The first day of Transalp, Mike pushed me. The second day, we pushed each other. Today, I pushed myself.
Day three had some of the most intense climbing of the race. It was only a short stage, 58km, but brutal, starting with a 25km climb from 500m to 2400m, and chased by technical descending and two more big, big hills.
After yesterday’s high, neither of us knew what to expect – was it a fluke? An aberration? How would we feel if we couldn’t come close to it again? Mike and I agreed just to do exactly the same thing we’d done – start steady, find our own rhythm, communicate, and push as hard as we could without blowing up (lesson from day 1).
About 5km into the first climb we were sitting in a pack with one of the Black Tusk teams with Rocky Mountain close behind, and I felt good, so we sped up a bit, went with one of the surges from the men’s teams, not knowing if we could make it stick, and for a long time it didn’t, but slowly we pulled away, and after about 10km into the race we didn’t see another mixed team.
It didn’t matter though, because it was the terrain – the rocks, the roots, the gradient, the gravel – that dished it out today. If every mixed team in the race had been sitting on our wheels there’d have been nothing else we could have done. Mike tells me there was some spectacular scenery on the high passes, but I spent the whole 3:56 in tunnel vision. I don’t remember seeing anything more than three feet in front of my wheel.
After three days we’re getting the communication down and we’ve both learned a lot as we’ve gone – about each other, about how to race. While we race we talk – how hard we can go, how we’re managing our feeds, what’s coming up, how we’re riding. Neither of us want to look behind us; both of us beat ourselves up when we do something anything less than the best we can… the big difference is that, having each other, we can shut down the other’s negative thoughts. Today I got flustered and angry when I couldn’t ride a rocky descent over stairs and Mike just whipped out his schoolteacher voice, told me to sort myself out, and, brought up as I have been to respect authority, I did, and we pedalled on.
And we’re working out our strengths. I feel like, after about two years of pfaffing about on the mountain bike chased by two solid weeks of hard riding and racing, my skills are all back where they should be, as are some nice new ones – eurobombing, roots, hairpins – and today we passed two men’s teams on what is the most diabolical climb I have ever encountered in my life, riding past Euros at 5.2km/h to their 5.1km/h foot speed on a loose gravel ascent that topped out at an unbelievable 28% and lasted about two kilometres.
It felt good to have ridden all but 20m of it, until the stage was over and I found I could hardly walk. Mike went into Sergeant Major mode and took over all the crappy domestic duties – washing kit, buying and preparing food – so that I could lie down for half-an-hour.
I wailed my way through an icebath, pulled on DOUBLE COMPRESSION, and will have a big stretch session tonight. I’m in completely uncharted waters now and I have no idea how my body will react to another day’s work. Already things are a little strange – my digestive system is really unhappy, I have a hacking cough from the dust, my eyes bloodshot, my ass raw… but so is everybody’s. It’s all part of the bonding experience.
Tomorrow’s stage is very like today, with another climb that’s almost as steep and a lot of hike-a-bike. Wish us luck!