a humdinger of a day, 171km under a belting sun, 38 degrees and 4hrs 50 in the saddle. ‘cooked’ doesn’t really come close. busted bikes and plenty of ‘Friendship tattoos’ and at least one broken collarbone are testament not only to the route but also to the havoc wreaked by the heat. stamina and the legs get mangled during races like this but one often overlooked casualty is the ability to concentrate.
difficult really to describe the feeling of riding in this kind of heat and humidity (must be 90+%) to anyone who’s never tried it, but try ‘extremely unpleasant’ with about 23 expletives thrown in and you’re getting close. it’s like your internal thermometer has bust and your brain’s about pop from the top of your skull to a very great height – not that you’d really notice though, as you click onto auto-pilot for most of the day.
hence the crashes, when they come. a proper dose of suffering.
anyway, the day started with me 4 seconds down on Michael Troy of Specialized Confero Mavericks, the guy who’d soloed away for 130km the day previous. my teammates were nothing short of thrilled to not be in Yellow after Day 2, their sterling efforts having put quite a few nails in their respective coffins as they clawed back Troy’s lead.
the route was brutal, with a 2km climb to start, then a 6km climb at 20km, then a very long 4km drag that never wanted to stop, which brough us to the 90km mark, then another 80km loop of the first half of the course, minus the first two climbs.
a few breaks came and went and then we hit the 20km climb and i attacked, got a gap and settled but was chased down by the venerable Peter Pouly (yes, that Peter Pouly) and the rest of the pack. at about 50km Pouly attacked and got away with 2 others, and the Confero guys seemed a bit powerless to do much about it. two of their guys did rally and put in a great effort to set a steady pace (Matt Kinch in particular) but it looked like Pouly, and the race lead, was gone.
i wasn’t too fussed to be honest. i was just sat there remembering Octave Lapize on the first ever ascent of the Tourmalet in the Tour, shouting to the officials gathered near the summit – ‘You are assassins! Yes, assassins!’ shouted a no doubt frothing-at-the-gills Octave, the first ever account of a rider being royally pissed at the ridiculous demands made on us delicate pedalists.
why exactly we needed to do a 2 loop 171km when we could have done one loop 85km loop – and had a race people could actually enjoy, at least a little – is beyond me. seems yet again to be another case of a race organised by folk who have never ridden a bike further than the local shop. (this feeling is compounded nightly by the screeching Master of Ceremonies, a portly young lass who i think gets paid by the octave, or possibly by the shattered eardrum. she and a microphone should never mix. anyway, she says things like ‘Oh today was a great day, only a few people crashed!’ – which is nice…).
but then with some 110km gone, i looked up ahead and boom, there on the horizon was a little group moving agonizingly slowly, looking like men on broken camels staggering towards a heat haze-produced oasis. the road before us rose slightly so i put in a small attack and got ten meters, the Japanese rider, Kyosuke Takei of the Forza team joined me and we were away, Troy and his team baked after their chasing and everyone else suffering a bit too.
but then so were we, or i, anyway. we caught the Pouly group and then soon we were three, with just Pouly able to hang on to us. from then on in it was pain. i’ve raced some hard races in my time but this one, with the combo of stifling heat and the very hilly route, was just nuts.
Takei, i have to say, was stronger than me on the run in and did the majority of the work, so i turned to Pouly and said ‘hey, he wins,’ to which the Frenchman nodded. i old Takei and he very politely said ‘thank you, Mister Lee’ and that was that, we powered towithin a kilo of the line, then ‘unleashed’ the most feeble sprint you’ve ever seen!
Takei too was obviously spent, and we did the last 300m at a very elderly 35km/hr, with Takei taking it, me 0.455 of a second behing him, and Pouly .156 behind me.
i did take the race lead though, but it’s a slender one – 16 seconds ahead of Takei and 21 ahead of Pouly. stage 4 is 160km with over 2000m of climbing.
i shall endeavor to crank on….!