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The Life and Times | Axel's Army
You know, your name is part of my copy and paste, I just leave it there at the top, ready for action Pfft

Apparently I'm part of the formatting in somebody else's story Grin

Anyway, I feel sorry for Joseph, I sort of know how that feels. Pfft Frown

"What done is, is one." - Benji Naesen
@trek - Me too Wink

@ALL - I've been lucky to find time here for the last few episodes, I'm on a one per night roll I'll strive to keep, touch wood for no writer's block, for the next four episodes to finish the season. After that MG tasks will (hopefully) be in swing and this will hopefully not become a month then two updates then another month, but I'll warn you before a break, probably February-time Wink

Road to Recovery

"Progress was undoubtedly shining through."

Again, another cool line. But you're reading this so it worked. The only other things I really lost were the regular things, including, as a leftie, writing. With the end-of year exams already done, perhaps it came a week late.

The only upside to the final weeks of school then, were the stereotypical cute girls who signed my cast and were interested in me. What twelve year old boy doesn't love that attention?

Two weeks into the holidays and four weeks into the arm, progress was undoubtedly shining through but not as I'd like, now the doctor's have pushed my ability to ride on the road a week back and told me not to wait up on deadlines for turbo trainer.

By now I could wiggle fingers and almost ride, the cast off in, let's make it three days. It still itched like hell and my undoubtedly pasty white and peely skin was just waiting for glorious freedom, and, after a few minutes, sunlight. Hayden had been good about it but I didn't resent him riding, I wasn't going to chuck a wobbly, as Nana would put it.

Christmas Day was great regardless of my injury, got some sweet new gloves and wind jacket, perfect for next late autumn as we don't want to go in but it's pretty fresh outdoors. Many relatives visited, we pigged out for the first time in a long while and nothing would stop me enjoying myself. The cast came off on the 27th and I took my first, tentative, pedal strokes on the indoor trainer. Well, the pedal strokes weren't tentative, but yeah.
Edited by jandal7 on 17-04-2020 07:50
Nice that this is moving quickly Grin d the Jospeh is starting to feel better. Smile

"What done is, is one." - Benji Naesen
@trek - Thanks a lot! It's certainly looking on the up for "The Joseph" Pfft
Tool of the Trade

"It was simply bliss."

The first pedal strokes were fine, just as I remembered. My grip of the handlebars was unfortunately shaky at best, sometimes i had to climb off and stop because the pain there was to great. After a few days I found a position that worked but sacrificed my performance a great deal. As the days went on I started to slowly morph it into my natural riding style but nevertheless, when I geared up for my first on-road ride since the crash, it was far from perfect.

But despite everything, getting back out there was bliss, simply bliss. Pure unadulterated bliss. I loved every goddamn painful second of it, embracing the wind in my face and the tarmac under my bike like a long-lost lover. But my riding was still abnormal and the position just wasn't working, Hayden covered it up but he was regularly slowing for me and I was furious, I knew I wasn't that inferior to him on a bike that I'd get dropped on a mere warmup ride but it was the arm holding me back.

The next week it gradually got better until it was just sharp pains that held me back when I rode normally, which I was determined to do, despite knowing that going a little bit back to my old position would make for a near-painless ride. I returned to racing a week after being allowed back on the roads with an 8th in my age group before three days later setting up Hayden for a win with an, if I may say so myself, near-impeccable lead-out for a guy returning from a broken forearm racing up a category. I damn near won the U-13s as well but I sat up and punched the air as Hayden won.

So, for my next trick, I had two goals. To podium the Wellington Regionals, and avenge last-year's brutal loss at the Open U-15 Manawatu Championships for my age group. Hayden picked win and win for his categories, obviously.
Edited by jandal7 on 17-04-2020 07:50
Leading someone out with a broken arm is interesting. Pfft

Hopefully those goals are possible, they look like they could be tough but achievable (don't know enough about the level of competition to know yet though Pfft)

"What done is, is one." - Benji Naesen
@trek - Impressive, yes, though he was well past his deadline (check it again before this maybe as your reminded me that the original post was an earlier draft. Hard goals for Hayden but crucial before March's National Schools Championships Wink
Willpower I

"Uphill drag, perfect for the Vaillenos brothers if we did say so ourselves."

My philosophy is simple: The ambition here is not a win but a podium for a more competitive and higher-ranking race, but one in my own age group. The course? 12km circuit completed three times so stamina wasn't a worry, in fact an advantage for me and Hayden with our longer distance riding experience. Undulating but no major hills, finishing on an uphill drag, perfect for the Vaillenos brothers if we did say so ourselves.

And perfect it was as we crested the top of the climb. For once it was a mixed race but with gender-based races also recorded for the Overall Champion, Boy's Champion, and the Girl's Champion. Rose was accompanying me today and it was a good feeling to get to ride together in a race for the first time since kid's MTB races. She wasn't very confident on the course and made a kind offer to ride for me which I declined as she is the most modest person I know and could more than likely win anyway. If she's reading this, I know you miss those days when you could still beat me half the time Rosie...

I was always near the front, waiting for the right attack. A group of seven went clear including two girls, one of which was Rosie as she had actually towed me across willingly, something I said would be repaid next mixed race. There was 8km to go and we both took equal turns, not more than we had to, but not less than most.

Then, with 2km to go and around 600m back to the pack, save miracles or cat-and-mousing, we were home free. Three people went, including me initially but as I instinctively went to my drops following an attack on a descent I remembered I couldn't go to the drops. Pain ensued, resulting in me getting caught and nearly dropped by the break. Nevertheless, in the end, it was an surprisingly easy uphill drag regardless resulting in me taking 4th in the race behind the two boys at the front and the girl's winner, and 3rd in the boy's. I'll count this as a half-completion of my goal as it was close overall and completed if you only count boy's category.

Later that afternoon, Rose and I lay in the sun on the hill and watched Hayden race. His tactics had come along way from the attacking, trigger-happy 11-year old who started this adventure, this mature nearly 14 year-old was strategically sound and took the win easily in a reduced bunch sprint of ten-ish. The carpool home was full of good cheer with a 1-2-3 in our respective age and gender categories. Less than a week until the Manawatu Opens, where I was determined to take my first win in 3-odd months.
Edited by jandal7 on 17-04-2020 07:51
Willpower II

"Same course as last year, play to my strengths, but what are they?"

It wasn't the last day of the season or anything but it was the last one for the holidays and the biggest race remaining until nationals. I was assured a place in the school team but Alex had to impress Mr Becker over the next month to take his place at my side and help us pull for the TTT, where we all knew he would be important but we wanted to justify that with value in the RR. Nevertheless, after a swift good luck hug (going both way as the girls were next) from Rose we stood laughing with Hayden in our argyle kit, awaiting the start, us with yellow numbers for the U-13s, Hayden with the blue of the U-15s.

From the gun we used our trusty tactic of hanging in "the office", a term coined I believe by David Millar for the riders who were comfortably near the front, taking it easy, no wind, and having a chat about the race or general world cycling (Greipel's win at the TDU hot debate, I think I led the "What was everyone thinking not attacking though Greipel did well" crowd).

After a few laps it became clear that as in the Regionals, the peleton would have nothing against a decent sized group. I managed to get in the second group with Alex, Hayden one again up front with two yellow dossards. With 8km to go I was playing a dangerous game but once Dad shouted at me that it was all clear from Hayden for us to take pulls, we began the hunt. Hayden held off and the gap was falling.

Suddenly, a yellow and a blue dossard on the ground in front of us. I swerved but alex wasn't so lucky, falling over his handlebars. Immediately I felt guilty for not checking but what could I do, that feeling was silly anyway. Just one yellow number to pass and victory was mine.

As we passed the 1km sign we were gaining ground I was alternating pulls with a blue number, I launched with 20m to make up and 200 to go, my legs were fire, I was out of the saddle, the adrenaline from the niggle in my arm making me stronger, I drew level, so close and...


Punched the air triumphantly! Me and Hayden crossed the line within what must have been mere millimetres, but we were 1st and 2nd regardless, or on a even higher note, 1st and 1st. I was ecstatic, one of the best moments of my life. We embraced after we dismounted and were soon joined by Mum for a group hug that lives long in my memory. The photo is still proud on our mantlepiece in Wanganui, the Vaillenos brothers celebrating together in fine style.

The result? A similar situation to last year as they were unsure and told us not to hang around or hold our breath. To this day, we've kept our vow to never check. And that, ladies and gentlemen was the pure combination of luck, skill, and The Will To Win.

Edited by jandal7 on 17-04-2020 07:51
Ian Butler
Nice moment Smile
@Ian - It certainly was Wink

The Meteoric Rise of Romeo and the Falcon

"That's the stupidest nickname I've ever heard and my friend is called Bobcat"

Romeo was the single most embarrassing thing that happened to me so far in my life, and it's just a dumb nickname! But you know how young teens can get. Thankfully it wore off (long after it had gone stale and people had forgotten where it was from, but still at least it did) and it hasn't carried over my cycling career. Good thing I'm not writing about it in a public setting!

The crux of the next chapter is summarising and highlighting, so it's a collection of short stories more than one overriding arc like last season. But the important stuff is all in there. And about the Falcon? He's the eldest, he got all the coolest stuff like good nicknames anyway. That one hasn't quite made it to his cycling career but I think he's desperate for it to do so.
Edited by jandal7 on 17-04-2020 07:51
Get Home Soon

"We were delighted all the same."

It was the first day of term, but we weren't going to let that hang over the rest of our day as a massive downer. Hayden, Rosie and I were going out towards the coffee shop, that of the ill-fated caramel mocha. We'd forewarned Mum and Dad and they were accepting, as it was a usual thing. But Hayden and I agreed: A little bit too accepting.

Nevertheless we put it out of our minds as we soaked up the sun and discussed the National School's Championship exactly this time next month. As the U-13 and U-15 boy's (one of those, the identity unknown to us, was the overall as well) and the U-13 girl's champions we had a reputation to uphold. we'd be competing together only in the mixed TTT, as the rest were gender-based events. (Alex, if you were wondering, was picked based on his domestique performance in the Opens).

The ride was lovely, we raced some and rode some parts of our route before inevitably saying bye as we passed Rose's farm. With almost psychic timing Dad texted Hayden: "Get home soon. Family meeting."

And it was well worth the sprint home as we received the news that we would be receiving two younger siblings as our mother was pregnant. Slightly unusual since we were already 12 and 14, but we were delighted all the same!
Edited by jandal7 on 17-04-2020 07:52
Reputably Reputable

"Vaillenos kid, I heard he got a reputation for being too cheeky and too fast for his own good."

Well after that drama and a final assurance we'll be having two additions to the family in late winter, February was a boring month. Exams, new classes, final year of school and actually that meaning something. I really wanted to let my ever-closer departure from my school sink in but 100% of my focus was on nationals. Actual nationals. It was in Cambridge so a long bus drive up towards Hamilton before turning east before you get there. It's more famous for it's horses but the velodrome is class and it's a bit of a hub.

I regret not preparing as well as I could for the TTT, which was basically formation riding on our regular bikes, of course. Just one lap around the 20km course and a few days before the boy's RR (I was firm about no ITT, and I was surprised to see the school listened.) Hayden's team was thrashed about in his age group for Collegiate but he'd win the road race. Alex was the best solo rider from us and me and Rose were the only ones who really knew how to help in, no offence the our other two but they just weren't confident enough riding close to the rider in front back wheel. It was hilly at times and Rose and I pulled up there with Alex boring the brunt in most other places. My changing wasn't great after occasionally letting my mind wander whilst in practice but a first place was a wonderful feeling, something I privately thought far beyond our reach before. I have no qualms in saying Alex and then Rose were the best by far and the other two were good value despite their sometimes less-than confident drafting.

It was only now I realised I had a reputation, mostly as the insanely talented Hayden's little brother but also as my own rider, which wasn't good for my hopes but a good feeling all the same. I guess I did well in regionals but still, the boost from Hayden would be most of it.

The race was 40km, and many would drop off from sheer exhaustion, which for me if all went average would garuntee me a top ten. Anything beyond that was down to my primary stats, as my little PCM06 playing self might say. The race started bog-standard except Alex, at least, was shielding me, (the others rode near the front but got twitchy when i tried to draft. which was strange when you looked at the other racers, who didn't have much semblance of tactics despite their skill. Of course, it was only a few KMs in when it clicked for me. I had to beat them there.

I tested a little attack, just to bridge across. Everyone started looking at each other and the casually riding back up. I let them. They told me that only three could go, and honestly, I wasn't sure if they were lying or didn't know me. Of course, I was hoping for the latter.

And so we rode. I was in the zone on the flats and maybe a little too responsive uphill, I just couldn't risk anything. before the race I had told myself I'd missed out on training with the arm but now I was in the zone and I god damn wanted that podium, and I was going to do whatever to get it. eventually we pitched in with turns to catch the break and with 7kms to go we were all together. Possibly too soon but I could go that long, the legs were barely tired, just the hurt from the pace. I loved the thrill. I embraced the pain. And I bloody well raced.

More and more of us went out the back as this one Auckland team ripped it up. Today I guess it was a mini Sky train up the short hills. Only Alex clung on and he was amazing, the Aucklanders were in the zone and it was all he could do to provide me cover until 3km to go and the probably deciding hill. I clung onto who looked like their leader and prayed. To my amazement, the others all dropped off around us like flies and so did his posse. It was literally just the two of us and it seemed we had the time we needed. I left a lot to him but did a fair bit myself, I'd say 60/40. You could never be too sure in these circumstances.

Te run in was completely my type of finish, technical with a punchy uphill dash, at least I thought. I accelerated fast out of every corner, piled the pressure for a minuscule gap to eek an advantage. I couldn't risk taking him to the line. But all failed and I locked myself in the wheel but he was too good, actually braking to get me in front of him. And there's a photo still on the website of my eyes lighting up as I leap out of the seat to accelerate.

But I had to go around him and by that time he was back in hot pursuit and with 100m to go I had the smallest of gaps preventing a draft. I didn't know where he was but I raced my heart out, not waiting to find out. My legs were fire and my lungs were acid. I just sprinted up the drag, exploding out of the saddle. With just 20m metres to go and his front wheel poking in front of mine I realised he had forced my hand and done it well. I had launched too early and kept going fruitlessly. He punched the air and I felt like punching him. I stuck to the handlebars.

Later that day I celebrated half-heartedly. Hayden had won. Rose had won. And I hadn't. It's cliched but if you had given me 2nd at the beginning I would have taken it. now it felt horrible that I couldn't win, and that Hayden was the best U-15 rider in New Zealand and I wasn't the best U-13. I didn't think about things like "on the day he was better." I thought things like "Stupid poxy big city Aucklander ruining my day coming 1st I deserved that win."
Edited by jandal7 on 17-04-2020 07:53
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@ALL - Gone for a while now but don't worry, soon we'll get to the titular rise and then to, eventually, the career of the Vaillenos boys! Also, with some writing classes/courses coming up and me taking a good look at my style and re-evaluating and always seeking to improve, any suggestions on what you dislike/like about the format, style, layout, anythign at all here or PM, it would be much appreciated as for myself as much as you I always want to make my exploration of these characters deeper, richer and more refined by every episode.

Big Day

"What a monumental cock-up."

The cycling season wrapped up nearly instantly after that, at least racing did. I won the last race, the final race in the crits series where I was leader in the sprint and points before my crash. Still, most wins was a good feeling and it, on the whole was a fun season. Manawatu Champion, very nearly Lower South Islands and nationals. Perhaps most importantly, I found and old friend and riding partner.

Most of the year was spent thinking about the unborn twins and for good reason: They were completely unexpected but we had put the abortion issues behind us and were completely happy to have two new babies in our life. The date circled on our calendar? 8th August. The scans confirmed twins but we didn't want to find out the gender, especially not with the traditional family betting pool (is that weird?). I had Hayden on, we both went for less likely options, I for two girls, he for two boys. I was confident that twenty dollars would be mine come the day.

And then the day arrived, and so did they. Me and Hayden were outside as per our unspoken agreement with Mum, and we were waiting anxiously. It was just a few days after, the 13th of August. The plan was for us to come in when it was over. And so we did when Uncle Phil said that Dad had given him the signal, but before we knew it a nurse was pushing us back. Dad looked in shock and Mum was in tears. I don't think the last part was related to what we next found out necessarily.

"How the hell can you miss a baby in the scans?!" Dad was asking in shock. Hayden and I looked at each other. No way. No bloody way. There was clearly just two twins. The doctors time and time again said there was two healthy twins.

Meanwhile the third of the triplets, as we must now call them arrived and we rushed to Mum with Dad in tow.

"Oh honey/mum, you did so well. They're safe." And they were. Three beautiful baby girls. Annabelle, Eva and Gabriella. Guess we can't use 'Elle' as a nickname then...

Oh, and the bet? Which I totally won? Hayden to this day weasels his way out of it by pointing out I bet on two girls. I'll get him one day.
Edited by jandal7 on 17-04-2020 07:59
Congratulations Grin
@DiCyc - I'm sure Joseph would say thanks PfftWink
@ALL - Urgh, as you can see it was tough to get this one out and not very proud of it but got through another summer season and we near the "meteoric rise".


"I'd have to spend a little less time on the bike."

It had been obvious for nine months but when that summer came around the triplets, of course, had to share priority with the bike. And I was completely fine, even though it was a hindrance for my cycling.

Gabby, Anna and Eva were healthy as can be and loving the world around them. It was special to be a big brother and something that meant a lot to me, a duty to be taken seriously. Even if piss-stains were a regularity now. I did try and stay away from nappies.

As a new teenager certain hormones were kicking in and my body was growing outwardly if not upwardly and I found myself embarrassed with increasing regularity. Hayden, too, was in the thick of it. But looking at some classmates, I got off easily.

So, the bike. Of course I could race and race I did, but with less success with a lack of training time. I took second in both the points and the overall whereas Hayden took first in both in the next age group. Next year, though, we would be racing together for a change and I was looking forward to it. The holidays were a great time and I looked forward to a winter with hopefully some more training to be done.
Edited by jandal7 on 17-04-2020 07:58
@ALL - Sorry for dialogue, had to be done Frown
The Path We Picked

"You gotta promise me, and I gotta promise you, we're gonna do it."

After the season was wrapped up and it was back to making the most of rides as they became less frequent and the Sufferfest vids more used Hayden went quiet. For a whole day. Something was up. He was thinking about something before he spoke about it, for one. He didn't emerge from his shell until we were lying on the couch in front of the rugby.

"Y'know, Jay, I've been thinking. Is this it?" he said slowly.
"Is this what?"
"Cycling. Is this us? Can we make it?" he replied with utmost caution. Sure, I was in secondary school now and career choices had occurred to me as a possibility. But cycling, cycling was a commitment. It would be upping the ante for the next 20 years if we went to even Continental level.
"It''s a lot of hard work..." I shrugged noncommittally. Options were spinning in my head.
"No but come on, think about it. We can do that if we want. Work for it. I'm not saying a future in cycling is right there in our hands but we can sure as hell put it there. Whaddya say?" I thought for a minute. From this day onwards, would I do it? Try even harder, try not to be good, be great.
"Yes. Definitely." I sat up. "Let's see where we go."
"Well then, you gotta promise me, and I gotta promise you, we're gonna do it. Together."

So that winter, we began to work harder, just a little bit, gradually, until we could really feel the effort next to last year. I realised that cycling was perfect, passion and, maybe, a job? Who knew. But if I had Hayden by my side then I knew that I could go twice as far into the sport as on my own.

So in a winter divided between the trainer, the family, and somehow managing to do our homework, there was another aspect of life about to hit us in a big way, and only one of us were prepared.
Edited by jandal7 on 17-04-2020 08:01
Romeo the Romantic

"Whatever you say, stud."

I told you about those weird feelings I experienced? Well they are about to become a whole lot more important as I grew up. as I neared 14 and started to move back towards cycling, my body kept maturing at a rate far too fast to be comfortable.

Hayden already had a girlfriend, but I knew like so many at our age, it wasn't ever meant to be. To an unfortunate number of my peers, girls were just a way to be cool. A sign of being confident and cool. Many kept asking me if I was with Rose. She's just a friend, I said (truthfully?). They snorted and rolled their eyes, and they didn't even know a thing.

Then one Saturday night in town I'm many of my classmates and a few girls from WGC snuck in some alcohol. I'd had some at home and didn't mind the taste but I didn't feel like joining them. I was there with some friends and I'm not sure why. Hayden had recently broken up but didn't seem bothered. People were laughing too loud, running around and many were being generally obnoxious.

Then a bunch of girls snuck up behind me and kissed my neck. I swirled around instantly and asked them what they were doing whilst Hayden laughed. They giggled and scooted off back to their friends. It pissed me off that they'd do that, and when I went back to my friends I was prepared to get ripped out, and I was right. "Whydya get pissed off, stud?", "They dig the big J.", "You're just the next Romeo aren't you?", "Haha Romeo, good one." I wondered why they were my friends, and also if they were slightly too tipsy. And that's the story of Romeo - an obscure one-off nickname which annoyed me more than it should have and then stuck for longer than it should have. Boring, I know.

So as September turned to October racing began with Hayden and I in the same grade, and I started with a fourth from a sprint, which was a bit of a pleasant surprise. Hayden won (obviously). That summer I wanted to stick to my promise of training harder. I wasn't expecting the payoff I received though...
Edited by jandal7 on 17-04-2020 08:09
4th and a bunch of girls kissing "Romeo". Sounds promising Pfft

"Hayden, of course, was defending an overall won last year against boys near two years older."

After the fourth place I began to get into my racing rhythm rather quickly, and with some mixed gender races as well it was nice to get a broad range of results, including a 2nd (and not to Hayden) from a late attacking group of 3 and a 3rd with Rose in a mixed race after being the next best behind Hayden and one of his rivals.

Both of these took a bit of luck but I wouldn't say that was the course, as again doubt was creeping in about what type of rider I would be. Whenever "Which of us is which pro?" came up, Alex got a powerhouse, a Tony Martin, Hayden got a Gilbert or a Valverde usually, though a generous Cancellara wouldn't go amiss. Me, well, usually people would look me up and down, and obviously think "Actually, why is he so good?". Maybe a David Millar I think once, probably after I won a prologue or got busted for doping. I don't remember the latter ever happening but who knows?

But anyway I was third in the overall thanks to a focus there and a couple of breaks and sixth in points after an exchange deal where Hayden helps me stay at the front and I give him a leadout. It worked well and gave me a boost as the main competition took a break over Christmas. I would, of course, compete in the Open Wanganui Boxing Day Race, where I'd never won but then again, neither has Hayden. We had $10 on first guy to win it. However with the popularity among a wide range of cyclists, we couldn't see it happening for a few years yet.

But there was one problem for me. Hayden, this time last year, was second overall and first in points. He ended up winning both. I was stuck in his shadow and although he was older it really annoyed me sometimes. That I couldn't do it. I couldn't live up to the example I had (had?) to follow. I was just "Hayden Vaillenos' not as talented kid brother." To many, I wasn't even Joseph. I was little Vaillenos. The other one.

The Boxing Day race was in the country, actually, and it accompanied the cricket game where, despite quite a good batting and keeping performance, I had much lesser expectations. It rolled over hills and finished on a steep one, where the stronger kids traditionally made some ground on the adults and the weaker ones pushed, literally. Hayden, Rose and I (Alex was in Rarotonga) had a plan. Beat them with our smaller weight and less Christmas drinks in the system. It was simple and not really much of a plan but there you have it.

It started as it usually does, with everyone chatting and laughing and then a mock break forming of opportunists. Despite the cycling spirit in our province it was more relaxed than an actual race with tactics being employed less than usual. I decided to follow to but to my dismay and pride I got shut down. So I waited until hell broke loose over the hills around our farm entrance, where I rode every single day. I knew the road, every groove, which line to take and where the gravel will have been scattered across the road from earlier cars coming through. It was a shorter race and so I decided to go, and a group of us formed. Rose was there whilst Hayden hung around behind. We caught the flailing break and rode some tempo with 8kms to go.

Rose and I worked together but we could see we were going to be outclassed and happy to get a top 10. We decided to follow rather than instigate as much stronger local cyclists duked it out. By Rose's estimate we were in a group with places 8-13th with 3km to go as the final hill came. Rose was perhaps more suited to a more power-based climb than me and she did her best to outpace the adult riders we had with us. I just took turns and in the end buried myself for her, and with 800m to go I fell off and gave her a quick nudge from which to take control. As the road winded I saw her watch nervously.

I crossed the line with Hayden in the end, who grinned when he asked me what happened. He was surprisingly jovial after missing the break. I'd guess I came 15th-20th. When we got to Rose she bounded over and punched me playfully on the arm.

'Not bad, Romeo.' she teased, 'I got 7th.' I was really happy for her and happy I helped her as much as possible. We talked about the race and the cricket match where we had got a decent partnership. But the surprise was when she kissed me on the cheek and warmly thanked me again. I know we were like siblings and grew up together but... maybe this was different?
Edited by jandal7 on 17-04-2020 08:14

"And this, this is the rise."

After another great Christmas there was just a month and a bit to finish the season and try to see out my podium spot before the regionals, national and Open Manawatu Championships. I started with my first win, after attacking near the end. It was a great and special moment for me and it bumped me to fourth in the sprint competition, despite my low interest in competing there.

So for a few more races went and gone and I was third overall, with third place from last season, Joe Greggs, in second and Hayden in first. Hayden had a good few minutes on us but I was only 28 seconds of Greggs and I was determined to prove myself. I started to orchestrate some attacks but he was always on my tail as I collected a string of thirds and fourths. With two races to go I was 20 seconds down. It was time for a time trial.

My tactic was to take corners like a madman and never lose an inch of speed. I spent a lot of time practicing with Alex as he was much better at Time Trialing than me. He showed me how to never go over the red but always push yourself. I knew this perhaps wasn't the race where I could win second place from Greggs, but I sure as hell take a few seconds if it all went to plan. I followed the plan I had set and despite some close calls with some fences came a surprising fifth in the race and took 8 seconds on Greggs and one on Hayden. I was shocked really with that.

So, the wrap-up race of our season, the same circuit as this year's Lower South Island Champs and the Open Manawatu Champs. I had a plan of attack, and it was to attack. Hayden, with the overall and points in the bag, agreed to blow everyone apart for me. I was really grateful to him for offering, but it was easier said than done.

But done it was as he took to the front with me in tow and started to turn up the pain dial on everyone in the group. Alex had set pace for a bit before and now it was Hayden's turn to destroy the moral and the energy of everyone, including most importantly, Joe Greggs. He grunted and panted and I knew he'd got into full "beast mode", losing his calm demeanour and thrashing at the pedals like an angry pitbull. Many kids were now hanging on for dear life and by 2km to go it was just a core group of four as we began the final hill. Hayden dropped off and It was the three next places in the overall. I had a good 40 seconds on fourth and twelve to gain on Greggs.

We looked at each other. Was it Joe's turn as he's in first out of us? My turn as I had it all to gain? I decide to not give them recovery and put in a dig as we rounded a corner onto the penultimate hill. I got a small gap and decided to go with it. It was an unlikely move but perhaps my best shot at gaining that second place. The pain coursed through my legs but like Jens Voigt I ignored them. The buildings flashed by but nothing mattered except the next few metres, and then how much time I would put into the two chasing behind. As I rounded the corner onto the final, 300m hill, I knew I had to keep pushing.

Every fibre of my body was willing the bike forward as I seemingly took flight and danced on the pedals and sprinted up the hill, towards the victory I guessed, but the main prize was the overall second place. I didn't know where Greggs was, but I could feel someone coming up behind me with 100 metres left. I had to presume it was the guy in fourth and made the gut decision not to fight against him, but against the clock. I held my line and pushed past the fire in my legs. It burnt but I carried on sprinting, sprinting until I reached that line. The other rider was beside me and out of the corner of my eye I was fairly sure it was the guy in fourth looking for the win. With a few metres to go I finally chanced a head turn and threw my bike as far forward as possible.

Half a wheel. Half a wheel meant I could sit up and celebrate, punch a fist in the air.
Edited by jandal7 on 17-04-2020 08:15
Rise II

"Half a wheel meant I could sit up and celebrate, punch a fist in the air."

But I didn't feel like it. For it was, of course, Joe Greggs beside me. There's a picture out there, used as a promotional picture for a few years for the cycling series, of me with my fists up in front of my chest in celebration, but my eyes and head swivelled to focus on who it was beside me. One they didn't use shows me slumped over the handlebars just seconds later. I knew I'd done all I could do to win, and done it well. Hell, I'd took what in any other circumstance would have been an amazing victory. The pill wasn't any easier to swallow.

A race with Rose, a race with Hayden and then a race by myself were up next in the shape of regionals, provincials and nationals. Regionals was on the same course as usual, undulating with an uphill for a sprint. Rose and I stuck together over the course and Alex slugged along tirelessly as usual. After we came second in our groups last year, we were being watched intently by others and Alex did the fantastic job for us he always did and we were in a group of seven with four girls and two boys off the front with 6kms to go. We decided to hang around and just follow in the slipstreams with attacks, and the whole group worked well, much like a game of some sort I played once there was a lot of friendly co-operation by those in power but back-stabbing was sure to ensue as the finish neared.

We managed to chase down all the attacks together and I launched my sprint first and she jumped out with 100m to go it was hard going and a number of challengers caught up. But today my legs felt light as air and Rose and I were just on fire. We both sat up with a good five metres to go and raised our arms together. It was a special moment to win together and take both our races out. Rose was the overall champion as she was just better than me on the day. Hayden also won his overall race as well, obviously.

Bad news struck as I sprained my wrist badly before the provincials. I was gutted to miss the race for the first time and despite trying to sneak out with my bike just to ride it I was forcefully stopped by Hayden. I was happy but a tad jealous as Rose won her age group and Hayden our overall race. But I kept training indoors for the nationals in two months. After the second places of the last two years, there was no way some Aucklander and his Sky Train of Doom right of his Death Star school minivan would beat me. He could go drive(waste) his 4x4 on smooth city roads back in Remuera, thank you very much.

In the TTT Alex (mainly), Rose and I helped the team to a third straight win and we were very pleased with that thanks to our coherency that had been learned the past few years. But my main focus was, as usual, the road race. And so it was a similar course to the last few years over hills but in Wellington this year and another 20km circuit to be completed three times. Naturally, the school from Auckland got going again and Alex was fantastic as usual, protecting me from dropping off and clinging on longer than many would expect. But with 10km to go even he was off the back and I made a quick mental note to get him a win next season before returning to sitting in behind the hill train from Auckland in full flow. Their leader seemed no less surprised to see me than a weather reporter announcing wind in Wellington and nodded in recognition. Maybe he wasn't as bad as I had had him pegged down as just because he kept beating me?

No time to think as his mates turned up the pace and soon it was me, him and one other from Christchurch left in contention. I was feeling pretty good as I didn't usually get here without some luck but I had got here with the help of Alex and my own strength. When it was down to four we were just bracing ourselves for when it was three on one and we were assured the podium. Nobody could claw back now. Not with three 3km to go and the last 57 of suffering in their legs. The penultimate hill came and I launched a surprise acceleration, destroying the Cantabrian and briefly gapping the Aucklander. But it would come, of course, to us duking it up the last ascent for the third year. Maybe they should do cobbles, or something this guy is less good at? I knew I couldn't beat him in a straight-up slugging battle up the last climb and so parked myself in his back wheel and waited. And waited. He wanted to play cat and mouse on steep gradients and I just hopped down a gear and got out of my saddle. Suddenly a flash of red which only I was anticipating and I latched myself onto the Cantab's opportunistic wheel. I would have liked to tell you I saw the Aucklander flailing behind me but he got his Froome on and chased. I launched my sprint and pushed myself, my lungs were acid and as usual my legs were fire. But I knew I could win. I threw my bike at the line and no wheel was there to match it. I had done it - I was the National Champion!
Edited by jandal7 on 17-04-2020 08:17
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