Your Cart is Empty

Edition Zero

21 February 2024

Words: Emma Bateup
Photos: Emma Bateup & Dominic Blissett

The weekend started on Thursday evening after work, cutting down an eBike box to avoid oversize baggage charges. Perks of traveling with a gravel bike; it packs down small and light. I managed to get everything I needed for the weekend into the box and a carry-on backpack, success.

I woke up bright and early on Friday to head to the airport, and was all checked in by 6:30am for my 8:15am flight, no worries! Landed in Christchurch to a chilly southerly and was picked up by Scott from Smith Optics. Built up my bike and cruised across town (with a few unintentional detours from getting lost) for lunch and a catch up at Ground Effect. Scott and I headed south to Waimate for rego and more catchups, then on to Oamaru to join the rest of team Smith at our Airbnb. Carb loading and final bike and gear prep filled in the rest of the evening, along with some healthy tyre pressure and fuelling banter. Off to bed for a restless night.

Awake and in the car before five, knocking back a packet of rice and tuna on the way to the start. The tradie starts over the last wee while have paid off. Parked up and into kit sort, dropped drop bags off, one last toilet stop (lasted me for 11hrs, maybe not healthy but efficient), off to briefing, stuffing all pockets chocka with snacks. Starting pack-less to allow for changing layers. Rolled through to the startline and managed to squeeze my way into one of the first rows, completely unnecessary, ah well.

Photos: Dominic Blissett

Off we went, neutral for a bit then a bit surgy but still a pretty chill pace. I hadn’t experienced a bunch like that on gravel before: dusty, stones flying up and the changing surface made following a wheel harder than on the road. Not that I’d had much experience of that lately either! A small crash in the middle of the bunch caused some chaos and made being in the group more stressful. I didn’t stay for much longer, getting popped off on a rough uphill just over an hour in and not fighting to get back on. I spent a bit of time briefly with other racers, working together in a small group but found that my body was still warming up and wanted to keep the hills a bit slower to avoid blowing up like other recent races.

Photo: Dominic Blissett

I settled into my own pace and made my way towards the first aid station. Rolled in, probably got in the way, grabbed my hydration pack and two fresh bottles, rolled out. There were a few others around me so I decided I’d cruise the next bit and get a group to work with, until I saw another group further up the road so decided that pushing to catch them would be a better option than waiting for the riders right behind me. I never caught the group ahead but within the next hour the riders behind caught me on the rolling hills, riding together for periods but the undulating nature of the terrain made sitting on a wheel hard and I still ended up alone a lot.

I came down a descent into a T-intersection, looking at my watch on my bars figuring out which way to turn I hit a heap of braking bumps, and then dodged the multiple bottles sitting in the corner. I headed into the next straight with a sigh of relief, at least my chain was still on and I still had my bottles. I looked down to double check, chain yes, bottles no. I started to slam on the brakes to go back to get them but decided the water in my pack should get me through to the next aid station. And 1.5 less kgs to carry didn’t sound like a terrible idea as we approached the first pass.

Photo: Dominic Blissett

Onto one of the sealed climbing sections as we worked our way up to the Mackenzie Pass and a mate of a mate caught up to me and we rode together chatting, working our way closer to a group ahead. I was planning on sitting in with this group for a while but as we caught them I spied another woman in it and realised that we were climbing at a fairly comfortable pace so said hi to Judy and kept going past, joined by one of the group members. We grinded up the final climb to the pass, in the granny gear and briefly contemplated whether I could get off and walk (most definitely not). Sped down the other side and rolled along with the boys snacking and admiring the view of the distant mountains. I've since learnt one was Aoraki/Mt Cook, how lovely. I made the mistake of sitting on the front down one of the straights and was too scared of the deeper gravel to rotate out so found myself stuck there until we hit sealed road, hope they didn’t mind. As we went past a water station they both stopped and my short lived company ended.

A bit of speedy sealed road then onto the worst false flat in the race, it took me a while to realise that I was climbing. It also took me a while to get along the road. I eventually got over the next pass, this one with not as much company except Jack, who I’d been riding with earlier, caught and passed me, I caught back up along the next flatter section and we rode to the next aid station together. I also timed my water perfectly, running out about 15 minutes shy.

Once again I kept things quick, chain lubed, grabbed my other hydration pack and a bottle, then spied some lollies on the table, stuffed some of those in my mouth, and some chips too, what a combo. Out of there. Onto a long sealed road section, getting a heap of food and water in. Then questioning whether I was going the right way, seemed like a lot of nice road, the gpx said yes.

Photo: Dominic Blissett

Photo: Dominic Blissett

As I neared the next gravel section I could see a group catching up from behind so I kept things cruisey and they caught me as we started up the next climb. It was great to ride with them for a bit then I started dying a slow death as it got steeper and absolutely crawled along my way to the top of Meyers Pass, solo once again as I dropped down the other side. Food was a priority as I descended, very aware that I still had close to 50km left. The wind was picking up as I got down to the rolling flats and unfortunately ended up a headwind most of the way home, definitely wishing I’d stuck in a bunch!

Came into the final climbs lacking the motivation to push so they dragged on and on. Finally rolled over the top and enjoyed the final descent knowing it was all downhill (kinda) to the finish. Back onto some sealed roads and treated to a wee tailwind for the last few k’s into Waimate, in for the two finish laps of the velodrome and crossing the line after 10hrs and 26 minutes in the saddle. What a day. My left foot suddenly became excruciatingly painful to stand on so I hobbled my way over to a seat to take my shoes off, then hobbled my way to get changed. Prize-giving and food done then back south to Oamaru for a well deserved shower, pizza and sleep.

Photo: Dominic Blissett

A cruisey start to Sunday, packing up, eating, then back up to Christchurch for the afternoon. A wee leg spin in the sun then packing up my bike box and off to the airport. A lovely clear flight home with brilliant mountain views was the perfect end to a great weekend!