The rain from yesterday was a killer. Rain means that shoes and helmets need to be cleaned, lenses are extra nasty, laundry smells horrid, and people get sick. Sickness in China was something that I was expecting. Racing every day, strange food, lots of travel, bad air, its a 5 star recipe for sickness. It began with an itch in the back of everyone’s throat. I thought it was just from all the dust in the roads. And everyone took a shot of gin to smooth things over. Everyone but Blair.
I woke up and Blair’s scratchy throat had turned into full blown sick. Runny nose, slight cough, pale. These sicknesses don’t go away easily because regardless of your condition, the race must go on.
We had an hour transfer to the city of . It was much smaller than Xiangyang and the roads were just big slabs of cement placed next to each other. On paper, the course was a simple square, but in reality there was a stiff wind and a five kilometer hill on the front stretch and a five kilometer downhill on the backside. Steep enough to feel but nowhere close to leaving on the big ring.
Poor Blair. He bundled up as much as possible to try and keep warm. Leg warmers, arm warmers, vest, sitting at the back of the field with shit all over his shoes. Wait what? Yes. This particular cold induced loose bowels and right before the race Blair had to go bad. As the team headed to sign in, Blair took off his jersey and gamely walked into a field behind the team tents only to find that the red clay had been softened from recent rains and turned into a sticky, light brown colored mud that caked his shoes. He tried scraping it off before realizing it was futile. And poor, sick Blair sat at the back of the field all day, coughing, wheezing, holding on for dear life, with mud caked shoes. Its hard to find a sorrier sight.
The course was deceptively hard, maybe it was all the previous flat days that really accentuated the climb or the strange winds that blew or the constant attacks that kept being chased down. With three laps to go, a Hong Kong rider attacked and I followed. After a few pulls we looked back and saw that a group of about 6 had joined us and that the field was looking around. A breakaway had finally formed and I was finally in it. I really suffered on that first lap up the hill. The break was not smooth and guys were attacking each other as it tried to shed the weak. But no one was willing to crack just yet and we all came together as the break rolled through the finish line with three laps left. One of the cardinal rules in cycling is do NOT get dropped from the break. In one moment your team goes from a shot at winning to having to chase. As if thats not enough, the shame of getting spit out from the break and drifting back to the field alone, for all to see, is all the motivation in the world.
The field was a distant speck behind. We would go through a corner and simultaneously check behind to see where the field was like synchronized dancers. A motorcycle with a white board informed us that we had a mere 28 seconds. It looked like so much more. Regardless, this break was dangerous and the field knew it. With 8 guys, only 6 man teams, and under 25 kilometers left in the stage, roughly 15 miles, the peleton would be hard at working chasing which meant that the break could not slow at all. My legs were burning every time I was in the wind. I just tried to keep the speed up before drifting back for a small respite. The break rolled through the finish line with 2 laps left and 24 seconds. Each of us knew we needed more. As the finish line approaches the speed behind increases so much. Not because everyone wants to chase down the break but because everyone wants to be up front. A dog suddenly ran out in front of me and I hit my brakes and swerved as all 8 guys did the same. A policeman ran after it with a stick. That dog cost us 6 seconds as I soon found out when the motorcycle informed us that it was now an 18 second gap. We kept rolling, hoping that the field would hesitate for just half a second. It wasn’t to be. With a little under a lap to go, the field caught us, headed by Team Type 1.
Another crazy fast finish, another TT1 win, another coke from Brian. But this time, we would not be staying in town for the night. We had a three hour transfer to Wuhan, an enormous city of over 10 million people. For the first time in this race, I was knackered at the end of a stage. And it felt awesome.
We rode back down the finish hill to a hotel where volunteers, each with a card displaying a teams name, lead us up to a room where we could shower and eat some race provided food. The food was horrible. A banana, some crackers, a candy bar, and what looked to be an old KFC chicken sandwich garnished with an even older piece of lettuce. So we resorted to Thomas’ apricots and almonds along with some sweet rice cakes with peanut butter that Brian found. A little coffee and the whole race was back on the road to Wuhan.