Awaking today, the big news around camp was that many of the riders were feeling sick, including Jack my ger-mate and two riders in the top 6. It was back to a 7.30am start and we had the longest stage of the event so far, a total of 167km but a relatively flat profile and especially the first 50km that was downhill and with a tailwind.
The start was quite civilised, the speed was steady and it was one big group for a while. Mike Blewitt headed off the front with a Mongolian rider after about 10km, my legs didn’t feel great and I decided against a 150km breakaway, staying in the bunch. A few others headed off the front, no one managed to get to Mike though. The first feed was at a rickety old bridge that crossed the big river we had been following, no doubt the only crossing point for miles around. It was pretty sketchy with quite a few missing planks and lots of gaps to the water below. The group of 40 or so riders had a serge going onto it, which made things even worse. Over the bridge we turned 180 and started heading back upstream and into a headwind, so I stayed safely within the bunch and towards the front when possible. The scenery reminded me a little of the welsh moorland hills, although it went on for much, much longer and for as far as the eye could see. The course was a little dull, the animal sightings were the highland, including a huge herd of camels, some gazelles, a huge eagle, several herds of horses that galloped alongside us which was really quite a sight.
The next feed station came at 100km, by here the group had dropped to about 20 riders, Mike was still up front and soon after the feed 4 more riders attacked, including a few that are close to me on GC. I decided to play the waiting game and see what happened. Between 100 and 120km I had to struggle to stay with the group, yo-yoing off the back at times and made some big efforts to stay in touch, I didn’t want to ride the remainder alone. I had a TORQ caffeine gel around 120km mark and that seemed to really boost my speed. By 130km I was feeling good and at the top of the hill I attacked the group, hoping to bring back those ahead that were close to me on GC. I stayed away on the downhill, but a really long flat section followed and the group, which was now only about 7 strong came back to me. I stayed on the front, pulling as hard as I could, knowing I could blow at any time.
The move worked though as we gradually pulled back everyone who was ahead, except Marcel Zamora, who was still completely out of sight, even on the longest of valley views. My effort took its toll though, I had been towing everyone for 25km non-stop, then we crossed a river and into a headwind and up a small climb where I couldn’t keep up and 5 riders moved away. I passed the 167km marker, now out of food and almost out of water and only there did I see the 5km to go sign! Thankfully the final 5km was relatively easy and I crossed the line in 7th place, Marcel Zamora taking a solo win and the group of 5 finishing a few minutes ahead. I move into 6th position with just the 86km final stage to go!