Awaking just after 6am, after yesterdays crazy day the first knowledge we had was that it would be revised to 120km and a later start, which was nice. So at 8.30 we were all ready to go, some people wrapped up for arctic weather after yesterday, although the temperature was a milder 8 degrees and we were at 2000m and heading down to 1200m with a tailwind all the way. With that in mind and looking at the clouds I wore more normal gear, with the addition of a GORE windproof base layer, arm warmers and a lightweight windproof jacket. I was hoping that I would be right about the weather!
The start was immediately downhill and the Mongolian riders all shot to the front and the pace was crazy from the start. After it levelled out the pace remained high and the pack was being strung out with lots dropping off. I missed the decisive move, which was started by the two Jamis team riders who along with Cory (all Canadians) pushing ahead, taking another 3 people with them. One person from the top 3 was missing, Pau Zamora and they made sure they punished that! I pushed as hard as I could, riding behind Pau for a while but not pulling myself as I wanted to see Cory do well after some dodgy Spanish tactics on stage 2. Pau slowly pulled ahead, I wasn’t able to keep up on the inclines and another rider, Peter also got passed, pulling serious wattages on the flats! The first feed came at 30km, I didn’t need anything so was able to ride through. The average speed to here was 35kph, just a bit fast for a MTB race! The speed didn’t let up either and the front group of 6 was pulling away, with Pau then Peter and then myself, all riding solo races and all pushing hard to catch back on. The trails were simple but fast and at times that caught me out, including a blind left hander that had a big ditch on the left hand side. The speed I hit it at I wasn’t able to stop so had no choice but to try and jump it, which I made by the skin of my teeth! The racing stayed very much the same to 60km, then the climbing started. A long drag with massive views through a valley followed and just before the top I caught Peter. The following downhill was super fast, then a flat section followed and Peter motored by and I couldn’t hold his wheel. The same happened on the next hill, I passed then Peter pushed on the flats over the top. The trail was mostly doubletrack, but split by a thick section of grass, making it in essence 2 lines of singletrack. There were a few really deep, random holes along the track and the speed that they were approached at made it a very last minute hop to get over.
The 90km marker came and I stopped to fill my bottle up for the final 30km, but not long after we passed the 1km sign! I wasn’t sure if it was genuine or not, but after a few corners I caught sight of camp and crossed the line to finish 9th, pretty happy overall but a little disappointed to miss the first break. It turns out that they simply got the revised course distance wrong, which no one was really too upset about. It wasn’t a technical stage, but the tailwind made it really fast, my average speed was 31kph and everyone seemed to enjoy the chance to go fast. I was only a few minutes back from the lead group, the stage being won by Jason Sager (Jamis), Cory finished in the group and Pau in fairness limited his losses to just 2 minutes or so. Hopefully today is a good sign that I am starting to improve and can continue to do so over the next few days and I can salvage something towards the end, perhaps on the 165km stage in a few days time!
One rather different aspect to today was the evening meal. When we arrived at camp there was a sheep tied up to one of the back of the vans and I knew instantly that it would be our evening meal, although others doubted. The local people running the catering humanly killed it, then butchered it with many racers watched. We were told that no part would be wasted, although we didn’t know what parts exactly we would be eating. It tasted good regardless!