Out of the jungle and into the highlands

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Rumble in the Jungle 2018 has finally started! After arriving around 1am on Friday into Negombo, there was a day of cruising around and a transit day yesterday to escape the cities. Last night we stayed on a lake in Yala National Park, and a safari hotel.

The day had been spent on the bus, with a mess of traffic. As a bus, we pretty much get right of way as we are bigger. In the last few hours we saw a few elephants. One in a lake, and two behind a fence that is in place to stop them wandering onto the road.

Today, we were back on the bus to get to the race start. Everyone was ready to get on their bikes and get underway, after so much transit!

We rolled out of a camping area, through town and into a rolling start. And that caused a little bit of confusion as some people thought we were doing an official start on the dirt track, others knew we were doing a rolling start. One rider hit it so that sorted it out.

After travel and general transit it is always a case of wondering how you’re feeling. So I jumped onto the guys who had lit it up, but only to see how my legs felt. Nothing was overly hard and in time a bunch of about 10 was together. We maintained a pretty good pace. It was flat and open and dry, it was just a case of dodging dogs, tuk tuks and the occasional motor bike, truck or bus. Everything except the dogs has more right of way than we do, but the dogs don’t care. So we had to move around a lot.

Guys from both the Nepali and Sri Lankan National Team were taking big turns on the front, and a contingent of British ex-pats were also burying themselves and making it hard.

After a couple of river crossings we crossed a paddock and entered some jungle singletrack. At the first fallen tree the group split up – with Yuki Ikeda and Albert Kikstra getting away. It really came down to being in a line to get over a fallen tree, but that was the first of a few, plus some rocky creek crossings.

I was behind Ajay from Nepal, until a branch got caught in my rear mech and I had to reset it. Riding the jungle section solo was very different to riding behind someone who has raced the event before. I dropped off the pace and just made it through, keeping my eyes peeled for turnoffs. There were all sorts of trails around and it would be easy to go wrong.

We popped out onto some small dirt tracks, so it was time to look for tuk tuks again. As we were told, you might still see a tuk tuk on even the smallest trail. It was a slight climb, with some concrete sections, that eventually were in the sun. I suffered, Ajay had dropped back, but another rider, Roan, had recovered from a mechanical and came past again like a freight train.

We descended off the back of the climb on a long road descent, it was barely 2m wide, and listening for a horn was a useful skill. Crossing a river, that was shrouded by massive trees for an impressive canopy over the water. Given the heat, it looked super inviting.

Roan was ahead, pushing a massive gear up the climb. We were on a little road within a rubber tree plantation. It seemed to go on forever, with some cattle grazing and dogs wandering around. We mostly went up from here, about 1000m. I was pedalling squares and my shifting was weird – I’m not sure if it got bent in the bus or what. But it’s a project for this afternoon.

We climbed up a super steep concrete section, past school kids laughing (at us?) and then I saw Albert. We hit the road and he dropped back, as an immense view opened up on the left. Into the tea plantations and rough trails, we still were pointing uphill. I was struggling, fighting my bike and gears and fending off cramps. Then I saw Yuki coming towards me. He’d been sent the wrong way, and lost his lead. It was only Roan ahead, and soon enough the 3 of us were all pretty close in terms of sight lines, but moving 8kmh and at threshold not much was changing.

The village hung above us, with music blaring, and buildings hanging off the steep slopes. The steep climb finally ended and Roan had crossed first, with Yuki second and I was 3rd. Albert crossed for 4th. Yuki ended up doing an extra 7 minutes according to his GPS file, but his time stands as he was the only rider to go off course.

Karen Hill came in as the first woman, and as we are all sitting having lunch with an incredible view down the valley many men are complaining about being chicked. They should go faster if it’s a concern!

Tomorrow sounds tough, but as is the case on a stage race we just need to think about preparing. Plus we are looking at the gradients to come – both up and down.

My shifter is dead so it’s a case of seeing what can be cobbled together so I can race tomorrow. Fingers crossed!

It’s actually really upsetting and stressful. Coming 3rd on the stage is one of my better results in years, and to not be able to defend that position on GC tomorrow would be really gutting. It’s a freak mechanical, and maybe one I should have prepared for. But no one else has a spare shifter so I guess no one expects that sort of problem either.

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