It was a relief to me, and I’m sure to everyone else, to wake this morning and not hear rain drumming on the hotel room window. In fact, a one-eye-open inspection through the crack in the curtains revealed an almost unbelievable sight – dry ground, and in the distance, a break in the clouds. The temperature was still hovering below ten degrees, uncharacteristically cold for the time of year, but at least it wouldn’t be another day in waterproof shorts and snow drifts.
I was still wondering about my choice of clothing, worrying would knee warmers be enough, what if it started snowing again, should I have brought my winter gloves as I slinked into the back of the Elite pen. Whilst planning my now daily “attack off the back”, I was found by Juliana from the organisation, who kindly took photos of me – sorry if I look worried; I was!
The course had been shortened to 54km, with a total of 2,200m of climbing, some way short of the original plan, yet somehow the organisers had managed to make up a shortened course that was tremendous fun to ride. Early in the race, Helen Wyman appeared to be making good of her threat from yesterday to beat me today, and I won’t lie, I was worried when we ended up in the same group of four working together on a flat cycle path after nearly an hour. At some point on today’s route, I remembered how to climb and how to descend, but my granny ring had other ideas about the former, refusing to let go of the chain on a regular basis, and leaving me worried about sawing through a seatstay!
Moments that spring to mind from the race include descending an incredible steep, muddy slidey loamy descent that seemed to go on and on (apologies to the 3rd placed woman I ran into the back of – I honestly couldn’t stop). Thankfully, my chain mostly behaved for the extremely steep loose climb to the KOM (Bergwertung auf Deutsch), and I made it past the giant Milka cow without having to get off. There was still a fair bit of pushing, mostly on account of the thick mud that had replaced the snow as the terrain du jour.
In case we hadn’t enjoyed it enough on day one in the snow, we got to repeat a section of the course in dryer, stickier conditions that dropped us back into the arena in the Planai stadium, but not before we had climbed the climb that kept on giving on sticky trails that sapped our energy. It was noticeable that there were many more smiles around the arena than in previous days, I think we’re all recharging our batteries with a hint of sunshine!
The stage was won by Alban Lakata from Christoph Soukup, with the “Czech machine” Jiri Novak rounding out the top three. In the women’s race, Sally Bigham once again proved the woman to beat, and once again her team mate Milena Landtwing was the last to see her before the finish line, with Norwegian Specialized rider Kristin Aamodt (who I ran over) in 3rd.
This evening’s entertainment was provided by a stupidly steep hillclimb to win an Opel car, which saw some of the top participants take to the start. In the end, I was sport leader Christoph Zaller who won, beating Alban Lakata and Bart Brentjens in the process.
Tomorrow’s weather looks less than inspiring, but with the scent of the finish line I’m sure we’ll all find a way to survive the last 58km. Even if that way is waterproof shorts…