Laura to Kalpowar: 89km, 200m
By the numbers, today could be an easy stage. After the two previous days of torture, a relatively flat sub 100km day was greeted happily by all of us on the Subaru-MarathonMTB.com Team. It even allowed for a slightly easier day for our Super Team Support crew, Pete Figg, with only two depots to get to.
Before the start we milled around and chatted to some of the riders we had become friends with. Brad Davies was keen to go in a break if Kevin Hulsmans and Rene Haselbacher went again – we said we wouldn´t chase. Justin spent a fair while chatting to Huub, realising they had various mutual friends racing in Belgium.
The race started almost right into the corrugations again. Tired legs are dropping wheels on even the slightest of climbs or rises out of creek and river crossings. It´s a humbling experience getting towed back onto the bunch by Kevin Hulsmans at close to 50km/h, even though he said he was feeling sub-optimal today.
The pace was being set by Points leader Urs Huber. Graeme was up keeping himself out of trouble in his Masters Leaders jersey, and early on Justin and myself were sitting back and staying with the bunch. The course was switching between sand and corrugations, and despite being flat it never really allowed for much easy rolling. Especially not at Uber Hubers relentless pace.
Trouble struck a few kilometres out of the first depot. My seat tube bottle cage had come loose and was hitting the chainring and cranks. I ditched the bottle from it, but couldnt get it to hold steady. I had to stop. I lost the fast moving bunch. I removed the cage and foolishly hurled it into the scrub in anger. Pretty annoyed, I rode solo for the next 10km, then finally sat up when I could see the bunch behind were slowly coming back. It was a curious bunch, with three well placed Masters M2 riders, some other people in about the top 15-25 on GC, and Mark Griffin, probably suffering from his efforts in the break yesterday. Most curious of all was the presencce of Ollie, Marks support person, riding in the bunch.
We rolled in, with a few riders having digs in the closing 15km – probably more out of a desire to get to the finish than anything else. It was great to get off the bikes after being rattled by corrugations for so long.
Getting news from the front of the race was fantastic. It turns out Huber did not get off the front for 85km. The pace was high and the bunch was in the ´gutter´on any rough sections, but he eased up on anything smoother. A few riders had some digs, just about everything was covered predominantly by the in form Arnott who was reacting to the relentless attacks of Kevin Hulsmanns. One move got away though, with Huub, Josef and Subaru-MarathonMTB.com´s own Justin Morris. Justin finished a stunning third, netting himself a podium finish!
Kalpowar is a campsite with a river, crocs, and a farmers grass fire a few hundred metres away. Bodies and bikes are pretty tired, and looking at tomorrows 148km of sand and corrugations, that´s not likely to improve anytime soon!