Pioneer hits the Alex trails for the Queen Stage

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Why is it that we only crash when things are great? All those awful, cold, wet grovels where you’d pay good money for a legitimate Out, nothing. Nothing goes wrong. Except maybe a flat tyre, but that’s fixable. Now when you’re ripping through trails, performing well, loving it – that’s when life deals you a joker.

Imogen Smith MarathonMTB Pioneer NZ

And so it was that today, after a fabulous start and sitting with a great group from the front of start block B, having an amazing time in the Alexandra trails, I clipped an invisible, malevolent rock with my pedal, got catapulted a metre into the air, then landed on my right hip. Then rolled around on the ground moaning for a bit, prompting Mike to hit the ‘assistance please’ button on his GPS tracker. Not the emergency button, mind you. He was very clear, mid crisis, to follow procedure to the letter and make sure everyone was aware of as much.

So my right leg wasn’t working but I managed to get upright and lean forward over a rock. Then I removed half my kit to inspect the damage. It really doesn’t help that the one big accident I’ve had I damaged the exact same part on the left hand side – cue unhelpful flashbacks and dire predictions of months of rehab and surgery and omgwhatifidie??? Etc.

Mike’s reaction in times of crisis is much like his reaction to any moderately social situation – he talks. A lot. I’m the opposite. I need to stand still and stare at the sky and think. So after a few terse words that’s what I did. Minutes ticked by with Mike dancing from foot to foot offering me water, a massage, and a helicopter. Eventually I decided I could coast down the final few metres of trail to the road, then get an xray.

But of course, by the time I got there, I had realised I could pedal without too much agony and although all the muscles in my right hand side had clenched up, making it a bit hard to steer, I could still ride. And who wants to spend a day in emergency getting stressed in a foreign (sortof) country and missing out on just the best riding ever. And we’d been going so well. Never mind that in the 10 minutes we’d been stopped we’d lost our amazing start. We would finish and write ourselves a glorious narrative of triumph over adversity.

We kept going.

We came to the nice switchback climb to the top of Flat Top Hill. We eventually passed a couple of mixed teams who were so lovely and friendly that I felt better and kept going. Then we came across women’s team of Hannah and Erin. More friendly words. We carried on.

Stage Two took us up to Flat Top Hill on a great new climb.

By the time we got to the top I’d worked out a lopsided way of handling the bike and could manage the descent. Happy days. We went through the feed zone (10km later than expected, but that was probably a good thing). I didn’t stop. More familiar faces and I’d started feeling a lot better.

Imogen Smith MarathonMTB Pioneer NZ

A wonderful descent, then a series of two kilometre climbs that weren’t too bad, and gave us the opportunity to make up a bit more time. I had an awful mishap where I looked behind me, overlapped Mike’s wheel, and crashed on my sore side into a bank, groaning and yelling and frankly upsetting the master’s riders we’d been chatting with, who promptly rode away. We worked our way back over some super steep pinches, down through an orchard section, then into the climb from hell. The most horrific, steep beast with a squishy crumbly surface mitigated only by tractor tyre ruts. And God did it go on. And on. And on. And damn well nearly broke us, as did the fact that the feed zone we expected at the top was not at the top, but at the bottom – and clearly marked so on the race profile we’d forgotten to stick onto our bikes, but won’t forget again.

Imogen Smith MarathonMTB Pioneer NZ

The descent was good

Oh but there was a descent – an enduro trail with some slightly gnarly bits which we enjoyed a lot! We even caught up to another mixed team who really graciously let us straight through, but who, unfortunately, caught back up to us and passed us at the bottom. Never mind. There were 16km to go and all signs pointed to us making it. We TTed the cycle path, arguing on and off to alleviate the boredom, then suffered through a 10km loop of the airport which, I assumed, must lead to some amazing trails, but on reflection I suspect was added to make the Queen stage a nice round 100km. Oh and on the last sandy hairpin I face planted and rolled 10 metres down the hill. Mike threatened to press his Non Life Threatening Emergency Button again, but I was fine. My mouth was full of sand and I was kinda pissed by this point, but otherwise fine.

Michael Vink and Tim Rush won the men’s event, and Amy Hallamby and Kate McIllroy. Full results are available online.

I got checked by a medic. Hip badly bruised. It hurts a lot and my hip flexors are not really working that well, but I’m proud we finished. This race hasn’t been that kind to Mike and me but today we got a taste of good race feels. It was only for the first 10km until I crashed, but it was so intoxicating that it carried us all the way to the finish. And by finishing today, we’ve given ourselves three more chances for them to reappear.

Back to the start line tomorrow.

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