Thursday, 30 July 2009

Day 2 - the race gets underway.

Reith im Alpbachtal to Mayrhofen

Today is the day. We will finally get to ride our bikes. There is a lot of nervous fidgeting in the start corral, particularly from the Johnny-come-latelies at the back (that's us). The day starts with AC/DC "Highway to Hell" being pumped over the PA system and that is our cue to saddle up and ride. Except we have to stand around for 5 minutes while the 1000 riders in front of us who are faster or better at getting up early make their way across the start line. The stage starts with a steep climb on a gravel road and it's all very slow as riders jockey for position for the first hour. Because the weather had been diabolical the day before and we're expecting snow higher up, everyone is over-dressed. Before long we're slogging uphill on a scorching Austrian summer morning with too many layers and too much kit in our packs. The riding is still slow but it has progressed beyond the trackstanding of the first few kms. We stop to fill camelbacks from a roadside stream and to peel off arm and leg warmers. There's another team doing the same - Scots, of course.

The first climb ends on tarmac and is followed by a brilliant road descent. We weave our way past lots of riders who seem hesitant to take the racing line. In my mind I'm riding like Fabian Cancellara chasing down the TdF peleton, cutting inside riders on corners and enjoying the traction from the Bonty tyres. We're soon onto the second climb of the day and it's a tougher proposition. The field has spread out a bit more and we've made our way through to a group of similar-paced riders who slog up the steep gravel tracks. Writing this over a week retrospectively it seems like one of the more trivial climbs of the race, but I remember feeling a profound relief when the feed station came into view. Feed stations become the subject of some very, very intense focus on a race like this. Each one is an sanctuary from the suffering and some are the most welcome sights of one's entire lifetime. Today's one is a chance to stuff far too much food into already over-filled back pockets and drink far too much High-5 energy drink. The climb is soon over and it didn't hurt too much.

The last descent of the day is mostly on gravel roads with a bit of fast singletrack. Dave is much faster than me on the gravel downhills and seems to be immune to the gnawing uneasiness that grips me on off-camber ball bearings. There is more tarmac which takes us down to the valley at insane speeds and then a few kms of undulating roads to the attenuated stage finish. Dave phones his daughter Katy to find she has become British Youth XC Champion - a superb achievement which knocks our 88th place out of 147 Masters into a cocked hat- so he allows himself a pint that evening. We chain-gang it up the 30kms of cycle path along the floor of the Zillertal Valley to the proper stage finish in Mayrhofen and fill our bellies with cheese and ham rolls and watermelon.

I feel much better for completing a stage, but still apprehensive about what tomorrow might bring.


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