Saturday, 23 July 2016

PPIHC - Sunday - Race to the Clouds 1

Been back at work... nose to the grindstone. The race write-up was done in pieces while I travelled... so it got kinda long. Here is part 1:

Sunday 26th June, 01h30. My alarm wakes me from dreams of mountains, sky and a single track going up. With sleepy eyes in the hushed, warm stillness of the suburbs, we get our stuff together and we’re out the door by 02h00. 02h15 and we hit the back of the queue which is already down to the turn-off a mile or so from the park gate and a few hundred yards along the route 24 dual carriage-way.

We crawl to the intersection then on the climb up to the gate. Spectators are being waved off the entrance roadway along the way and into a big parking lot for ‘Santa’s Workshop’ – a creepy, bizarre Santa theme park. I guess it makes sense in winter when covered in snow… but having a ‘Pensioners Day’ at over 30 degrees in summer is just weird. By 03h00 we’re through the gate and climbing the few miles to the race paddock.

We find the bike paddock – a rough clearing on the side of the road just before the car paddock (the dirt has been graded flat for the cars). Head and hand-held torches pierce through the dust like light-sabres. We are directed by one of these waving sabres to a small space – I get in okay and drive into the rough ground as far as I can, stopped by a big log. We have space behind to offload and not block the road.

We unload the bike and get her setup. It’s a strange atmosphere. Trucks, vans and cars everywhere… moving, backing-up, parking. Crowds everywhere… crew, organisers, spectators. All moving in some sort of hushed, organised, chaos. We make sure everything is set before the roll-call, rider’s briefing, morning prayers and then driver’s briefing. We curl up in the quiet warmth of the van to try get some more sleep.

I wake when it’s already light, the edge of the van door digging a crevasse into my back. “Uuuugh… “. I move around to try get comfortable. No chance of that. I am thinking to get up and about, stretch the stiffness outta my bones and see what the craic is in the paddock when Travis appears at the window. “Morning!”

Travis was at a friend’s wedding the night before and then still gets up early, rides through the queues and crowds to get to the paddock by 06h00 to help out. The Man is a legend in so many ways.

By 06h30 the stream of spectators going up the mountain is thinning out. “Paul?” “Here!” - Roll-call. I’ve never had roll-call at a race meeting before. Rider’s Briefing: “Course looks good. One of the Squadra Alpina will go up before we start and report back on conditions. Have a good run and stay safe.”
Morning prayers led by Doug Chestnutt – short and sweet, followed by some shit coffee from the burger van at the start line. Tyre warmers on, pickup our transponder then to Driver’s Briefing. Notes about the running order, conditions and safety. Double check everything on the bike… check all my gear. Go through the course map and an on-board refresher as we wait for the 08h30 start.

Before the start, Carlin Dunne from Squadra Alpina goes up the course and reports back: wet and icy through the last few turns. There is a 45 minute delay to the start. This year they are trying a new ‘Hot Grid’ system for the bike start. 20 bike ‘garages’ under awnings and with power for tyre warmers are setup along the road leading to the start line – all setup courtesy of Ducati USA. Thanks guys! The first 20 bikes are setup there and as they start, the subsequent starters fill the garages. Being in the Heavyweight class, we’re one of the last bikes away.

The first runners start… every 2 minutes or so, another bikes blasts off the start line. Our garage opens up and we wheel the bike up and get her back on tyre warmers - she’s never had her boots so toasty! There is a red flag and proceedings come to a halt. We wait it out under the awning. Even that early in the morning, the sun is harsh… would be unbearable in leathers with no shade. The garages are also fenced off from the public… apparently in years past it was always quite hectic, packed with punters jostling around while you were trying to focus under the blazing sun. This new setup is good.

Eventually things get going again and the riders ahead start moving up to the start line. I keep stretching, keeping lose and relaxed and start focussing on the job at hand. I think through the first sequence of turns. Get my mind into gear. No sighting lap… just roll onto the start line and go from zero to bat-shit in a few seconds. A bit like the TT.

“Have a good one… GO FAST!” I say to the three Heavyweight riders ahead of me. I give my wife a hug and kiss – she wishes me luck. Helmet and gloves on.


Ant and Travis get the Big Red Duck started up, off her warmers and ready in the hot-grid lane. I swing a leg over her. Go-fast wishes and fist-pumps all round. Then I’m bimbling down the spectator-lined hot-grid lane to the start line. Phud-phud-phud-phud-phud-phud… the big girl from Modena is about to get a thrashing of her life for the next 12 miles. I hope she’s up for it… I am.

The starter is waiting for me. I stop 5 meters from the start clock – another new thing for this year. The starter looks me in the eye and nods. I nod back. He points the green flag at me and then at the clock… the count-down starts. 10… 9… I flip my visor down and make sure it’s locked in place… 8… 7… I make sure my glove straps are secure… 6… 5… I prod the gear lever a few times to make sure she’s in first gear… 4… 3… I slowly let out the clutch just to the point of dragging… 2… 1… I start feeding her throttle… 0… the light goes green.

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