Day 2 : Hunter Valley - 54.71 km
Mud, Sweat, Tears and Mountains
The lead car peeled off after four hundred metres and the race up the first big climb was on in earnest. Selkrig had been caught napping and was still in sight half way up the hill. Category rivals were all within touching distance, while fellow Manly rider, Mark Hardy, appeared to be struggling to find his usual comfortable rhythm. The field began to spread out as the fireroad continued to point skywards. Mud was being thrown up from other riders, and it seemed folly to follow too closely. I decided the sunglasses were more a hindrance and carefully stowed them in a back pocket, from which they were soon ejected and ultimately lost. Mud was still getting in my eyes, but a few blinks, and vision would be temporarily restored.
The bitumen road section into Millfield was an opportunity to work with others and keep a decent pace up. Unfortunately, our small group of four soon became three. At the bottle drop, a second rider stopped and our group was two. My partner was having problems with his rear derailleur and had actually wanted to stop so he could clean his drive chain, but had erroneously followed me past his point of saviour. His loss was my gain, and we worked together for a number of kilometres swapping turns at the front. As the final hill climb began to steepen, he paid the price for his lack of gearing and dropped back. I saw bikes ahead and knew it was time to jump ship and catch the tiring riders further up the road.
I finished 5th in category and 36th overall, a vast improvement on the first day. I was able to gain time on Kooijman, while Darren Smith suffered a broken derailleur and dropped from the top of the rankings. Richard Piel and Stephen Billington performed strongly, and with Stu Adams, they hold the Top 3 Master's podium positions.
Tomorrow is the longest day with 63 kilometres of riding in the Hunter Valley planned, although if the predicted rain falls, this stage could be shortened, as the organisers attempt to avoid another day in the mud. Indeed, some thought should go to those riders towards the back end of the field who would have ridden the track today when it was at its very worst. More time in the saddle means more pain both on and off the bike. Without doubt, towards the front end of the field, riders have a much easier time. Hopefully, tomorrow will be better for everyone.