Today’s start looked easier judging by the gradient chart, a flattish 12km then into a climb. Strange how it never seems to work out like that? The start was crazy yet again, starting on wide streets, then taking us onto narrower streets where I almost took out Milton because of a very sudden right hand turn (sorry Milton!). It was “neutralised” until it hit the dirt roads and until that point I was doing far better than yesterday, up nearer the front. As soon as the neutral section finished the pace shot up whilst flying along fast, loose dirt roads. It was mega sketchy and huge clouds of dust rendered you practically blind. I just can’t deal with the crazy fast starts and I dropped back a bit through the peleton. I found myself riding with Josh and Ben again for a bit, although after a crazy steep climb that had everyone walking I managed to get in front of a group before a descent and I was away.
The route climbed for a while and I found myself among riders that we were passing towards the end of yesterdays stage, so I knew I’d had a better start. The route was a little crazy at times, hike a bikes up near vertical slopes and through barely brashed gorse bushes, it was a little painful and I was cut all over. At times the signs were poor for the first time during the race and I missed a steep uphill section and slowed right down as I though I’d missed another, loosing a few places. Another steep but rideable climb took us to 28km and the first feed station where Milton was waiting. From here I was able to recover a bit, we were 6.30 back from the leaders, not too bad.
We worked well together and soon hit a crazy railway section. At first it was just the loose rocks with no track. It was hard work, but if you kept a good cadence and held a good line you could keep pushing. We started passing plenty of riders and soon hit a section where there were train tracks and the bumpy sleepers. If I’m honest we flew on the section, passing about 10 teams. With Milton’s experience at Costa Rica, being the only person in the history of “La Ruta” to ride the entire railway section I was in good company. We caught up a fast group of people just before the tracks ended which included the Danish Olympic team and also Gareth Montgomerie and Dave Henderson from GT UK. A little after we hit a crazy but amazing descent and I followed Gareth down, we passed a few teams on the way down. Big rocks, drops and some crazy lines but I loved it.
At the bottom we hit a road section and I made a big error, reaching for a bottle as I was super thirsty I missed the fast train. Sorry Milton, again! He had to wait for me and we caught the next train of 6 or 8 riders while watching the group in front get a big gap and disappear not to be seen again. It was undulating for a while, passing through the second timed section, 13 minutes behind the leaders. Not bad! After a fantastic bit of swoopy singletrack around 48km in we hit another huge climb and that is where I started to suffer. It was steep and no shade, I cooked and suffered on the steep bits, haemorrhaging lots of time. It went on until the next feed stop at 65km and in that time we were distanced by 3 teams. Milton kept encouraging me but I was feeling awful, I kept banging the gels down but no extra energy came. I think a lack of fluids was the issue, but regardless it was frustrating as we had been doing so well. We were 20 minutes down by the 3rd timing section, loosing a huge chunk on the climb.
The last 10km were a mixture of undulating singletrack for a while where I tried to push as hard as I could eeking out the last ounce of energy. We hit a section that I knew, near the final descent but there was a horrible singletrack section that really drained me. Finally the last descent, the same as it has been the previous 2 days and why not, it is amazing! We passed one team going down, which I didn’t expect as I was taking some bad lines due to being tired. Then the last push to the finish and a chance to stop. I felt like I had blown it from 50km on, but to my amazement we had finished 14th on the stage and move up to 16th overall.
Today was the last day in Cordoba, tomorrow is a transfer stage. We drive to Preigo de Cordoba, which although sounds like it might be close is an 90min drive away. Straight after tomorrows stage we head to Hotel no.2 in Jaen which is the base for stages 4 and 5.
All route details are on Garmin Connect