24 seconds

When signing up to TDA you have the option of being a racer or expedition rider. Given speed is not my forte and i see myself as a cycle tourist – hence the requirement for regular photo stops etc -  I am most definately in the expedition category. I had hoped on joining the tour that I would qualify for EFI (every ….. inch) but despite pushing myself through tough off-roading in Sudan I eventually lost this due to exhaustion in Ethiopia. I have no regrets about this and infact losing one’s EFI brings a new level of relaxation to the tour.  In fact some have noted (and I quote no names)  that losing EFI is a bit like losing your virginity – when you lose it you wish you had done it sooner! Seeing people ride through illness seems crazy to me. I prefer staying well and to date have achieved this.

All the above being noted however there is still a side of me that would like to go home with a stage plate for being the quickest rider at least one day of the tour.  While there are some strong female riders in the overall race contingent, unlike the men of the tour, it is still possible to win a day. So, having taken both a 3rd and 2nd place I finally decided I would push myself for a full day with the yellow stage plate as my target.

It was a 107 km day going from Luviri to Kasunga here in Malawi.  The day would entail 496 metres of climbing with around 954 metres downhill. Lunch would be at 61km though if I wanted to take a win I knew I would have to ride straight through – 107km without stopping.

In addition to pushing yourself physically part of racing is of course also a game of tactics. Watching who leaves when, determining when to make others aware of your intentions and deciding when to leave and how to ride. I was ready to push but if I knew I was out of the running I could save my energy for another day.

So, I ate a leisurely breakfast and packed some marmite sarnies for my arrival into camp. I left late and immediately pushed hard on the pedals. I had told a few people I was going for it and they encouraged me as I passed. With my own odometer broken I checked distance and my watch with riding pal Irin and at thirty five minutes in and at 16km I felt on target. Maybe today would be my day.

Around 25km in I cycled past Bas. I had told him I was aiming to go hard today though as he had seen another rider, Suzanna riding speedily he decided to wait. While I don’t want to get a win by drafting on others hard work doing this entirely on my own may mean I am unsuccesful and besides, no-one else going for a win was taking this approach. I rode with Bas till lunch and as I passed at the 61km mark I noted some of my competitors were still eating sandwiches. I had a chance. Bas told me to keep pushing and off I went.

Unfortunately a climb after lunch slowed me down. With my bike weighing in at 18kg plus handlebar bag and contents and mixed with my slower hill riding ability this was terrain where my average speed falls pretty fast.Steffan and Dara overtook me calling in for a quick coke. I knew I had no time to stop. With the fastest tour  riders bike weighing half of mine and an average amung racers of around 10-12kg I was at a distinct disadvantage. While there is a lighter bike I can borrow (and may still do) I would prefer to get a win while riding The Captain.

I pushed on. I knew Suzanna was my key rival and I had seen her go ahead on the hills. I was not sure what time she had left camp though. While fast and nicknamed by us as the Duracell Bunny she was also not in the race group. It seemed however I was not the only one going for it today and last time this happened I came second. I was determined this would not be the case again. I pushed on.

Around 20km from the end I Dara and Steffan caught up with me. By now it was obvious I was trying for a stage and so they rode with me for the next 15km or so. Unfortunately they were not the only ones who had seen me. I had previously been overtaken by Kiwi Phil – his speed had increased significantly since borrowing the Cinelli racer (his own bike in need of serious repair). I knew Suzanne would jump behind him. I pushed on.

Just a few kilometres before the finish there was some debate regarding a left turn.According to odometers we were due to turn yet there was no flagging tape marking the road or indeed remants of it should it have been stolen by children or eaten by cows. I pushed on.

Soon a flagged turn appeared and I followed it to the end through the town and into the hotel complex that would be our camp for the night. I cycled in to applause from John knowing I had covered the distance in around 4 hours 10 mins. Not bad but Suzanna was also there and she couldn’t remember what time she left camp! I went over to the race director to record my time having lost my timing chip and so would begin a nail-biting few hours until the rider meeting and anouncement of the results. We both knew it was close.

I was so disapointed to hear I was second and gutted to know I was just 24 seconds behind first place. I would never know if losing my timing chip and being casual regarding start and finish times had cost me the race. While pleased for Suzanna – also collecting her first win – I made sure I had a new timing chip by the end of the evening. After all my efforts I never want to be in the position again of not knowing if I could have won had I timed properly. Next time the stage plate will be mine!!