07 February 2014

The Kiwi Brevet - is it a race?

I was reminded of a gaping hole in my literary education a few days ago by a friend, Tom, who wrote "A rose by any other name..." to describe the early brevet goings on.  "Is still a rose", I thought, but after a quick google search, I found that Shakespeare actually wrote "... would smell as sweet".  The intent is that the name of a thing does not matter, rather what it is matters.  So, is the Kiwi Brevet a race?

It bears many similarities to a race, the most relevant, I think, are a set course, and a mass start.  By providing these two things, the opportunity to treat the event as a race is there, and no amount of "don't do that" will prevent those who choose to race from doing so.

Even though the event is not quite done and dusted, we've seen a huge variation in pace - from Dave covering the 1100km Kiwi Brevet course in three days, seven hours and 24 minutes, to the group that will finish the 700km Kiwi Brevette course on Saturday afternoon (noon Saturday will be 7 x 24 hours, but Saturday is the 8th riding day) - average paces of 340km and 100km per day, respectively.  Thanks to the SPOT trackers, we can make those comparisons, another feature of the event that facilitates "racing". 

A huge part of the brevet, and event like it, is the opportunity to meet and ride with others.  This, I think, is one of the strongest factors working against a pervasive race mentality.  From early on the first day, we saw the emergence of clusters in the blue dots - groups of riders comromising their own pace to ride with others - some riding faster than they would alone, others slower.  In an event this long, and hard, attacks would have been rare - likely even non-existent.  Most un-race-like.

Is "getting it over and done with" racing?  Riding hard, and racing, are not the same thing.  In my mind, racing is to try to beat one's "competitors" - not much fun if no-one's competing back - and my hunch is there would've been little of that.  Riding hard, on the other hand, is still a race of sorts, but against the clock.  And not in a simple sense - as soon as you fix a destination in mind (at whatever point in the day that happens) there are really two clocks, and you're trading one off against the other.  When riding long days, I tend to value the time I have to put my feet up at the end of the day much more highly than rest-time during the day, and I'll shun rest stops, and pedal a bit harder to get as much clean-time as possible. 

An interesting reinforcement of this notion comes from the fact that very few people have opted-in to the St James section, and I haven't seen a single person tackle the Craigieburn long-cut.  I daresay riders are deciding to skip these not because they would lose time on their "rivals", but because the event is hard enough as it is without making it harder.  Riding a bike in the terrain that greets these riders is tough, and other things equal, less is more.  

I know when Simon came home from the Great Divide Race, he was suffering some ill-effects that took months to resolve.  He wanted to bring the multi-day, unsupported, bike-packing style event to NZ shores, but without the nerve damage, sleep deprivation, and weight loss, and he set up the Kiwi Brevet with that in mind.  Since the first edition, he's tweaked the rules in line with his philosophy for the event.  But, he's still offering entrants a challenge that to a very large extent, is what they make of it.

This year, I've noticed a bunch of "rule violations", many of which will have been quite deliberate.  A good example is Charlotte and Tim taking the highway down the Wairau Valley instead of the north bank forestry roads.  I suggest that this wasn't a mistake, but rather a purposeful choice designed to let them enjoy what remained of the event.  The event organisers can't stop people making these decisions (or mistakes!) any more than they can stop people racing (or riding in a way that onlookers might regard as racing). 

I'm sincerely hoping the adventure doesn't stop in Seymour Square, and that we get hours of words and pictures to wade through once the riders return to their computers!  Therein, I anticipate we'll detect very little racing in the overall sense, but plenty of micro-racing: to get to the top of the hill, to get to the shop before it closes, to get to an early shower, or maybe even a bunch of new friends cranking the pace up and racing to the next lamppost, laughing as they go, the better to pass the time.

At the end of the day, the Kiwi Brevet (and Brevette, and short-cut versions of the two) provides 100 brave souls an opportunity to ride through some wildly varied country at the top of the South Island.   And what an opportunity it is!  Let's hope someone picks up the baton for 2016!