Springs Junction to Murchison
After two days of hard riding in miserable conditions, and a disappointing result yesterday it’s fair to say I gave myself a bit of a talking to on the morning of this stage. We’d spent the night in Hanmer Springs the night before and had an early start so we could drive to Springs Junction for the start. I’d been able to hear rain all through the night so was pleased to see things drying out as we headed west. I knew this would be another challenging stage for me.
The stage started with a challenging 200 vertical meters of climbing. Next came 80 k’s of fast flat roads followed by 30 k’s of rolling climbs all the way to the finish to really test my lungs and legs. Having been dropped on the main climb of the day yesterday I felt determined to survive the first 7 k’s and keep in touch with my group. I spent most of the drive over thinking about the disappointment of the previous day, asking myself if maybe I gave up too early and whether I could have found another level to just try and stay on. By the time we were lining up on the start line I was ready and willing to hurt as much as I could to stick with the bunch.
The best possible news came at that point. Due to a delayed start, and the fact the course started with a climb straightaway, we would start as a mass group instead of in waves as normal. The idea being that the climb itself would cause everyone to spread out into relevant groups of ability with the faster riders getting away easier than they would on the flat. This was good because the larger field would make it easier to sandbag the climb, and would possibly slow things up a little due to the roads being a little crowded at first. I moved as far up the starting chute as I could and braced myself for what was to come.
The hooter went and I was off. I needed to go hard, but going too hard too soon is the worst thing I could do. This was a 7k climb. Steady as she goes, but don’t let them get away. The first couple of k’s I sat in the top 20 riders. I felt my heart rate build but avoided going too deep too quickly. I started to slip back through the field as the better climbers pulled away. I could sense a handful of people around me doing the same thing as me. I checked over my shoulder – there was a long line back down the hill. So far so good. The climb wound on, halfway in now and I’m approaching my threshold heart rate, the maximum effort I can sustain before getting into oxygen debt. I’m holding my place now, the riders around me are all going the same pace. Either they’re matching me by choice or we’re all at a similar limit. This is what I needed to happen. I just have to keep this going for another 3 or 4k’s and I should be good. 2 k’s from the top and the pace starts to lift. I push up my cadence a little to match but feel the effort start to bite. I must hang on. 1k to go and I’m breathing very hard but I’m holding pace with those around me. The top of the climb comes into sight. Finally! I get up out of the saddle and put a few big pedal strokes in. I want to be at the front of my group when we roll over the other side so I can make the most of the descent. It works. I’ve done it. My lungs are bursting but I’m where I want to be.
We roll over the other side and begin a fast descent through gently curving roads. I take a minute to look around me and can’t believe my eyes. I’m sitting with basically the exact same 30 riders that I’ve started pretty much every stage with including 7 or 8 Arise riders. By now we’re all pretty accustomed to each other and get a smooth rotation going quite quickly. The next 80 k’s fly by.
Every time the pace goes on a bit I can feel my legs telling me they’re not too happy about it. I think the fatigue from the week of racing behind me plus the effort on the first climb is starting to show.
The last 30 k’s of the ride is steadily approaching and I know it’s going to be another big test. A long stretch of rolling climbs and descents. The first one appears up the road and I push to the front of the group to try to establish a good position. The climb is longer and steeper than I expect but I push over the top mid pack. We have a minute or so before the next one but the road is windy and I struggle to push forward again. The next climb is less of a challenge but the effort is starting to take a toll. Over the top again and I’m fighting for position while trying to minimise effort and get my heart rate down. Third climb I start mid pack and finish 5 meters off the back. Big push on the descent to get as forward as possible but I arrive at the base of the next climb still breathing harder than I’d like. This one is longer and steeper too. I’m in trouble. I’m off the back at less than halfway and the group is getting away from me. I’ve got one last big effort in me. I jump out of the saddle and try to chase them down but it’s over. I’m off the back and won’t be getting back on. 20 k’s to go and I ride the rest of the stage alone. I’m gutted.