Today was a big day in the race. Two back to back stages and a whole load of pain!
It was an early rise, followed by an early breakfast and early drive into the Brecon Beacons for the race start. We got there with plenty of time to spare, just as it was starting to rain, again. Wales should invest in an umbrella!
The race rolled out onto the neutral zone into the freezing wind and rain. The bunch was just as twitchy as yesterday and the neutral service car was driving just as fast. I’d argue it was too fast. As we dropped onto the slightly downhill dual carriage way I glanced at my Garmin and spotted 37mph. People were sprinting just to stay in contact…in the neutral zone! Then there were riders going down all over the place. Someone at the front had touched their brakes, causing a collision that somehow sent a rider into one of the escort bikes; others just seemed to fall over on the sodden roads. I stayed upright, but experienced an odd feeling off dread as I waited for someone to go into the back of me. Nobody did.
From what I’ve heard, nobody was seriously injured, which is a relief as it could have been very nasty! After the crash, the race was re-neutralised for a few miles (this time at a very slow pace) before the lead car beeped its horn and buggered off up the road. The days racing had started.
I was feeling a little better today, but was riding the back of the bunch again as we hit the first climb, an 18% slog. I got over fine, but paid for my poor positioning as the race split in two over the top. We hurtled down the descent, chasing the front group and caught them just before the bottom as we turned onto a dual carriage way. At this point I was thinking to myself that I need to buy a new cassette! My legs were spinning in a blur in the 53 12. I would have loved an 11 sprocket as we smashed along the main road. Powering down a slight descent, on top of a huge gear is good childish fun.
The first of the three laps had passed largely without incident. There were the usual dodgy manoeuvres and dropped bottles but nothing really serious. Apart from one small problem, ever since the crash I had really needed a wee. As I’m sure everyone knows, when you need to go, it’s all you can think about and it wont go away! But I held it in, there was no way in hell I was going to stop because that would mean race over for me. So for over an hour I held it. Then as we got to the climb for the 2nd time some touching of bars in the bunch had caused a hold up which had effectively cut me off from the main bunch (due to my poor positioning) I crossed the top of the hill alone and just thought, well I’m going to have to have to chase anyway so I may as well stop and..’go’. It was a huge mistake that would cost me over 8 minutes today. I was chasing for almost half the stage, picking up dropped riders who’d had mechanicals and forcing the pace as high as I could. With one lap to go I caught a Dream CC rider who’d needed a bike change and we worked well together. Unfortunately though, we just could not get back to the main bunch. I got to the finish and told the guys why I’d taken so long and the bastards just laughed at me. Apparently I should have just pee’d on the bike. Which I had contemplated, but it’s a lot harder than it sounds!
Fortunately for the team, Matt and Stu have far stronger bladders than me so both of them managed to finish in the bunch and preserve their places on GC. All we had to do now was get ready for the Team Time Trial which for our team started just over two hours after the finish of the days road stage.
It’s one of the great spectacles of professional cycle racing! When it is done right, a team can look fluid and effortless, all muscle and grace. But we aren’t professionals and we displayed neither. It just hurt, instantly. There was no easing into the 10.7mile (it was longer than that in reality, closer to 12 miles) distance. After the day I’d had chasing I was completely exhausted and the moment we set off I was struggling. My first turn in the wind felt like a kick in the face, legs and crotch all at once. The nature of the course and the race made it worse. The team’s time would be taken from the third rider to cross the finish line which was situated over the top of quite a significant hill. I knew that I would have to be that third rider as Sam isn’t a climber. I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to hold on, let alone contribute. I did my best, but had to skip a couple of turns, forcing the other guys to work harder. That is truly horrible, you feel like you are holding them back, dragging on their jersey pockets, but we had agreed at the start that we would do what we had too to finish with three riders.
Sam put in a huge effort at the bottom of the climb into a block headwind and biting rain but eventually pulled over, unable to push any more. That left the three of us to drag out the last of our strength up the hill.
We found the power and managed to make it over. I had pulled up the climb and now Stuart took over on along the top. We weren’t the most disciplined team, there was a lot of shouting and struggling to hold wheels but we were happy with our performance. The finish came into view Matt surged through to drive for the line. Knowing that he is our highest place man on GC, I jumped in front to keep him out of the wind and pushed over the finish pedalling squares. We were all utterly destroyed. I was shaking uncontrollably and felt sick. The mile or so back to the HQ was a real effort. But we made it.
In the car on the way home we were chatting about the race and about the accommodation and we came to the conclusion that it was perfectly designed for cyclists. The race is hard (for some reason that is generally deemed to be a good feature) and the organizers knew exactly what we needed when we finished; A lot of good food and somewhere you can relax and feel comfortable, but able to fiddle with your bike and mess about as a team. Plus, as Matt pointed out, the wet room/toilet/shower all in one things are really handy because you can sit on the toilet whilst shaving your leg under the shower… It’s like they designed the place for us!
We knew that today would be a really hard day so had decided to treat ourselves to some R&R after the stage. We had Kim from http://www.pro-sports-massage.co.uk/ come over from Bristol to take a look at our legs. It’s fair to say they were in bits. I’d been cramping up during the TTT and Matt and Stu both have their own injuries to worry about. I was very tender but having now been beaten up (massaged) by kim, my legs feel a million times better.
I wouldn’t say I’m ready for stage 5, but we will see how it goes.