despite having enjoyed a few beers in the Wobbly Kea ( a 'Kea' is species of mountain parrot, with an appetite for destruction and an apparent taste for bits of car ) i woke early and headed outside for a run up to the Devils Punchbowl waterfall before breakfast. The sky was perfectly clear the moon and stars shining brightly just before dawn. It was damn cold in the shadow of the mountains, which covered the valley-based village until late morning.
Preparing to ride out at about 8am, everyone was wearing pretty much all of their clothing. Promises that we'd be warm before long as the road 'undulated' somewhat all the way to Porters pass (actually higher than Arthurs but less steep when approached from this direction) were sufficient to convince me to discard my jacket before pedalling out, but hell I was frozen - it really felt too cold to ride to this fair weather cyclist! the air was crisp with the dry taste of snow, finger tips burning with cold and too stiff to apply brakes. Legs numb as i pedaled hard to stick with the group, who were descending faster than i was willing to in my near-cryogenic state. eventually we emerged for the mountain's shadow and into the warmth of another beautiful day. Kim Mary and I spent another hour or so riding together past the snow fields, soaking up the last portion of this epic ride across the country and back, played 'sprint for the line' and had a little dig up Craigieburn Cutting for KOM - an unexpectedly steep little poke in the bum after yesterday's ordeals but fortunately much a shorter climb. Roll over the other side to stage finish. Removal of excessive clothing, it's turned into a nice hot day, though there's still the taste of dry snow in the air up there.
Following stage is Porters Pass, height of about 950m, though we're already pretty high and the climb from this direction is pretty gradual and so the group rides it fast. i'm hanging in, enjoying watching teams work together and maneuver their riders around as they complete the deciding stages of the Tour. It been noted the previous day that the team prize was potentially in the hands of a B-grade team, giving some of the guys in A grade teams reason to ride a bit smarter, but meant that our Grade had good reason to ride hard and work toegther over every stage. The maneuvers of the pack often left me on the front...and i know that's invariably when something is about to happen which will not be of benefit to me! But, from my point of view me it's all good fun so i'm happy to be there and watch the moves. we race up the final steepening of the pass and i roll straight over, knowing that its a very steep descent and i'm pretty nervous about descending on this bike. It's a long time before anyone follows me down which seems a bit odd. Later on at dinner, I learn why - someone is taking what is known as "the Porter's Plunge" and we are treated to video footage of his nude 70kph descent form the top of the pass! Throughout the tour there have been a film crew collecting footage for a documentary for SkySports. They'll have some great, scenic footage and hopefully managed to capture the sense of good spirit and challenges of this event.
The very last item on the adgenda is a 25km TTT along the Old West Coast Road. After my failed attempt to hang in for even a moment of the team time trial on the first day, I was keen to do better and enjoy the very last stage of the tour with my super fast team-mates. By now it's quite clear that Team Scotty Brown were not a realistic threat for the team prize and so, knowing how gutted i was about missing out last time, Steven was keen to try to ride the fastest time as a four (rather than drop the weaker rider for a faster time as three). But, there was another prize at stake - beating Team Rolf Prima would win them the Dan McDonald perpetual TTT trophy and heaps of Kudos. So, it was agreed they'd ride for the fastest time - with me hanging in as long as possible! After all, It was only because i was the last rider and messed up my start that i got dropped last time, so i should be ok on 2nd or 3rd wheel. We were last to start,1 minute behind the fully aero Rolf Prima four. I lead out, hard, and got us started off nice and fast before rolling back, Richard kept the pace steady as he took the front. Once i'd connected to Steven's wheel, i yelled "ON" and the signal was passed forward letting Richard know it was ok to squeeze the pace a bit. After his turn, he rolled out right and his father Dave took over....the pace was fast and exciting, but i was feeling quite comfortable and even looking forward to Steven's turn on the front as i felt i could handle it a bit faster. When that time came though, there was less draft, and possibly a surge of speed for Steven . Either way, I lost a few inches and had to call back " EASE" - he did- "ON" - and he's off again. Too hard. "EASE" i'm shouting as best i can whilst riding 350W but it seems he cant hear me, and is not looking under his wheel to note i'm not there. Too much space and the whole chain would be ruined so i pull right, out of the line, and signal for Richard to come through and gap up to Steven's wheel. Of course that's when Steven does a quick under-the-legs check, sees a wheel and since it appears that I'm back on, pushes the pace. Which makes it impossible for me to get back on the back of the line....and so after 2 min of fun, i'm TT-ing solo into the headwind of the Old West Coast Road for the next 12 miles. The very last rider home. Not my idea of fun, in fact close to my idea of pure hell, but i have done this enough in training last year and so get my head down and push all i have left in my legs, motivated by the idea that, should any of my team mates have a problem and pull out, mine would be that 3rd wheel. I have to admit that as the effort went on and my spirit weakened, and i started to hope for this - that'd show them they should've waited for me!
Well, last rider over the finish i was...and things very quickly seemed to be packed up and moving on in order that everyone could get home, showered and changed and out for the awards evening at Crown Plaza, one of the posh hotels in Christchurch.
A very nice evening to round off a superb cycling experience.
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