Granite Creek Dam – Laura (116 km / 1800 m)
Before we arrived at the second Depot, we rode close together and were also joined by an M1 Austrian rider, who appeared to be having trouble with some of the more technical pinch climbs and therefore I assumed he was probably a road rider. After Depot 2, I was able to move away from these two, and started to pick up a few more riders ahead. Unfortunately, Depot 2 had been moved five kilometres forward, and with fifteen kilometres to go before the next Depot, I had totally drained my water. Furthermore, this whole section was the most challenging of the stage with several steep climbs along the technical, but stunning, old gold mining trail.
I held the back wheel of two team riders that I had caught and hoped this would help pull me to the water stop. The sun was now high in the sky and temperatures were touching forty degrees. I was now starting to wilt in the heat. I asked for water from a camera crew at the top of a hill, and another rider but there was none to spare. Even though we were travelling downhill, the track was sandy and progress was slow and cumbersome. At last, we reached Depot 3, a most welcome site for the riders and quite a few had gathered there, obviously all experiencing the same problems; some had even submerged themselves in a nearby creek!
I tried not to spend too long, and guzzled as much water as my stomach could handle, refilled my two bottles and took a red bull for the next section. Two Austrian elite riders passed, including yesterday’s stage winner but I was unable to maintain their speed. Shortly after, I was able to hook onto two Belgium M1 riders and we began to swap turns as the road opened up. One of the riders was struggling with saddle soreness and so two of us took the major pace-making duties. A bee had flown into my open shirt and I was stung at least twice. I winced with pain and desperately opened my shirt in an attempt to release my insect intruder. I assumed the bee had escaped and resumed my pace-making duties. Our group stayed together until a couple of kilometres out when they took advantage of a roadwork and broke away. I finished alone but content, in 24th position for the stage.
I had been fairly tired after the long stage the day before and I had felt the drama of the barbed wire fence may have drained some energy, and so I was fairly content with my day’s work. Finishing eight minutes behind M2 rivals Peter Muhl and Zbigniew Mosoczy, has seen me drop to fifth in M2, three minutes behind Peter and two behind Zbigniew. I remain 20th in GC, with Pete (who was beaten by Daniele on the day) still 16th and Martin dropping one place to 25th.