The final round of the PNP MTB series was back at Makara Peak MTB park. Some awesome trails, but all looping all over the show and real hard to navigate without local knowledge. Most of the big guns had turned up in the crusties class (40 years +) except for Simon Kennett and Rob Kilvington. I think it was very close in points between Karl Ratahi and Brett Irving for the overall series, so Karl was amped.
The gun went off and the under 19, senior men and 40 plus were all off together. My protoge Tom Bradshaw just took off like it was a short course race with a couple of other 17 year olds in tow. Half expecting them to blow up with youthful exuberance I jumped on their tails to put time and riders between me and my competition on trails I was not overly familiar with.
After about 5 minutes Karl caught me from behind. I shadowed him for the first part until we came out of a trail and confronted with the alphabet soup signage at the first major turn, he went the wrong way. I yelled out and he was back on my tail until I let him through again as he was clearly riding the techie stuff faster than I was.
At some point we came out of the single track onto some wide open 4wd and a look behind saw the omenous vision of Geoff Knotman on his new carbon forked single speed 29er, grinding up the track behind me as he wrestled his crazy gear. He has great starting speed and had put some time on the other crusties. Karl and I worked together a little, but he was not holding back at all and eventually pulled away up the 4wd climb.
Into the first bit of single track I missed the turn and a senior got in front of me, slowing me down a bit on the reverse Aratahi trail. I attacked him once out of the single track and never saw him again. Next up was into the Leaping Lizard descent with its high-speed whoops, and the best part, the rough rutted Lower Leaping Lizard which comes out onto the Possum Bait trail. This was followed by a series of ultra-tight switch-back climbs that can only be ridden with 100% concentration. I only muffed one of them. I had no idea how far ahead Karl was, but we still had a long way to go.
The trails just went on and on. There was a lot of climbing on tight rough rocky trail, but thankfully, very few back-markers in the way. After that and it was into some wind-blown and open descents. I made a 50-50 call on an unmarked corner. It was the right call and eventually I was back onto a very open climb to the park summit.
A big descent came after this, and it was a long time between track markers, so when I came across two, pointing in opposite directions, on opposite sides of the trail I wasnt sure if I was lost or what the story was. I stopped for a while and eventually saw Clive Bennett grinding up the hill from the opposite direction, and asked him which way. Clive put me straight and it was race on again. Jonty Ritchey who was racing elite caught me from behind and we shot out onto the tarseal of Makara road for a bit. We then hung a left for a 6 minute granny gear climb up a piece of 4wd. This was Jontys 2nd ascent and I was only doing the one so I managed to sneak past him at about half way through the climb. Out onto Varleys or Zacks track, not sure which, and the gale-force wind was playing havoc on our fastly diminishing single-track skills.
Jonty passed me back and disappeared down the Ridgeline trail in front of me. I couldnt see any of my fellow crustys around me so just tried to hold my gap on unfamiliar trails. 5 mintues later and I came out of the single track.... there was no signage to tell me which way to go!
I was getting pretty frustrated at this point as I knew my less than stellar skills would have seen my gap on 3rd place close. Sure enough. As I waited 3rd place rider Brett Irving on his Niner 29er rolled up and knew exactly where to go! Left down Live-wires! I sat on Bretts wheel, as much as I could on the descent and we eventually burst out onto the tarseal.
I was feeling a bit gutted at having lost 2nd place so I basically sat on Bretts wheel for the next 1km and pulled out at the last second to sprint him like a roadie dog! We rolled into the finish and the next 2 or 3 guys were all in on the same minute. That was some seriously close racing.