In normal life, early morning consists of words beginning with “sh”. For Piet and myself, it became the three Bs – bike, butt and breakfast. As usual, that section of the clinic was filled with laughs, especially so when I told the nurse that if I’d known I’d have to remove plasters from that place, I’d have had a ‘sack and crack’ at the same time as having my legs waxed.
For today’s stage we were moved up a start group, and then they lumped us together with the two groups ahead of us (read: faster riders). The first 5 km were supposed to be a neutral zone through Grabouw, but no-one paid much attention. The riding was fast and furious. If there’s a wheel ahead of him, Piet has to be on it. In this company, he was like a racehorse that’s bolted.
I did my best to hang on, but eventually had to fall back into a rhythm that I could sustain (especially after the exertions of the day before). Piet was waiting for me at the foot of the first big climb of the day, 10 km after the start. Strava tells me I set a personal record on this climb. It certainly didn’t feel that way while I was doing it. The climbing continued for about 10 km, before we dropped down in the Villiersdorp valley.
We followed farm roads and jeep tracks to the base of the Franschhoek pass. Once again, the pace was on. We got to 40 km in two hours. As long as we were on the flat or downhill I could stick with the bunch. Any incline had me falling off the back. Piet was exhorting me to greater efforts, but my legs just didn’t have the extra bit of gas required. Going up the Franschhoek pass, Piet eventually resorted to pulling me. For once, his heart rate was above mine.
Over the next 25-ish km, it felt as if we rode along every sandy road in Franschhoek (there are many). The route went up and down hills in a similar fashion to a surfer eking more out of a wave, except that every up move for us required a bunch of extra effort. I was perfectly capable of keeping the pedals turning, but Piet’s sense of urgency was working in overdrive. By now, he had discarded earlier methods of dragging an extra big effort out of me, and instead directed me to look around my pain cave. I did, but extra efforts seemed to fizzle to nothing before long. There was nothing left in the tank.
There was, however, just enough left to do a showy, but completely unnecessary, sprint around the final corner to the finish, where we were met by cheering family and friends. They have been the most massive support.
We came into this thing without any expectations. One of the high points I’m going to take away from this is our 18th place finish for yesterday’s Queen stage, in the Grand Master’s category. It’s not something I could have imagined a year ago, when I was getting by on soup and morphine, and it certainly wouldn’t have happened without Piet by my side (OK, in front of me).
There is magic in following a process.
It’s going to take me a few days to get perspective on the entire experience. It’s been huge. My plan is to do a decompression post once I’ve got my head around it all.
Until then, I want to say the most enormous thank you for the many messages of support. Thank you!