Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Finding a Support Crew in a Foreign Place... A Very Cool Story...

I feel like I have been away from home for so long now. It's been an amazing experience, and I have felt humbled by the actions and kindness of so many people I have met along the way. I arrived in Finale with little clue of anything to do with the race, but to be honest, I can find that stuff out... What was kinda nagging at me in the back of my head was that I didn't have a support crew lined up... One of my biggest races of the year in a week and I was missing half my team. I had a lot of people who had offered solutions that would get me out of trouble... Shared support and the like, but nothing stood out as a golden opportunity to put together a campaign that was really going to put some marks in the dirt, so to speak. I would have to say that this goes down as one of the most humbling travel stories I have ever had the pleasure of telling, and I hope that one day, I get the opportunity to do the same for someone.

Before I arrived in Finale, I had been in touch with a guy named Matteo from one of the local bike shops (The Ultimate Bike Shop). We had been emailing back and forth and I had sent him a huge list of stuff I needed done to my bike and parts I needed (parts that he didn't even keep in stock). To be honest, it was one of these situations where I chilled myself out by thinking of worst-case scenario... "So, if I can't get my bike serviced, can I deal with riding it as it is?"... Yes, I could... "So if I don't get a support crew, can I deal with putting my stuff on a table and supporting myself?"... Yep, if I had to, I could... Neither of these were ideal, so it was amazing to arrive in Finale and find that Matteo had ordered and now had in stock everything we needed for my bike service...

But I still didn't have a support crew... Maybe I was being too fussy, or maybe I wasn't committing to any of the other offers of help because I was hedging my bets that a better offer would come up, or maybe I just had a hunch that something would materialise. I think the first problem was that a lot of people don't understand what is involved in supporting a rider through a 24 hour solo race. Most people wouldn't understand that for that 24 hours, it can be a thankless, full-time job for at least one person (although everything is what you make it!)... And once they did know that, chances were they would politely decline. My original tact was to ask people and see if I could get them interested before going into too much detail, but in all fairness, I needed to give people more credit for their intelligence than to expect a resounding "yes" doing it this way. I had been speaking to Matteo about the support, and eventually, I told him I would send him a list of what I would need someone to do for the 24 hours and if he could find someone (anyone!) who could help, that would be great.

The list I emailed him was pretty exhaustive. It covered everything from food, to water, to monitoring performance and position to chamois cream. I wrote in there about five times that no stopping was allowed and that I would expect someone to be there for me each and every lap. I didn't paint a pretty picture. I thought it would be unfair for someone to read it and think it was going to be a night out on the town. So I was surprised when I arrived at the shop the next day to find Matteo with my list printed out, asking me questions about it. It took me a few minutes to click that he planned on helping me out himself... And when he said he would, I knew he meant it because he had made such a point previously of not promising anything he couldn't be one hundred percent sure he could deliver. As we scoured over my list, he said, "and one more thing... What is chamois cream?"... Oookaay, well this is a little awkward (they obviously don't call it that here). I tried my best to describe it's use delicately, and made a point that I didn't expect him to help me put it on, he just needed to know where it was if I needed it... He then replied "oh, so you mean ass cream!? Why didn't you just call it ass cream?"... Yes, that's exactly what it is Matteo... Ass cream... We also have this running joke of whose language learning experience was more cringeworthy... Me asking a waiter for penis instead of bread, or him asking a customer to pay for a hand job instead of handy work. Gold... This weekend is going to be awesome!

That evening, I still had my doubts. I knew Matteo was also helping out the organisers during the race, and I wondered how he would fill in the gaps when he was needed elsewhere. I rocked up at the shop the next day to discover he had enlisted the help of one of his team at the shop, then another one bowled in the door and started speaking about sleeping in their tent at Le Manie and would be cheering me on. Matteo had seemingly pulled together a small, local army as my support crew. Two other guys in the shop who I didn't even remember meeting walked out the door and said "good luck for the weekend Megan!" as they left. How cool is that?? Matteo had translated my list into Italian for himself and was excitedly discussing the details... How we would set up the tent and what we would discuss each lap. Then he insisted that I come by Tuesday evening with my lights so he could practice putting them on the bike and taking them off, and that we would also do some practice feeds where I ride past and he hands me my bottle and puts my food in my pocket. He is totally into it, and I am so excited to have him on my side!

Tuesday evening team meeting was awesome... We now have a plan of how we will approach the race and how we will utilise the figure of eight format lap to our advantage. Matteo practised putting the Ayups on the bike, we spoke about what food and how much (I basically told him I have to eat what I am given) and we broached the potentially awkward topic of clothing changes. I'm feeling very positive and very excited about it.

I've been asked by a number of people how I feel about having a support crew that I don't know very well (and who don't know me very well, either!), and I guess there are arguments for and against. To be honest, I feel really positive about it. Matteo and the boys know the area, the track, they have contacts and resources at their fingertips. Apart from those obvious advantages, there are also some quirky things about it that I like. I have no doubt that the 24 hours is going to be painful, but also full of hilarious language errors (of which we have already experienced many... Far too inappropriate to tell on a public forum, but funny nonetheless) and potentially rowdy locals and that in itself should keep my mind occupied. Furthermore, there's a part of me that says "hey, these people you don't know are doing this amazing thing for you, Megan, and you owe it to them, if not to yourself, to go out there and give 150%". I think it is very fitting for the trip I have had, and I am really looking forward to it. I think it is going to turn quite a daunting event into something wacky and fun, and I reckon this is just crazy enough, from my perspective, to translate into a good performance and a good result... Yup, racing is serious... I have things I want to achieve and expectations both from myself and from other people, but why bother racing my bike for 24 hours if I'm not going to enjoy it or get something out of it? I am looking forward to the randomness of having a crew I don't know.

While we are talking about support crews, it would be remiss of me to not make mention of my "crew" back home. It's been a very popular topic of discussion how I came to have ten weeks off to ride my bike all over Africa and Europe, and I have to say that my employer, Mitre 10 MEGA, have been very supportive of my cycling endeavours. It's such a rare thing nowadays for employers to recognise that happy, fulfilled staff are also productive employees, and I am truly grateful for being given the opportunity to chase a dream for ten weeks and come back to my job (which I love very much!). In particular, my bosses, Gary, David and Richard, and also Vanessa, Stefan and Scotty for looking after the shop, but also the rest of the crew for behaving themselves while I am gone (I hope!). Kashi at Yeti NZ has been an amazing resource and has hooked me up with unarguably the most amazing rig I have ever ridden... My ASR5C (The Ninja) is gobbling up the terrain here at Finale. Jack at Camelbak, who also supply Shotz nutrition. I have actually hauled my Shotz nutrition around with me the whole trip because they are the only gels I like using (the mango passion is delicious!). Adidas Eyewear have supported me for a number of years now, and I love the fact that their eyewear is so adaptable for something like a 24 hour race. Ayup lights, another long-term supporter, still make the best and most lightweight lights I have ever used. Oli at Roadworks and Garry at Pedal Pushers for helping me out with bits and pieces for my bike back home. Manawatu Mountain Bike Club have given me some amazing support (I think you guys are my biggest fans!). And last, but certainly not least, coach Sadie for dishing out the pain and providing a rational perspective for me on many occasions.

So as I switch my head into race mode for the coming weekend, I feel very on top of everything, I feel positive, I still love riding my bike, I feel fit and regardless of the outcome of the race (although I certainly have placed some expectations on myself), I am confident I am hitting this thing with everything I've got... I must say it feels bloody good to be going into a race like this. Bring it on!


  1. Good luck, Megan! Smash it!

  2. This reminds me a lot of my early years racing... which were in many ways my most memorable. Travelling with out a plan or knowing anyone opens the door to such amazing experiences. I still have friends that I met during this time. No matter what happens in the race, you will win. Your positive attitude is really motivating, thanks Megan!

  3. GO Megan GO!!
    hope you get a good result and have awicked time ;}

  4. GO Megan GO!!
    Fantastic story ...really hope you have a good result. And have heaps of FUN!!

  5. Good Luck Megan and The Ninja!! :) Will be keeping an eye on the Wembo website to see how you're going!! :)