Stage Three: So Lonely
The early morning signs were not good. At 5am, Jon was talking to God on the big white telephone (head down the toilet muttering "Oh, God"). Jon has a strong stubborn streak that runs from head to toe, so despite my advice not to ride we joined the other riders on the start line at 9am.
For the first hour we were tapping out a steady rhythm, but Jon's guts were already churning. Inevitably, we pulled over for more decoration at the side of the trail. Jon decided to head back to the race start as he was too ill to continue, so I reluctantly rode on alone.
The climb to Pfitscherjoch was fantastic. Most of the climbing was a combination of road and fire-road, but after the feed-station at Schlegeis Speicher there was a long section of technical climbing and a "hike-a-bike" section towards the very top of the climb. As usual, progress was hampered by mountain bikers who seem to flounder at the first sign of a boulder and loose rocky trails. I was moving quickly through the field and growing rather impatient. Towards the top of the climb, as we passed above the snow line, the trail opened up and it was possible to spin out to the summit. It's very strange to ride through snow in the middle of summer, especially with the sun beating down on the trail.
The descent was fast and furious. The next 60km were essentially downhill all the way to the finish in Brixen (Italy). Again, most of the stage was road, dedicated cycle tracks or what we would call fire-roads, but there was enough single-track to keep the riders interested and raise a smile. Riding with two German teams, I was happy to share the work as we swept up other riders. We soon had a road train of around 15-20 riders and the kilometres flew by.
Whenever the trail kicked up, I was struggling to pedal in the middle ring as the chain would almost immediately drop onto the granny ring. When I arrived in Brixen and inspected the crank I discovered that I'd lost a crank bolt and the middle chain ring had snapped. For most riders this would not be a problem as there is excellent technical support at the race. But I ride Rotors (Q-rings) and I was unable to find a replacement chain-ring. So tomorrow I will be riding a new XT crank and pedalling circles for the first time in 18 months.
Meanwhile, back at the first climb, Jon headed back down the trail. At the first village he came to he encountered two medics on a motorcycle. He told them he had been vomiting for the past 20 hours and promptly threw up in front of them to reinforce the point. A drip was hooked up to a tree and connected to Jon's right arm. The diagnosis was a virus rather than food poisoning or overheating the day before. The advice was to wait for the "back-up" car that follows the race and not to ride tomorrow. Within 30-40 minutes, Jon was perking up, and so was his stubborn streak.
The prospect of waiting several hours for the back-up car was not especially appealing, so Jon decided to ride on. The medics tried to lay down the law, informing Jon that he could not continue as a rider. His board was cut and he was now officially a "tourist", albeit the fastest tourist in the Alps. Four hours later he crossed the finish line in Brixen, much to my surprise.
Reason will prevail tomorrow. Jon has agreed not to ride. Stage 4 will also be a lonely ride.
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