The Colville Connection and NZ National Marathon Champs was my first race back in New Zealand for three years, and my first event riding for our new team, Patterson Training. It's a great event, and provided the opportunity for me to win my first national title.
Andy and I had originally planned to race three events during our time here, including the final round of the National Series and the Karapoti Classic, but our plans were curtailed after I picked up a chest infection on the flight over, and we decided to stand down from the first two events and focus on the Marathon Champs. It was the right decision, as I felt strong throughout the 72km race and really enjoyed the day.
The race started at 9am on Saturday, which was a blessing as the heat gets up well over 30 Celsius during the afternoon and can be stifling on the long, dusty climbs. The race circuit runs around the edge of the Coromandel Peninsula, and is mostly dirt tracks, apart from a 15km section of technical singletrack climbing and fast, technical descending, imaginatively called The Big Hill, parts of which even the top elite men have to get off and push.
The elite women were gridded on the second row behind the elite men, so I got a good start into the first fire road climb. I rode the first part of the race trading places with Rotorua's Nina Trass, who is fast and fearless, and although I was felt I was riding pretty aggressively on the gravely descents, Nina kept catching me up. It was my climb that gave me the edge, and I finally managed to pull a few minutes gap out of Stony Bay, so that by the time we hit The Big Hill I had a good lead.
The second half of the course is mostly flat, but this section is just as tough, as the road is corrugated with washboard ruts and makes for a very long and tiring drag back into town. I was overtaken by a couple on a tandem, honking along about 35km/hr, and it was all I could do to hold their wheel for the best part of the ride around the coast.
I finished the race in 3hrs34mins, 12 minutes ahead of Nina in second place and 22nd overall out of 700 competitors. I found out later that third placed Genevieve Matthews, also from Rotorua, was riding my race bike from the National Series in 2004. Small world.
Colville is a small, rural community on New Zealand's semi-tropical Coromandel Peninsula, across the Firth of Thames from Auckland, and The Colville Connection has been run as the National Marathon Champs since 2002. As well as the full 72km championship distance, there are 42km and 24km options, and around 2,000 riders take part each year. All the proceeds from the day go to the Colville School, and this tiny rural primary school that might otherwise have been closed down now has digital whiteboards and a computer for every two pupils, all thanks to one annual mountain bike race. It's worth entering just for the good cause factor!
Andy and I now have another three weeks left Down Under in which to train and do a bit of sight seeing down the South Island before heading back to the UK for the first round of the British National Series in April. See you there!