Saturday, 31 March 2012

Stage 5 - Horrendous!!

Team KMD and Weatherzone on the startline....little did we know what was
in store!
 We awoke to the sound of pouring rain at 4.45am. It had been raining heavily all night, so it was going to be a very wet, muddy and cold stage 5 from Caledon to Oak Valley. Like all the stages, today was no simple ride. 119k, with 2350m of vertical climbing.

Our B&B was about 20k from the start and Christelle (Jarrod’s fiancée) was driving as she had joined us for the last few days of the race, before she and Buzz get married in Tulbagh next Wednesday. We grabbed our bikes and our rain jackets as the temperature along the ridge lines would be on 4 or 5 degrees.

The gun went at 7am sharp and we took off at pace in a big peleton in the driving rain. After a kilometre or so, we hit the unmade road. Quick as a flash, we were covered in what yesterday was crimson dust, was today crimson mud. It caked onto the our faces, ran down our necks under our ride tops, and shorts. My (already painful) saddle sores were going to love this!! You couldn’t tell what rider was in what team, as we raced along the road, both of us focusing on keeping our position at the front. Johnny and Mark were with us early, but dropped back as we hit the first of 4-5 rolling hills. I could only tell Buzz was near me by him saying “yep” in his broad aussie accent every few minutes.

This was average conditions for todays
After 41k we got to the first feed station. Buzz and I were going well. We were around 55th position. After the usual frenzy of the feed station, we settled into a little group as we punched out way over rolling farms. We had the leading womens team with us. They are an English and South African, both who will be riding at the London Olympics. They are both unbelievably strong and can mix it with the strong men’s teams very well. Due to all the mud, bikes were playing up and after about 6km after the feed station, one of the girls rear derailleur got the chain wrapped around it, and before they even had stopped, she was crying in frustration, their chance of winning the largest Mountain Bike race in the world…..gone.

Muddy boys...but the Champion Systems kit
stood up a treat to the harsh condition
We pushed on and saw Mike Blewett from Marathon MTB fame by the side of the road, retired due to a knee injury (Hi Rowena!!). There were teams by the side of the trail everywhere, with busted bikes, or busted bodies. If yesterday was the longest stage, today was the hardest. We pushed on determined to get a good result. My bike was still playing up and I had to stop everytime I had to change into the “granny gear” for climbing. We passed a few teams, and a few passed us. The main climb of the day was a 15k meandering climb with 2 false peaks to get riders hopes up.

The boys refuelling after the stage
Buzz was in the hurt locker a little today, but he was hanging in there well. I felt a lot better than yesterday and was determined to put in a good day. We crested the peak and hit the downhill. This was a 4k descent, over rutted out, loose rock, 4 wheel drive tracks, and a sheer drop on one side and a mistake would be very nasty. Buzz descends like a stone. He hammered it. I wasn’t too far behind him. Back home in Manly, on descents on the MTB, I cant get near, Wazza, Duncan, Stu and the like. Here I am one of the better descenders! Many of these guys can’t (or wont) descend quickly, so we often pick up time.

good head. I still have dirt coming out of all areas
We got through the mud and the rain. It was tough going. We had 30k to go, most of which was downhill single track. All the mud and slush had completely worn away my brake pads. I had no brakes!! We had to slowly come down the hill, costing us valuable time and places. The mud was so thick, it made riding impossible in some areas. Buzz and I finally got to the finish in 7hrs 13 mins. That put us in 79th position on a unbelievably tough stage, and moved us from 123rd overall to 105th.

Johnny didnt get the eye from Buzz!
Johnny and Mark had a tough day with severe bike mechanicals, including a broken chain and jockey wheel, which cost them time as well as both ending up in the medical tent with exposure and Johnny also had dust in his eye and scratched his retina. They looked shattered when they came in. They are tough units though and they will be back out there again tomorrow.

Only 2 stages to go. Tomorrow is shorter in distance at 85k, but very tough. It will still be wet out there. Hopefully we will get to the finish!!

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