The Coppermine Race, Nelson
February 16th, 2013
Entering the Coppermine was a last minute decision which turned out to be a good one. I had only just got back into training after novel distractions such as fatherhood, and having never ridden in Nelson I wanted to see what all the talk was about. The vaunted Dun Mountain trails were, at least in the second half, sensational. Technically demanding mountain biking at its best. And the competition from Nelson was tough; I found myself engaged in a major battle.
After a starting loop around the paddock to stretch out the field, the racers started up a long fire road climb. The lead group thinned to 3 and I found myself alongside two Richmond AvantiPlus racers. The longer Epic course riders had started 10 minutes earlier so the 3 of us had to negotiate our way past backmarkers on narrow off-camber straights. Being third in the group the risk was that the AvantiPlusers would get past an Epic participant on a short passing spot and I would be stranded waiting for the next passing opportunity. A little bustling on my behalf and staying very close to the wheel in front helped me stay in touch.
The course took a turn and traversed the hillside on a shady rail trail. At about this point one of the AvantiPlusers dropped back, never to be seen again. So it was now just the two of us, and not long after I managed to open up a gap. The gloomy rail trail burst out into the bright summer sun and behold, I was upon the mineral belt and its strange collection of bronze and green rocks. Ahead loomed the highest point and behind the AvantiPluser had closed the gap and threatened once again. Over the Coppermine saddle and into the Boulder Valley downhill, a descent like no other. The faster you went, the more fun you had. I could now see why the event briefing had such a focus on rider safety. If you came off here you’d be shredded. My opponent was breathing down my back and once even tried to convince me to do the gentlemanly thing and let him past. I thought I was riding pretty smoothly but it was his home trails after all.
Finally the rocky switchbacks came to an end and I had to almost manually unclench my fingers from the brake levers. Into the Maitai Valley and the pace was fast on the weaving singletrack. We exchanged leads a few more times until, at the 2 hour mark, we encountered terrain from the race’s very beginning. I expected to be racing for at least 2 & 1/2 hours so I reasoned that there would be another loop before the end. “But what if there’s not?” I asked myself. My shadow was still breathing down my neck, and the last thing I wanted was for him to sprint me at the finish line while I was expecting another 30 minutes of racing. My legs amazingly still had some gas in them so I picked up the pace on the narrow undulating singletrack we’d ridden 2 hours earlier. This is the end, I thought between the gasping. We were heading directly back into the starting paddock; we were only minutes away from completing the 40km Coppermine Trail. It’s now or never I thought. The AvantiPluser was only metres behind me and so with about 500 metres left I gave it everything. The track was still too narrow for him to pass but for the final 200m on the paddock there was every opportunity. It looked like being a sprint finish and so it was. With 100m to go and the early afternoon sun at our backs, I remember glimpsing his shadow from the corner of my eye. I had the inside line at the final corner and with 50m left my legs had enough in them to hold him off. I couldn’t believe I had won.
I had taken 2.06:36 and local Jonny Christie came in two seconds back. My only regret was that my support wasn’t there to see the sprint finish. (I’d told them to go shopping in Nelson; I’d be close on 3 hours).
Looking back, the Coppermine was the best organised event of the season. There was a festive feel, massages, a river to dunk in, smoked kahawai, cold beer and good sounds. What more can one ask for?