Here in New Zealand – or my part of it, anyway – we have two seasons a year. Basically, we have a back-to-front system that apes the Euro calendar but for a mid year break, enforced by the general bollock-coldness of this time of year. Our season end – traditionally marked in the northern hemisphere by getting fat and staying indoors getting drunk round the fire – is here marked by getting fat and going to the beach, then getting drunk round the barbeque. The true beginning of the year – the base miles of December and January – are really rather civilised. Long, slow social rides in the height of summer, followed by early morning intervals in warm dawn light, all washed down with isotonic replacement summer ales. My excuse for a core workout involves going surfing in bathwater temperature, friendly blue waves. Bliss.
But this, the middle of the year, is a little different. An eight-week lay off presages winter – not really long enough to get horribly out of condition and give up entirely, short enough to push through. Cue storms from the deep south, weeks of forty knot winds. Roads slick with cow shit and forest debris.
Against this backdrop I’ve taken a week’s leave, time to catch up on life, a few household chores (not if I have my way), hang with the kids, and pack a bit of saddle time in. The next goal is our local classic, a hundred miler that happens in the jaws of spring, and it is, in every sense, a classic. It’s the oldest road race in NZ, there’s books written about it, and it’s always, always, bollock-shatteringly hard.
Last year I spent the five minutes before the start huddled under no shelter whatsoever being pelted with hailstones the size of my thumbnail, before setting off on the forty miles to the first turn into the teeth of a spring storm of rare ferocity. It’s a handicap, so basically a team time trial until it all blows to shit, and so there was no poncing about, no gentle neutral section, just balls out and go. After thirty miles I punctured, picked up a spare wheel, then chased for three to get back, arriving with my eyeballs hanging out on my cheeks. Two turns in the group and I was done: spat out of the back faster’n’a thruppeny whore getting rid of the taste of the village idiot. I turned round, rode back to the start in record time with the wind behind me, and chastened, applauded the finishers in, and they deserved that. The field was – well, as decimated means one in ten, that won’t do. Half-ated. Fully half the field abandoned. Another hailstorm got the remnants before the finish, and to a man they were hollow-eyed, empty, shells. I envied each of them bitterly. They had seen the worst that this race has chucked at the peloton in living memory, whereas I had quit.
And so this year, I have vowed, is to be different. I will not be on the start line this year wondering where I’ll come off: so to work. I’ll laugh at headwinds, and look forward to the final climb where it all comes apart with relish. It begins now, as it should, in the shit weather, on the rubble-strewn roads, and I’m only lying a little bit when I say that I’m looking forward to every single minute.
The Round the Mountain’s been running since 1911. It’s a great race under threat from the cost of complying to NZTA rules about racing on state highways and it needs all the support it can get. You can enter here. You won’t get the thousand-strong fields of the summer jolly – you’ll get seventy-ish riders, among who will be some of the toughest nuts in the country, legs that you’ll think will never walk again, and a memory that’ll last a lifetime. If of course, you don’t DNF.