The sun was warm as we lined up in the start chute for what seemed like an eternity. When we were finally released into open road, the mass of riders sorted themselves out into a more realistic pecking order. This fact was enforced by the first of the long climbs. I was riding strongly, and had a number of my marked riders only metres ahead. We came to a steep drop requiring riders to scramble down the wet slippery rocks and tree roots. I lost a few places to the more fleet footed riders but I was well in control of my race destiny.
At around eight kilometres, we were riding through some sharp rocks when my rear tyre suddenly went soft. I jumped off and punched some CO2 into the tyre, hoping the Stan’s goo would seal the hole. A hundred metres more, and I pulled off the track, resigned to the fact that I would have to fit a tube. I’m not the quickest at fixing punctures, but I told myself to stay calm and just make sure I fixed it properly. After around ten minutes, I was on my way again, and the next few kilometres involved passing many much slower and less technical riders. If anything, this really spurred me on, and I soon forgot my latest misfortune. Indeed, a puncture is the least problematic of mechanical problems and a fact of life when racing a mountain bike.
I continued to overtake riders, particularly on the longer climbs. On the descents, I paid more attention to my race lines, conscious that I was more prone to flatting with a tube. I was also aware that, without a second spare tube, a puncture now would involve trying to flag down another rider. What was Polish for ‘spare tube’? Or German, Spanish, Russian, Latvian? To reinforce this particular point, I even had a rider call out to me for help but I just shrugged unable to understand a word he had said.
Thunder cracked close by and was shortly followed by a downpour of rain. The track became flooded and the final steep, technical descent had just become muddy and considerably more technical. I spotted Mike Blewitt and Imogen Smith on this section and glided past them, feeling confident I could maintain my speed without flying over the handlebars. Fortunately, I made good progress and was soon on the final descent to the finish.
I was able to finish in a time of 4.41.26, fifteenth in my category (70th overall) and only five minutes behind Zbig and so I think I succeeded in reducing much of the time lost with the puncture. Perhaps this is another lesson in my mountain bike education which shows it pays dividends to remain calm in adversity. With another longer stage tomorrow of 67.5 km and 2100 metres of climbing, I hope to continue to climb in the solo standings.