Day three of the Arabian Epic Series Jordan Stage Race would start and finish at the 5 star Holiday Inn Dead Sea Resort. That means a big buffet breakfast, and we can only go uphill from the start. Sitting at about 400m below sea level, the climb to Mt Nebo at about 800m would be no small feat.
With about 66km on the cards, this was the Queen Stage, and with over 2000m to climb it really stands apart from the rest of the stages. After yesterday’s debacle I was hoping to be part of the race today. But while a 66km/2000m stage might seem easy in a huge week-long stage race, in this race it seemed daunting, so I was a little nervous before the start, not really being sure if I would be climbing ok or not.
Stage 3 at the Arabian Epic Series Jordan Stage Race
We took off from the beach, up the service road besides the resort and through the road block on the main road. We would be neutral until we crossed the road – that was confirmed many times!
Immediately away from the resort, we were in fairly impoverished areas. There were small camps, dogs, and some kids after high fives. And always more dogs!
After a few kilometres we hit the dirt and soon enough we were a group of five, with race leader Jan De Henau clearly the strongest, although Justin was stomping and Christoph Cords was also super strong. We rode into a block head wind, mostly up with a few light descents on the way.
We did hit the road for a little while, and into more wind. It was intense! Last year riders had to get off their bikes and sit on them against the ground, so realistically it could have been windier.
The trail turned into rockier terrain and we were dropping down off the road with near endless hills ahead. Everything was about to get rougher and the wind was not showing any signs of abating.
Having a full-suspension bike was a real gift, but it was not easy, pushing in our lowest gears and working to maintain traction while still riding well above threshold (ok, for me anyway).
There was a moment where we went the wrong way, relying on the GPS trace on our computers to set us right. Jan had a lead but now sat on. Had we broken him? We moved off the major double track onto one that was barely there, and the climb really got pretty steep. Justin and I were climbing away from the others but as we reached the sealed road again we were a group of five.
Jan was in good spirits and taking photos – crazy as I was suffering! Our view back down to the Dead Sea revealed how far we had climbed already on the way to Mt Nebo.
Soon after, Jan rode away on a steeper road section. We couldn’t really do anything about it, at least I couldn’t! We crested the climb, and pushed hard across the road on the top. It really felt like we were on top of the world. Soon enough we tipped back onto the dirt, descending through farms and spotting the pink markers in the moonscape setting. I had to hit the brakes to miss a rooster, and then Justin had a near miss with one of his hens. Close calls!
Another climb beckoned, and again I was looking around seeing this ancient landscape that rolled and folded around us. You could see the scars of farming and the folds of rock where millennia of water had scoured any soil away.
Jan was nowhere in sight, Christoph had caught up and I was on the ropes! We pushed on over the top and into a very fast road descent, twisting and turning into a gorge once lower down, before taking a fast right onto dirt and back into the moonscape.
We were chugging gels and fluids, and with two team mates against one rider I really wanted to be useful. If only I could close that gap to Justin and Christoph… it never happened, and as the Dead Sea came into view lower down, the tempo remained really high, and soon enough we were crossing the main road again. Justin and Christoph were gassing it but Justin had the edge, and as we flew down the service road at warp speed he crossed the line ahead for 2nd place. Jan had finished about 10 minutes ahead.
Finishing back on the shores of the Dead Sea in the sun was surreal. We were back below sea level, looking across to Jericho and if the sky was clearer – we could probably see Jerusalem at the top of the mountains as well.
I think I have written before about riding the trails of history. From the old trade routes in Europe, the Convict trail north of Sydney, the Bump Track in Queensland… but there’s nothing quite like riding in an area that is the epicentre of much of the world’s religious history.
Now we head off towards Petra, with the final stage of the Jordan Stage race to tackle tomorrow.