Day 5: 90km, 1,655m elevation
The mornings! Man, they’re killing me, the alarm goes off and the eyes open in gluey slow-mo, stuck together with some kind of primordial substance that ekes itself out of your marrow, squeezed out by the cold.
Then begins the effort to reach out to unzip the sleeping bag, and it goes on, pulling on the layers, gloves, hat – cold weather makes every trip outside a military operation. Gotta take a wizz in the night?
You soon realize why piss-pots were invented…
Give me 35 degrees, shorts and a pair of flip flops any day.
Anyway, the race. Today sucked big time, with first a flat tire after 10km and then soon after an old knee injury in my old knee coming back. After coming in 15th place the day before I was up for this short, fast stage but no such luck. I quickly realized that if I pushed on I’d be risking a potentially greater problem, so decided after 20km to turn back to camp.
Only problem was that once I started heading back I quickly realized that I didn’t know which direction to head in. The race trail is marked out very well (generally – more on that later) but it only works one way – turn back and there are so many forks, because there are so many trails, that it would be far too easy to make a wrong turn.
Then you compound that first mistake with another and that’s it, you’ll be flashing the rescue helicopter with that make-up mirror before you know it – if your hands aren’t frozen into claws by then.
So I got back on the trail and made my way slowly up to the 30km feed zone, which sat magnificently atop a spaghetti western-type valley, told the guys there I’d be jumping into the van and settled in to wait for the last riders to come in.
And I waited. And waited. And waited. Finally, after 2 and a half hours, the last guy came in, George S. Parerson. George and I have become friends over these last few days, and I cheered him on from the comfort of the van as the wind howled and raged outside.
George, an Aussie, is 60 in a few weeks and decided that participation in the MBC would be an ideal birthday present. There is proof, if it was needed, that George is a bit mad. He eschewed the Ducati, turned his nose up at two weeks on a Hawaiian beach, to come flog himself over several hundred kilometers on a bicycle on the Mongolian steppe – that is my kind of insane!
In my eyes it’s these guys that are the real heroes in all this. The guys at the front get my full respect but the heroic deeds are being performed by the folks who manage 90km not in 3 hours but in 7.
Marvelous stuff, inspirational.
The day’s racing was slightly ruined though when the top three guys, including race leader Cory Wallace, were sent off in the wrong direction.
Cory and his cohorts ended up riding a whopping and no doubt infuriating 140km as a result. The stage positions were then decided by the order of riders passing the second feed at 60km, but several riders felt hard done by when they found that their adjusted times did not reflect their position on the trail.
No winners were declared either, and the GC for both men and women remained the same. I got cut from the race list but will still be able to start tomorrow.
Day 6: 171km, 1730 m elevation
Finally, finally! The legs are back(ish).
Several of the experienced pros here have been referring to the route over the past two days as more road racing than MTB, and today provided more meat to that argument.
Two guys took off in the first 5km and then something like 40 of us sat in a double line peloton for the next 60km. It was so sedate in fact that I stopped twice to take a leak and easily got back on to the group.
At 70km we started though to climb up what felt like a never-ending series of plateaus, when boredom and over-eagerness got the better of me and I went on the attack with Spaniard Marcel Zamora, 5-time Ironman France champion.
Flowing along and feeling good for about 5km, my rear tire suddenly went soft. Damn my race number – unlucky 13 it really is proving to be.
I jumped off and got more air in the tire and chased back up to within 100m of Marcel, but that was as close as I got. The man was on a mission.
“He won’t last another 80km I thought.”
Shows what I know.
Just as I’d resigned myself to drifting back to the chasers, Juao Marinho of Portugal came along.
“Let’s go!” he said, and I figured why not – better to burnout than fade away, as they say of several dead, young famous people.
And so for the next 40km we nailed it, wailed it, sailing over those steppes like banshees on a mission – what the mission was escapes me as I spent just about all my time with my eyes focusing on Juao’s tiny Portuguese backside, less it begin to disappear into the distance.
With 30km to go we passed one of the early breakaway guys, then caught the last, though by now Marcel was long gone.
On a long downhill (which I am finding myself not at all bad at) I got clear of Juao and the other guy and ploughed along, hitting the hard-pack flat section in the big gear.
With 15km to go I could taste 2nd place! Sweet it was! But it didn’t last. 15km on a road bike is about 20 mins tops, at the end of a race with a flattish run in, but on an MTB you’re looking at more like 30-40 painful minutes.
With 10km to go I hit a hill, felt the legs whimper, and turned to see a phalanx of about 8 riders coming like Vader’s Imperial Guard – even heard the music.
And yes, they got me. Went by like I didn’t exist. Another guy passed me in the last 5km, though I was still pretty pleased to be stammering over the line in 10th, my legs thoroughly liquefied.
That 10th should satisfy me says something about the beating I’ve taken here. Onwards and upwards it is though, onwards and upwards…
The stage was won by some 2 minutes by Marcel Zamora, with Corey retaining his MBC lead. Catherine Williamson retains her lead in the women’s race.
George S. Paterson came in last, a good 10 hours after he started, to wild and heartfelt cheers from the entire camp.
Rock on George, you crazy diamond.