Sky high in Sri Lanka

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The sense of impending doom that lay over me from the early hours of this morning can’t be underestimated. After two stages of the Rumble in the Jungle stage race I keep feeling like I’ve got to the finish by the skin of my teeth. I probably feel like that after any stage of any race, but it did have me awake early this morning. With 2900m of climbing on the stage plan, with barely over 60km of riding, it was clear today would be steep. By chance, I was sitting 2nd on GC too. There are a number of very strong riders here, but no one has truly had a clean run. Yuki was sent off course on Stage 1, Ajay had mechanical issues, as did Roan and Narayan. And there are plenty of other stories too, with stomach bugs or misfortune.

There is still time to play.

We had a delayed start as the area we were heading to experiences high winds, and some especially windy gusts had brought trees down. But with a neutral 15km ride to the start, we ended up heading off only about 35 minutes late. Still, there was misadventure as Nienke oostra had her seatpost clamp break right before we left. Gaffa tape was sourced to bodge it for the day. It remains to be seen how that will work. Hopefully the mechanics or race crew can source two hose pipe clamps to get it sorted out, as a Specialized Epic seatpost clamp probably isn’t going to pop up.

The neutral ride to the start was about a 700 or 800m descent. The 4 race commissaires were on motorbikes out front, plus a Landcruiser blowing smoke. They felt like rockstars I guess as at least one moto rider was standing up taking a selfie. They pushed oncoming traffic into the gutter and we got down the hill with little fuss. Of course, we would head back up.

Rumble in the Jungle MarathonMTB

With a restart, we then had the 17km climb ahead of us, which would gain over 1400m, with a couple of small descents in it. It was clear that Team Nepal were taking the race by the horns, and along with Yuki Ikeda they rode away from us. Dan, Albert, Ben and I struggled, and when it got rougher I could only ride the pace that a 32/36 gear allows, which dropped Albert and Dan, and started the overload on my legs and back!

Rumble in the Jungle MarathonMTB

The stoney climbs are harder than they look, like going up 15% climbs on the surface of the Old Convict Road. There was little relief, save for the views. We had a huge waterfall in front of us, and soon enough we were beside it, and then it was below us. Onwards, upwards, through small villages, cuttings into the steep slope with views of the valley dropping below us.

Rumble in the Jungle MarathonMTB

There was a small descent before another climb, and these tiny roads continued, now shrouded in mist, which became very light rain, until the first feed zone. We had joined a sealed road and I could see Kiwi Tim, Albert and Dan closing in behind. A few more steep pinches and we were on Horton Plains Plateau National Park, complete with semi-Jurassic Park gates. Up ahead, Yuki was isolated with Narayan and Ajay ahead but Roan was behind with more mechanical issues.

The plateau had an immense head wind. At first the forest was low, shrub like, and very tightly packed – almost similar to New Zealand sub-alpine flora. And then it opened up to wild grasses, rhodedenrons and patches of forest. After a few kilometres the course dived into some double track, which became a barely there jeep road and singletrack, before exiting onto the top of a tea plantation and long descent.

My lights were going out.

Now the second big climb started, my neck was getting sore looking back and there was no chance I would see anyone in front. We’d ticked off 1500m in about the first 15km but there was still over 1000m more climbing to go, and this was the start of it. In time the course was back on the tiny cobbled roads, and then onto steep singletrack to suck everything out of your legs. I walked a bit, complained to myself, and just grovelled.

It was cool, gratefully, and the descent finally appeared – although it was short lived. We stuck to the road high on the plateau, through farms, towns, past lakes, and wind farms. Trees were downed, and most were cleared from the road, but the wind was still blowing.

Tim rode past me like I was standing still.

With 15km to go I was broken, I did what I could to keep Tim in sight but soon enough that wasn’t possible. With another run into and out of a village I was back onto a small road climb, with nice signs painted onto the carved out walls.

“Good leaves make good tea.”

“Remember nature for the future.”

“Plant a tree.”

And then there were the finish flags below. 5Km sooner than expected and in front of the impressive Hotel Blackpool. The sweet tea was welcomed, and then I was welcomed by the hotel staff, blessed, and lead to my room by my roomie Ruben who is sick and sat out today – he had even taken my bags up!

Rumble in the Jungle MarathonMTB

Getting blessed at the hotel. Photo: Ruben Chirino.

The hotel is amazing – we’re all stoked to be staying at such a nice hotel with amazing rooms, awesome hot showers and a pretty nice restaurant after a hard day.

Ajay won the stage with Narayan in 2nd, Yuki in 3rd, Roan 4th then Tim and then I. Albert soon followed. Karen won the women’s race and has further consolidated her lead.

This hotel sticks out like a sore thumb in the valley. It is surrounded by terraced fields with vegetables growing, tiny shacks, busy villagers working, and a little road which has remained busy with tuk tuks.

Next up at Rumble in the Jungle

Tomorrow we descend, and race about 106km. It will no doubt be another epic stage taking us through the varied terrain of Sri Lanka. Will the stage change the race again? Who knows! So far this race has been so varied that just about anything could happen.

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