My nerves were shot, I could hardly sleep. My mind was rampant with thoughts of the stage that lay ahead. Much of it was unknown, except the first 30km, then after that it was into the abyss. My dreams made it worse and I tossed and turned.
The start was at 9:30 but I still needed to be up early, into town and out to Wellington by 7:30. I was early, so decided to drive up Bains Kloof and check it out. I didnt even get half way up, it’s twisty and very rutted. The descent would be bad, and to make things worse the thunder clouds had closed in and were spewing forth huge drops. The roads were wet almost instantly, the wind was inconsistent, it was dreary and I was even more nervous than the night before.
I warmed up to settle the nerves and told myself reassuring things I didn’t believe.
Then we loaded into the start gates, there was more media than I was used to, and the streets were packed with people. I felt a little unsure still that I should be here, standing next to the pro teams in the gates. I was quiet and apprehensive and then all of a sudden we were off.
I found the back of the bunch pretty easily 🙂 I decided to race from there and check things out, don’t do any work and suck wheels as long as I could. The familiar roads and some familiar faces around brought some relief. The pace was fast but not too fast and I sat in enjoying the ride.
The first 40km was great as a warm up, no real fireworks but then the gutter started. Medscheme and MTB were on the front and laying down the law. There was no shoulder, just gravel and the thunderstorm gusting winds were almost square on from the right. The gutter lasted ages, kilometers went by in a red mist and my legs were screaming. Then there was a crash, the guys around me scattered and instantly regrouped, formed and echelon and fought to get back on terms. Medscheme had forced a split, and they got away while we struggled to regroup behind them. Finally the gutter relented as we turned head on into the wind and we could take shelter and help each other. We chased, and caught a small bunch on the shallow incline of the Nuwekloof pass, and on the other side we caught several more, mostly DCM chrome and TCS riders.
About 15km later we had a decent sized pack and were 50secs off the breakaway group. The lead into Bains Kloof was flat and the pace was quick, we didn’t lose any more time until the pass. As we entered the pass road the pace slowed, as everyone caught their breath and prepared for the uphill battle, the time check indicating the rest was damaging, and the break quickly opened up another minute, then two. As the road leaped upwards the pain came back. I hadn’t ridden this road and can only barely remember it from driving down. I was lucky as the gradient suited me nicely, it was tough but light enough for me to turn a big gear and power up. I kept up with much better climbers than me and I was well positioned. The climb was long more than 7km and each time I thought it was over another corner revealed yet more of the pass. I was sitting well positioned and finally went over with a good bunch.
Over the top I got back on the gas and reveled in the descent, passing a few riders and dragging more with me. It was dry, thankfully and I knew the turns from the mornings drive. We popped out into the open section and had quite a nice size group, it was downhill all the way and we drove hard to the finish taking turns pulling into the wind. 15 riders had got away, with 25 only 2 minutes back, then our group of 22 just 5 minutes off the pace. I was very happy to see the finish line and to be only 5 minutes off was a dream come true.
My nightmares of missing the strict cut-off times were silenced and I was overwhelmed.
Today I rode the Giro, but I get to do it all again tomorrow.