ben was placed 4th man overall with a speedy time of 1:13.33 for the long course. Then came the ladies’ result for the short course, my name was announced as 1st with a time of 1:09.00. I was surprised but happy to receive the news, and ambled on up to the podium in a tipsy state.
By now news had travelled that the “Scarfie” had knocked Doc around a bit and the race organiser asked me if I wanted to say a few words about my “win”. Seizing the chance to publicly apologise to Doc, I blared out across the crowd “Hey guys, I’d really like to say a massive sorry to Doc for knocking her around, it wasn’t a race tactic, I swear!” I then attempted to make amends by saying “I offered her a beer but she doesn’t drink beer!!!?” I could see her cracking up out the corner of my eye, so gave her a big thumbs up and got a good laugh out of everyone. I received a new winter Ground Effect top and teamed up with Ben, showing him my new goods. He got a cool windproof jacket as a spot prize so we both came away with huge grins, lovely prizes and slightly wobbly strides...
Photo Courtesy Ben Shayler
All in all, it was a challenging race that reminded me just how tough racing is. It takes a hell of a lot of mental capacity, anticipation of tactics, and sheer determination to really up the anti and do your best. We put in, and came away with a lot, and had a wicked time soaking up the sweet vibes and great post-race atmosphere. After moseying around chatting with a few locals and thanking the race organisers, we packed our gear up and headed away to Te Anau for a wicked weekend of boating, tramping, riding and chilling with Jeff and Vicki.
I really enjoyed the trip with Ben, the electric race atmosphere, and chasing some serious tail up that 2200ft monster. I overcame my irrational fear of windmills (ha!), had a great race and managed to overcome some pretty gnarly demons that latched onto me at the start of the race. I felt I earned my result just by overcoming that negative space, and it was certainly refreshing to have a reality check on my ambition to race Elite within the next 4 seasons.
Dreams are free, but reality is bloody hard yakka.
But I will get there.