The penultimate stage, everyone is feeling that the end is close but there is still 230km left to ride.
Today the shortest ride of the event, just 87km but not the easiest by any means. The first 60km was set to be “extreme rough” from the handbook, in other words slightly technical!
Same as usual at the start, 8am mass start, full gas from the gun. I struggled to stay with the group but felt better than some days so just about managed it. Mike Mullkens went out, no one chased him then a little later the race leader Ivan also went which I think took everyone by surprise. No one followed him, he is really strong and I don’t think anyone felt capable of keeping up.
Back I’m the bunch a few different people were setting the pace including Cory Wallace who has been consistently strong this year. After about 20km the group was down to 10-15 people and we starting hitting steeper climbs that split the group. I always struggle on the steep stuff so lost the first guys but managed to hang on to a few others. It became pretty rough, the descents were great as you really had to pick a good line. I was riding around similar people, sometimes dropping them on descents to be caught again on the climbs which was a little frustrating, especially when people were intentionally blocking me from passing.
Through a the first feed station I didn’t need to stop so caught several people in the process. I was feeling good on everything except the really steep climbs of which there was quite a bit! The rough riding continued until about 45km when it started to flatten out and turn a little more sandy. After sticking it the big ring and smashing the pedals for a few minutes I had 3 riders in sight which gave me motivation to keep pushing. I eventually caught them but at bottle depot 2 I had to refill my camelbak so lost a minute to them. On one technical rocky and sandy section I managed to catch the back up and we rode as a group of 4 for a while.
After 60km the terrain mellowed and from here to the finish at 87km it was all pretty boring but fast. The group worked well and we caught another rider at the final bottle depot at 75km. I was still feeling good, but there was no chance to attack as I’d just end up dragging everyone behind me. Into the final few kilometres there was a small section of Tarmac that a few people attacked on and from there it was every man for themselves. From our group I finished 3rd which I think put me 8th overall on the day. Satisfactory but nothing incredible. Ivan was the stage winner with Mile Mullkens recovering from a puncture to take 2nd place and Cory was 4th.
Today was the last of the technical riding, for the final stage it’s dirt roads all the way with some sealed roads towards the end. 140km to go, the end is almost in sight!