Some of you may remember my 24 seconds blog….for those who don’t you just need to know this – I came second in teh ladies race by 24 seconds. I was gutted and still determined to get a stage plate. Just the one.
Since then I’ve tried a couple of times and yet again I even made the board (ie the top three). However, the stage win was remaining elusive. to be honest I wasn’t sure I would ever get one and had pretty much resolved myself to this.
As the details were annouced for the last week of riding I looked to see if there was still a chance. I was looking for a day that was not too long (so I didn’t need to do the lunch stop), not too hilly (I simply can’t climb at race pace on my heavy bike…and I’m not as good at that) and a day that was on a paved road. Of the six days we had left there were only four included as part of the race and two of these would be off road. With two days ruled out immediately it left a 133km day which would be a race starting from the South African border and a 117km day from Springbok to Garies. With 1431 metres of climbing in day one and only 741m descending I knew that was not my day. I would have to see what the 117km day had to offer.
At the rider meeting the night before we received further information on the route and terrain. That day would include 1021m ascending though there would be 1648m downhill. I have to be honest I thought that was it. I had no chance. In fact, one of my riding pals Gus pretty much said so. Oh well.
I woke the next morning and prepared to set off as normal. On other days when I have been aiming for a win I removed my handle bar bag, loaded my cycle jersey pockets with food and ensured I have all the water I need. Today, all the weight was on my bike, I left in my cycle jacket and even timed out then went to my bike to put on gloves, helmet etc. It was only as I started riding that I thought I could just go for it. As I went down one of the early downhills at 55km pr hr I thought I may just have a chance.
One of the other riders, Ali, caught me at 35km and said he would ride with me. It’s great to have a pacer and the moral support. Unfortunately drafting pooved tricky with the up and down terrain – I was too slow on uphills and too fast heading downwards. As we came closer to lunch the climbs were long and I started to think that I would just get another third. I was dripping with sweat. I really didn’t need my jacket on but having lost another attempt by just 24 seconds I was stopping for nothing. Despite this I kept going. Well, you never know.
It was downhill as we came to lunch. Ali had gone ahead on the previous climb and as I passed he gave me the thumbs up. I noticed one of my key competitors, regular racer Rosie, was still grabbing a sandwich and I had done 700m of the climbing. My determination increased. I was still in with a chance. People cheered as I went by. It was obvious now that I was going for it.
As some of the guys overtook me they shouted their support – “Just keep pedalling hard”; “Go for it”. So I did. I knew on the downhills i needed to hit 55 to 65 km pr hr and maintain a good speed on the flat. I had to make up for my slower climbing.
It didn’t take long and I caught up with John. i think he was surprised. “Is Bridget infront of you”? I shouted. He couldn’t hear but on repeating the question the answer came back no. Game on. John cheered me on becoming my new supporter. I looked behind. I could not see anyone following. Gee. This race stuff is stressful. I don’t know how people do this everyday. I was physically and mentally tiring. “Come on Nay” John shouted.
We hit a 6km downhill. I wanted to keep my speed above 60km but my legs also needed a rest. I stopped pedalling momentarily to hear John shout “keep pedalling. The others will be. You don’t want to lose this by 24 seconds”. He was right. We only had 10km to go now. I still saw no-one behind and I knew more than half the route were descending. I really could do this.
The last few kilometres involved a few turns from the main highway. John cycled ahead – looking out for a clear road and signalling directions. i just had to pedal and as we turned the corner there was the final flag. I had not been overtaken and unless there were any wild cards the stage plate was mine. The final annoucement would be at the rider meeting later that evening though I did buy a large beer just in case!
In the end I came in at 4 hrs and 19 minutes exactly and ended up with an 11 minute lead. While stopping for lunch would have cost me it was only now I realised I could have taken my jacket off afterall! Not bad on my 18kg Koga plus handlebar bag!