I woke up this morning to the sound of rain on the tent, it wasn't a surprise as I checked the forecast and knew that it would be a rainy day. It did catch lots of other out though, perhaps including the organisation.
I made the choice to wrap up fairly well and take spare clothes with me, as I know from my experience in 24hr races that some fresh kit makes a big difference if you get wet & cold. The stage started with a 700m climb, starting on tarmac leading to gravel which was really steep.
The rain was actually helping bind the soil and gravel making it quite manageable, although the speed was down to 3-4kph at times. The front group stayed together and I was able to keep my heart rate steady. The climb eventually finished and I was looking forward to a good descent, but for the first time during the event I didn't get it. It was a gravel track most of the way and some tarmac to finish, which was a little disappointing.
After a quick bite to eat at a feed station it was onto the main climb of the day, which was a really long one. It went from 550m all the way to 2300m, making it one of the longest continuous climbs in the event. It started on steep tarmac but soon changed to steep gravel track. For whatever reason I couldn't get going and my HR was really low and I couldn't get myself going at all.
At about 1000m we hit the clouds and visibility dropped significantly, staying like that all the way to 1700m, it was still raining all the time but I was keeping warm on the climb. After 1700m the track left the trees and the wind became stronger. At 1800m altitude it became even steeper with visibility down to just a couple of meters. I was walking much it and started to really curse myself for not bringing a smaller chainset.
I was paying the price and a few people came past, some walking and some riding. My walking pace is very slow thanks to my short legs so they soon disappeared into the mist.
At about 1900m I started hearing cow bells all around, although I couldn't see a single cow they sounded pretty close. The noise drove me mad, constant and loud it would be a great form of torture. The track narrowed and steepened and at about 2000m it became unrideable singletrack. It was a painfully slow push to the summit, about 3km at 2-3kph.
At this height the temperature was very low, almost cold enough to snow. I stopped cursing myself and started to curse the race organisers, it was a pretty stupid idea to take the race up to 2300m in these conditions, especially when it can't be ridden. I hit rock bottom and felt totally spent and could hardly walk with the bike.
I eventually reached the top and started my way down – it was a walk down the first 1-2km, the track was almost non existent and would have been impossible even in the dry. It eventually turned to a gravel track so I was finally able to get back on the bike.
It was a fairly fast track, so the wind and rain made me really cold and the type of soil was wearing brake pads down pretty quickly. Eventually we reached a checkpoint that had food and warmed iced tea, which was odd but welcome. I had packed a spare base layer, waterproof and gloves so I changed into them and headed down the track again. In the time I had changed lots of people had come in and they were all in the same or worse condition than me, freezing cold and struggling to ride. I know Iron Bike is supposed to be hard, but this was maybe a step too far.
I started riding down and straight away I started passing people who were walking down. It was fairly steep, but not unrideable. I picked my way through the rocks eventually reaching a doubletrack and started climbing again. I passed a quick Belgian that I had been speaking to quite a bit called Ellias who was walking with his bike. His face was all cut up and he could hardly walk, he had obviously had a bad crash.
I got off my bike and checked he was OK, which he insisted he was. I felt terrible, but I carried on riding. I wasn't the first to pass him and I was no where near the last. I just hoped he would make it to the next checkpoint which was a few km's away. A little later I passed a medic station, they already knew about him and were expecting him. They also let me know that the stage was being shortened by 15km, which was a sensible thing to do but it was still a 15km ride away.
After a bit more riding I passed a guy who was ahead of me in the race and I had been chasing for days and days. It gave me a big boost and I pushed a little harder, although he stuck to my wheel and passed me back. The track was undulating and parts were too steep and rocky to ride, he would run a bit so I did the same – we were racing and I started to feel brilliant. I pushed harder and dropped him on a fast downhill section.
I kept pedalling hard and tried to pull out whatever I could time wise. The course went up and down quite a bit, through some open singletrack and then into a forest where the track was new and muddy. It was a real grind and hard to pedal, although I knew we were close to the checkpoint so kept pushing. I was wishing for some nice technical singletrack downhill, as that is where I seem to make up the most time on just about all the riders.
It took a while to come, but I did eventually reach some and what a descent it was! Not quite singletrack, but super rocky and steep with lots of drops and really slippery. It was a challenge to ride, but much quicker than walking down. I was loving it and rode it all pretty well, passing more people on the way down and eventually hit the bottom where the stage timing ended. It was just a steady 6km pedal uphill to the base camp where Ben was waiting.
He is a massive help on any day, but in such crap weather he is even more important. I was able to get a shower and clean myself while he saw to the bike and checked it all over. Amazingly all that was needed, other than a good clean was a fresh set of brake pads – the Rocky Mountain Element is amazing me every day with what it ride and how it deals with all the punishment.
Tomorrow the forecast is dry, but the stage looks really tough. There might also be a few mines to ride through, so I'll be needing my Exposure Lights Diablo that I have brought. Fun times!