A slightly longer stage of 67.5 km with just over 2100 metres of climbing lay ahead. If I could survive the day without any mechanicals, I was certain I could register a decent performance. The early climbs were not technical but still split the large field early. My Polish rival, Zbig, was up ahead and I made it my aim to beat him and endeavoured to close the 8 minute lead he had over me from the first two stages. The temperature was in the low 20’s, with a threat of a later thunderstorm. However, conditions were to remain perfect throughout the day.
I have now become accustomed to the nature of racing here. Work hard to crest the mountains, then recover on the warp speed descents before doing it all again. Climb…Descend…Repeat. This might sound like I’m doing the race a disservice but it is actually a great way to race and the varying terrain provides plenty of variety, not to mention some stunning views from the highest peaks.
Unlike yesterday, where I had punctured early, today allowed me to work with riders of similar ability, and we were able to share the work on the climbs and flatter sections (not that this race has too many flat sections – it’s either up or down. My group swallowed up Zbig and on the longest climb of the day he dropped back. He informed me afterwards that he always had me in his sights but a puncture put paid to his attempts to stay with me.
One feature of this race is the mud and slippery thick tree roots and half way through this stage I found myself struggling with this technical form of riding. I was not alone however, and as the trail began to rise, even the most gifted riders were reduced to walking.
On the last climb, a group of about six riders reformed containing the impressive Swiss female elite rider, Andrea Kuster. As we descended some steep singletrack the pace increased on one section and I felt my bike slip from under me. I someone regained control and heard Andrea squeel from behind. She had done the exact same thing but we had both managed to stay upright and had probably avoided a serious crash. We crested the top of the climb together and began yet another insanely fast descent. I have to express my amazement at the skills of some of these female riders as I saw her disappear into the distance, chasing podium glory.
I finished in a time of 3.59.50 (14th in category and 64th overall), beating my Polish rival, Zbig by ten and a half minutes and moving to 15th (Masters) in the General Classification after the first three stages. I cannot speak more highly about this race. It is well organized, and the race trails offer incredible variety and challenge. I am looking forward to the final three stages and I hope to continue to ride strongly.