I wake up groaning – it’s not my kind of day’s riding. It’s short(ish), steep climbs and hot as hell forecast for any time after the sun rises. Yesterday seems like a romp in the park compared to today’s profile which features a half dozen steep climbs (doubtless on sandy double or single track up the side of an exposed hillside) starting just a few km into the stage.

I’m early enough this time to get a place in the line-up, take a couple pictures and say hi to the riders around me. It’s pretty chill this morning, and after last night’s ok, not so great sleep, I’m not really bouncing around like Tigger myself either.

The race starts in due course, and it’s a short lead out like yesterday to the trail head (like yesterday) and then we’re off climbing – not so much nitro today as it is dead legs, leaden mojo and already too much sweat. I don’t know if I ate too much at breakfast, but I swear I’m dragging a couple unwanted kilos. Well, yea actually I am lol, that’s why I’m here – to try and Vader away the extra meat.

It’s not going well, and I think nothing but unholy words as the pack shells me out the back – there was a nice spot there yesterday when I started doing the exact same to almost my entire group, but today it’s their revenge, and as we climb up into the hot morning air, I’m counting in 10’s passing me, not ones or twos.

It’s worth the suffering for almost 40 minutes as we top out and head into some of the most fun (wait, didn’t I say that yesterday already) downhill. Tight, bermed, roller-coasters fall into nice lines with switchbacks breaking up the flow; definitely less flow than yesterday, but the descent today goes on and on and on – circumnavigating wine yards and outcropped farmland. I learn that a lot of this section is on private land – can you imagine landowners in other nations being so generous to lend their land to such awesome trails as these. We pick up a friendly dog who runs in front of us for a while, but slowly, like a much too satisfied or much too hot dog. Not Shazaam, we can’t get rid of the fellow.

Finally some of the track opens ahead of me, and I jam hard, looking for some time back. I’m still jumping every aid station today, which yesterday helped push me up the group, but today just keeps me in the respectable middle. There is no shortage of super fit, well prepared riders in this pack, and we all cruise along through the valley before the next climb, which is also wide open to the growing heat.

The next climbs are ok, in fact, for the rest of the day I’m ok climbing, which comes as something of a surprise. The first 15 km is at a brutally slow 12 km/hr, but after that my speed picks up steadily. There is no cramping like yesterday, and no problem cranking out the elevation. I wouldn’t say I’m loving it, but for a guy who fails every time at heat and hills this is something of a trans-warp experience.

I go back and forth with the same gang now, which is good, not losing any more positions. Still not super strong, but am now a solid 7 instead of a minge master 5. The trails dive through short forest section and then up again out of valleys, through long culverts with dense vegetation lining either side. Always the heat and always the sand underneath out wheels. Some sections are so sandy I stop and play in them for a while, building small castles with moats and looking for water and toy crocodiles to fill them.

Three feed zones in I’m hitting the cokes, not eating much (couple jelly gel blocks which taste great and are a change from the gels). I’ve dissolved a half dozen hydration pills in each bottle and in my pack today. It seems they are doing better than the Hammer pills, and a whole hell of a lot cheaper too. I am thinking to buy up the local store’s supply tomorrow. I’m on the same program as yesterday with Heed in one bottle and Perpetuum in the pack and the 2nd bottle. 4.5 litres all in. But the beauty is I don’t need to stop at all to refill.

It’s about 40km in when I start to make little mistakes. The first is jet blasting down a long downhill section of gravel road and then seeing a sharp bend ahead hit the brakes to realize I’m heading to the ditch and then ahead of me a cistern or some other dropped pool which I bunny hop over the corner of, narrowly saving my ass. The guy behind me laughing asks if I got it on my GoPro – I check and yeah! It’s running so fingers crossed.

The second boo boo is riding on an off camber section of downhill straight into the hillside wall grazing my arm and leg – blood at last. The comedy is that there is literally a train of fifty riders hot on my tail, so after the first twenty I say fuck it, sorry and cut in – it pisses off a couple of guys, but hey I can’t stand  around all day either.

The third boo boo comes at the fourth feed station when for some weird reason I fail to unclip while tucking in for a quick coke, and keel over like a bike virgin right foot still in pedal. The guy I crash into is cool as can be, and I swear he says sorry to me! What the hell, guys are super polite in this race!

After that it’s head on properly, and up one last long hot climb to the final top we head into another section of man-made trails, whoop dee doo section and all kinds of fun jumps. I actually get airborne for the cameras for the first time on a race, so bring on the pictures pro camera guys!

The final wooded section is sandy, rooty and full of nasty drops, but nothing is stopping me now. I head down onto the final road section and catch the first train of the day for a final 40 km/hr sprint into the throat of the finish. We’re back to the same vineyard as yesterday, and at 03:59:08 I’m happy to be done in one piece and feeling like I could go more if needed.

It’s been a great learning experience and opportunity to test fitness being here. Staying focused on the details has helped me understand my riding better, and for the first time ever I can say I finished a hot and steep day without too much trouble. I stayed mentally strong and focused, and just kept to the slow and steady when I needed to. No cramps either! It’s a good race 🙂