Irvinebank - Mt Mulligan (118 km / 1600 m)
Steep Learning Curve
The start saw the riders move off in unison as a fast-moving pack. In appearance and tactically, this appeared not so much a mountain bike race but was much more reminiscent of a road race. Two riders made a break but the main contenders for overall honours decided to let them have their moment in the sun. With 118 kilometres of riding ahead, the chances were they would be reeled back in later in the day. A couple of surges were experienced within the chasing group but the pressure came off and we all came back together.
My lack of experience riding in pelotons was to cost me dearly not long after. I failed to spot Cory Wallace and Mark Frendo move to the front and, as the pace lifted, I started to drop back. Then it all suddenly happened. We hit a rough, steep hill and all my main rivals came flying through, leaving me desperately clawing at shadows. I was off the back and in no man’s land. I attempted to re-join the small group ahead but I realised that even this would not be possible and relented in my chase. Eventually, I was joined by Andy Tubbs, from the USA, and we were able to work together on the long dirt tracks.
This stage was played out over rough, rocky trails and several riders came to grief with punctures. Elite Welsh rider Matt Page punctured three times and lost thirty minutes on his rivals for overall honours. M2 rival, Zbigniew Mossoczy, from Poland, rode strongly all day, but also experienced two flat tyres. Each time I passed him, he would replace the tube and overtake so fast that I had no chance to jump on his wheel. After struggling on the first two days, he now seems to have adjusted to the extreme heat, and is riding more and more strongly each passing stage.
Approaching Depot 3, I was told by New Zealander, Steve Bunton, that team mate Martin Wisata was only two minutes ahead. If I could catch him at the depot, I would be able to work with him to the end and minimize my time losses on the day. Andy Tubbs was no longer with me, and so I picked up the pace alone and focussed on making it to Martin ahead. As I approached the Depot I saw three riders, one of which was Martin. I quickly transitioned and was soon leaving on the back of my trusty companion.
Martin put the hammer down and it was as much as I could do to just follow his tracks. The final thirty kilometres passed rapidly as I was towed to the finishing line at Mt. Mulligan. This was a great show of team work and I was the beneficiary of an abundance of selfless work by Martin. This certainly reduced the damage of my earlier error at the start of the race. We were to finish 24th for the stage. I lost only four minutes on a couple of my main rivals to drop to fifth, while Austrian, Peter Muhl, moved to third in M2. Pete Selkrig was finally made to work for his boomerang, after ex-pro road rider Danielle Bertozzi from Italy pushed him to an outstanding fifth place for the stage. Pete is now 16th, I am 21st and Martin 24th in the overall, while in the team classification, the Il Pastaio / Rocky Trail Racing Team is sitting comfortably in second.
Hopefully, tomorrow will be a better day for me, which sees the riders tackle the Queen Stage from Mt. Mulligan to Granite Creek Dam. The 163 kilometres involves 3000 metres of climbing and the road book describes it as ‘rough and unbelievably hilly’.