“That was fucking rad!” was the very first thought in my head as I crossed the finish line of stage four – a mass start night lap of that morning’s course.
Us Darwin boys were rugged up more than anyone else on the start line; under jerseys, arm warmers, gillets, and even knee warmers in Bill’s case. Most of the field stuck to the same kits they were wearing through the heat of the day. Six months ago, I might have done the same – fair to say I’m acclimatising to Darwin!
I was nervous about the mass start – but needn’t have been. Slow to clip-in, I was also in too large a gear to get moving with cold legs. But it didn’t matter – the first half kilometre seems to sort out the field easily for the first thirty riders (I’m not sure what was happening further back). I was happy to be sitting pretty in the first fifteen to twenty places, and the pace was very sedate for a 22km ride.
Rounding a bend in the golf course, I spotted Matt make a break for the front, and the pace increased. Not enough to make it too hard to hang on, but enough to start splitting the field, and for the next 2km I found myself leap frogging up the field.
By the time the train of riders had made the single track, it looked like a string of faerie lights twisting around the hills – this is where it pays to get up the front. The front bunch was pulling away, and gaps were opening up with the riders directly in front no longer holding wheels. Working my way past, I could see that catching the front runners would now be far fetched, so settled myself into a good rhythm, with riders neither very close behind or in front.
I let some riders through on the first tricky descent – a mistake, as I found myself catching them over the plains for several kilometres, and would later storm ahead. But the riding was spectacular! Such a cold, clear night allowed a blanket of stars above if you were brave enough to look up, and an enormous, red moon was rising over the horizon.
My riding wasn’t as smooth as the morning, but had more abandon, and I was probably stomping down the descents with more speed. I couldn’t hold the same speeds on the flats either, but with sand traps very difficult to spot, and not wanting to bury a wheel on a loose corner, the sensible thing was to gradually reel in the group of three in front of me.
Catching onto this small group, I was able to conserve some energy and still ride at a good pace. Up and over a little pinch, I could tell I was climbing much stronger, but would not be able to hold them off on a descent. A bit of luck came my way as two of the riders overtook the leader. But they didn’t drop him. So none of them were necessarily any stronger than the others.
As it bunched very close on some fire trail, with a very awkward 130 degree left turn, I took my chance and accelerated past all three of them and kept up a higher pace. Stressed I’d made a mistake, with sand traps now everywhere and three riders lighting me up from behind, I kept grunting through to stay in the lead. And I must have broken two of them, because up sunset climb, only one rider was on my wheel.
Some locals were up the top with a bonfire and beers. I knew they would be offering beers to everyone coming through, so I thought I’d initiate the humour and ask for one. Of course, not wanting to actually stop when I was racing so well, I said I’d come back for it (I didn’t, but opted to drink some with a parma after the race). With the rider still just behind on the loose descent, I almost crashed on one corner, but kept on top of the bike and rode only a little slower than the morning.
A few “whoop-ti-doos” at the bottom of the descent signalled the very fast approach to the finish. Still concerned of being caught, but seeing no one ahead, I buried myself around the golf course, but not so much as to be caught by surprise in a sprint. Fears unfounded, I powered away from the rider one place behind, and could barely make out the exact finish line coming from pitch-black dessert into a lit-up golf course. “Fuck that was rad!”
In a time of 1:00:46s, only two and a half minutes slower than my ITT, I placed 13th on the stage, roughly where I’d expected. A little annoyed I didn’t try and hold the front wheels, but very pleased I’m still in 15th overall and have put in a good gap to 16th. Stage Five will be a longer one at 47km – if I’m truly recovering, I’ll be better suited to a longer day in the sun.
Redback Stage Four