Thanks to punching out post race logistics and getting plugged back into the matrix, the HTRR for Day 4 is now more of a luke-warm to cold scenario compared to the rest of the Volcanic efforts. The flip side to that however is how spicy the final day on the Epic was! Parental warning – Today features some actual racing!

Back into Vegas for the final day in the promised pumice lands, a particularly visceral 43km’s awaited us, especially when you consider that it was front loaded with most of the 1,300m of climbing coming early on:

With the Cougar park scenario milking me more than I had anticipated, and that I was now swimming well outside my fitness lane heading into Day 4, it was unclear if Day 4 would bring a Boom or Bust outcome.

The strategy was to generally burn the boats and ride like there was no tomorrow – Assuming I had the physical capacity to do so. But first things first, it was time to rectify the mistakes of Day 3 by getting a better grid slot and avoiding the fisting from a back row start. 40 mins prior to go time and I was 69% successful in achieving that, many people had the same plan:

I also had a number etched in my brain like Rain man – 4213. As the Lizard taught me back in the day, always head into any stage race with the number of your closest competitor in your head. In this case, I was lying in 17th overall in M40, and I’ve never wanted a fucking 16th place more than this in my life. 4213, whom I had reduced to a mere number in my mind, was lying 30 seconds in front of me, after a 2 min beating the prior day in Tokoroa as I choked on the shorter and faster pace situation.

Now I was back on the adopted wannabe home soil of Rotorua, it was time to hit back. A near perfect start helping the cause, and not even the dismount panic of a brew of Banditos being funnelled into the Dodzy Skills Park climb ruffled me, given I’d got into the top 20% of the wave from the gun.

First climb out of the way and after navigating ‘The Wash’ and heading out to the ‘Apumoana’ climb things were going suspiciously well… I felt… Well, fucking great.

There was also the added bonus of having The Professor out on course cheering things on, as I set about dousing myself in lighter fluid and playing with matches, toying with this unusual feeling of strength and pace at a time when I thought I might be totally finger blasted.

Was it the non-happy ending Thai massage the day before? The Pirate sashimi boat with The Creator? The stomach churning recovery protocol? Or just the froth of being back on Faux Home trails? Who the fuck knows, but I was relishing being on a pace that didn’t resemble singletrack kill.

After navigating the second big climb of the day on ‘Apumoana’, #bestclimbever, I let the inner Enduro monkey out on ‘Te Poaka’, which on an XC bike is an absolute ripping situation to get involved with. The trail itself is masterful art, the surface was perfect and the Blur 4 obliged with not only Banditogasim vibes, but also a personal record time wise as we threw recovery to the wind and went full gas with the lads from Whangamata in a train that would almost be too much for Pornhub.

There was a price to all that ridiculous mid-race frothing – Straight into the Direct Road climb and I began to impersonate a boat anchor. Yes, that 7kg’s I mentioned in the Mission Briefing came to the fore on this beast of a climb which specialises to exposing the nudity of those trying to fake their form.

Around the middle of this climb, where it flattens off before kicking again before ‘Frontal Lobotomy’, a sole rider slowly ground past me. I looked up to see the number on their jersey… 4…2…1…3. Muthafucka. I didn’t breath a word or react, my unrequited nemesis right in front of me.

All I had to do was sit on him and then find a way to beat him by 30 seconds or so in order to steal that highly prized and deeply mediocre 16th place. To my dismay, and to the sound of a couple of inner alarms, his back wheel gradually worked its way from my desperate grip and then eventually eyes.

Fucking fuck… Now was the time to stay calm, deep breaths and try to stabilise. I felt like I crawled up Frontal Lobotomy, but Strava later confirming that it was both my 41st time up there, but also my second fastest ever, which did not feel plausible at that time. The relief of cresting the final big climb of the day was countered by the empty track in front of me, was my beautiful 16th place a lost dream?

Into the top section of ‘Corners’ downhill, smoking one of the pairs teams in the process, I then popped out onto the gravel road which links to the next section and in front of me the Bandito cycling gods had left me a gift… 4213! Holy shit… And double holy shit, he appeared to be going slower than my no-fucks-left closure speed.

I took hold of that dirty shank and thrust as I dived into the next section, determined to buy myself as much time as possible before the bottom. In spite of Corners being rougher than the Rodfather’s nutsac after another Otago Rail Trail lap, I took every cut line and squeezed every second out of that derelict trail as I possibly could (Someone get Corners both some tree cover and a bulldozer please!).

I was now in an odd space – Any pain in my legs was gone… They were spinning freely and my mind was oddly focused for someone who has the attention span of a Rat scrolling Gram reels. Oh my fucking god, I was actually Racing... So this is what it felt like!

Ramming another gel into an already fucked intestinal tract I set about ‘Old Chevy’ with a pair of pliers and a blow torch. I know we’ve had our media feed force fed with a certain new Groupset drop recently, but I subjected that XTR Hyperglide Plus chain to absolute fucking torture through ‘Old Chevy’ and it did not miss a beat.

In my head, I had worked out that 4213 may have been struggling on the more Technical terrain and it was time to go balls deep in building up and advantage. As ‘Old Chevy’ and then ‘Yellow Brick road’ disappeared under the Blur at a rate that seemed implausible to me, it became clear what was going on – I was having the perfect race. Well, as close to perfect as I could have hoped for on Day 4 of an event I had hoped to make it through in survival mode.

Full gas up ‘Pig’ (No, not the Rodfathers dating strategy from the 90’s), ‘Turkish’ and ‘New Exit’ and I could both feel the adrenaline and final cold coke in my mouth. A quick look back at the top of ‘Turkish’ revealed I had a clean pair of heels – But with the last 5kms or so on bike path to the finish, there was no taking my flat feet off the throat.

I did manage to hook up with a pairs crew who were smashing it to get a tow, which led to mild comedic disaster when they full gas missed the corner, and like a lemming on meth I dutifully followed, captured here on camera. Bandito Yard Sale:

A panicked recovery and a leg wrecking effort to the end in the 10T cog and I was across the line in 2.45… I stood and waited… And waited… finally, some 4.5 minutes later, 4213 arrived and 16th place on GC was sealed. Never has such a mid-pack result meant so much to so few.

If you’re wondering why I am describing this like a World Cup Podium result, let’s distract from that point with some data points from the final Volcanic outing:

  • Results wise – 17th out of 47 in M40, which felt like it was lower than I rode, but still the second best result of the week
  • Numbers wise – 44km’s, 1,214m of climbing and 2 hours 46 mins ride time. Contextually, M40 winner did it in 2.19. Fastest pair of Matt Wilson and Cam Jones did it in 1.59… LOL
  • Mental torture wise – The final day varied… In the singletrack I was around a 3/10 given how fucking well it was going, but on the gravel climbs I was closer to an 8/10. Direct road the most torture, especially as I was powerless watching 4213 fuck off up the road.

So, that final day was as close to a perfect XC race as I can remember having to be honest – Slight gravel road issues aside, what an absolute fucking blast of a final day and I rode off with the stoke as high as it’s ever been in the Bandito stakes. 16th overall in M40 Solo in the end absolutely exceeding very low expectations, fucking cheers:

A massive shout out and thanks to Tim Farmer and the whole Volcanic GC crew for putting on one great event, and dealing with a whole host of random events throughout. This event is absolutely going to become a classic anchor point in the Bandito calendar, so don’t hang about for the 2024 entries if any of the hot take shit I’ve thrown at your eyes this last week has appealed.

Huge thanks also to The Hub, who had the Blur 4 running super smooth all week – Bike was legit fucking awesome and the past week has provided me with plenty of ammo and points to finally write that long delayed review post soon.

Thanks to those that made it this far – Time for the off season and to catch up on a few posts that have been going off in the oven, so stay tuned for those.

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