NZCC tour wrap.   Best laid plans of mice and men and all that.

You plan a tour for months. The careful dileberation of travel plans, accommodation, licences and so on. Each component is checked and rechecked to avoid unecessary stress upon arrival. Ideally, the team arrives, races, eat and sleeps, win and loses then goes home satiated and spent. It never works out the way you think.

words – Josh Prete
photography – Daniel Rosenthal

It was the day before we were to leave for the New Zealand Cycle classic when disaster struck. On his way to the Muz, strong man Callum O’Sullivan of Bardon crashed heavily and broke his collarbone. Before it had even begun, it felt as if our trip was already doomed to fail. Our saviour came in the form of Elliot Kippen. The diminutive ex-student and current housemate of Callum’s was able to throw all his plans out the window and in the matter of hours went from probably going to the pub on Sunday to staring down the barrel of an international cycling tour. Slowly the dust settled after that tumultuous day, and by the time we got to the airport and settled into the Virgin Lounge we were able to gather ourselves and look forward to the week ahead. Cobra9-Intebuild racing, the ragtag bunch of misfits from Brisbane, were on their way to a UCI Tour.

Our team for the tour was Dugald Macarthur, Nathan White, Mitch(ell) Neumann (who was adored by Virgin Australia for this mild full name oversight), Elliot and me, Josh Prete. To support our weary bodies and bikes was Stephen Small (Biggie Smalls), creator of the best damn workstands in the world, Wurkstand.  Alongside Biggie Smalls was Dan Rosenthal (Bear), the bearded man. He jumped on the C9 express to take epic photos and make us look way cooler than we actually are on social media.

Travelling overseas for racing involves flying, and flying involves airports. Airports are interesting places full of interesting people, and we crossed paths with one when Dugald broke the passport machine in customs. Whether it was his typical casual indifference that ended that machines functionality we will never know. As we waited in line for the machine to be fixed an older well-dressed gentleman with a classical English accent sat near us and began to speak loudly on his mobile phone. He had just been refused entry into New Zealand. “It was 20 odd years ago, you know” he said in an English drawl flooded in disbelief. He continued, “The questionnaire on the flight asked if I had been removed from a country and I didn’t want to lie”. Our attention peaked, and we listened closely to his every word. “It was quite long ago, and the details are hazy, all I know is I was asked to leave Thailand”. “It doesn’t even matter now” he continued, “I have no inclination whatsoever to return there”. By this point, passengers were exiting the security check and re entering the growing line to hear more of the bemused conversation laced with huge servings of moral high ground. Soon after that our passport machine began working again and we had to leave the world’s most interesting man behind, condemned to a life spent in Wellington Aiport’s customs centre. The experience left us confused and wanting to know more. Why had this well dressed English man been unceremoniously kicked out of Thailand? Why was he so calm? What had he done? This story may seem irrelevant in a race report, but it was a major talking point for us throughout the tour and whenever I felt really horrible during the race, I’d just think about what in god’s name that well dressed Englishman did to get kicked out of Thailand.

We were then able to spend a few relaxing days acclimatising in Wellington, riding our bikes, and attempting to eat curries that could strip the lining from a steel lung. All the while, Elliot’s potential ride in the tour hung in a delicate balance dependant upon paperwork back across the Tasman and a one day dead line. A few measured phone calls from Dugs and it was done. Elliot was in. A couple of handshakes were dished out whilst Elliot’s demeanour alternated between relief and consternation.

On to Masterton we went, where we joined up with the rest of the race. The organisation looked after us superbly. We had a bountiful buffet each night, spacious rooms overlooking the pool and sunny, warm weather. The next day we rode some of the first stage, and we were all feeling optimistic about our chances calmly describing the hills as not worthy of too much concern. Bit of wind though? Should be sweet.

Now, to the racing. I think it can only be described as a baptism of fire for our little team, albeit one that will serve us well for the coming years racing. The courses were brutal, the teams were organised and the commissaires were harsh. Strong winds tore the peloton to pieces over the first 3 days of racing. Crosswinds offer a challenge that is as mentally draining as it is physically. You have to be on your toes the whole stage, otherwise you risk hitting a pothole while you’re in the gutter and coming down at 50k/h, or worse you’ll be dropped 20k in and face 100km on your Han Solo all the way home. The only way to get better at these sorts of races is by throwing yourself in the deep end. Unfortunately with the high quality of teams at this race it wasn’t the deep end, it was the Mariana Trench. 20km into stage 1 was our first encounter with these horrendous winds. We tore out of town with a beautiful tailwind, but that would soon change. We turned back on ourselves and entered the circuit we were to complete 3 times. It was a block headwind for a little while and the race was relatively peaceful, it lulled us into a false sense of security. Then we turned left, and the race exploded spectacularly. Echelons lined the road as everyone scrambled for wheels. We were all too far back, and could only look up the road and watch as Condor-JLT powered away from us with a handful or riders hanging grimly on to the back.

We all managed to chase back on eventually, hopping from bunch to bunch until we were at the front of the race. Elliot had a particularly scary moment as he navigated his way through the race convoy. The team car he was following suddenly slammed the brakes on, and Elliot hit the back of the car and went dangerously close to getting tangled up with the tow bar. The driver of the car tracked us down after the race to find out who had hit the back of his car. Elliot sheepishly owned up, and prepared himself for an onslaught of abuse about the damage he had done to the back of this poor mans car. “Let me shake your hand” the man said, “I have no idea how you bloody kept that up!” We were beaten to a pulp in those crosswinds but mark my words, we will be stronger because of it.

The first day of respite from the crosswind was the fourth stage. Unfortunately for us this stage was also the queen stage, which was viciously lumpy throughout and finished up a climb called admirals hill. It was bloody hot, and the 150kms were raced at an incessant pace. One Procycling went to the front in the run in to the base of admirals, and put a huge amount of pressure on what was left of the peloton. Mitch and I didn’t position ourselves well at all during this and suffered because of it. Somehow Mitch climbed his way back through all the riff raff and finished in an excellent 12th. Mitch will hate me saying this, but he can be a world-class climber, and while 12th is a solid result, it does not even begin to do justice to his talent. Expect big things from him this year.

All in all, the team has come out of this tour a hell of a lot more experienced, and with the knowledge of how good races can be when we work together as a team. It’s going to be an exciting year for Cobra9-Intebuild Racing, and this is just the beginning.

A huge thanks to our unbelievable sponsors Cobra9, Intebuild, Attaquer, Colnago, POC, 4Shaw, The Odyssey Project, The Pedaler Cyclery, Wurkstand, Megabake and Skratch Labs. Jorge Sandoval, Thank you for having us, you really know how to put together a bloody hard race!

Josh