Tangles in the tea plantations

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Waking up in Haputale this morning was a unique experience. With a tiny bit of jet lag I was awake just before 4:30am. Then the mosque next to the hotel had a call to prayer. Then there were roosters. Then train horns, then dogs, then tropical birdsong. While it is easy to sometimes forget where you are when you wake up – this bunch of sounds made it easy to remember where we were – in Sri Lanka for Rumble in the Jungle.

Stage 2 lay ahead, with about 58km and 1850m of climbing to tackle. But the stage would be completely different to day one. We would climb higher, to about 1900m before descending down a 12km rough descent, climbing out of the jungle again and then circling back to Haputale. Seems simple enough.

We rolled through town first to start (curiously) in the middle of the highway at an entrance to a tea plantation. A few people took off first as we got there but were called back – it was a little confusing but we regrouped then set off. It was a fast start! I struggled, partly with my bike but mostly with my legs. The Nepali boys were making it hard, and Yuki Ikeda looked to have a tough day ahead with a 3-person team attacking him.

I tried to move up but just couldn’t get across to the 4 riders in front. After a mechanical yesterday I had a 10sp XT group set rigged up with cable outer zip tied on. It was quite last minute this morning so the adjustments were off (more B-tension needed!) and a zip tie popped so I had cable outer flying around. A quick stop and I used my spares strap to hold it in place, and got going again, seeing if I could reel in those who had passed.

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We were riding trails that descended and contoured. It was double track with a good line, and a lot of fun to descend. It was dry, rocky and occasionally loose. We eventually popped onto a tiny road and started the climb. The road wove through a tea plantation, with a huge valley below us. With rock outcrops, steep slopes, tall trees and a tiny rough road cut into the slope and rock it was a really beautiful climb. But it was hard – no doubt about it.

The gradient backed off over the top and I rode with Albert Kikstra, who guided me into the main descent. It started as concrete, then turned into something you might liken to cobblestones, flagstones or old roman roads. It was rough, and after a few minutes I dropped the speed too much and was falling in every hole. Mike Hancock and Tim O’Leary caught us and passed, and Albert followed. Some riders really suffered on the rocks with flats or a jarring ride. I was happy to make it to the bottom, about half an hour after starting.

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Karen Hill hits the top of the big descent.

“I passed two of the Nepali guys on the first rough descent,” said Yuki Ikeda. “They were riding hardtails and really suffering. Riding a full suspension bike meant I could just pass them.”

The climb out was hard. Albert called it Death Valley and as we’d dropped so much altitude it was hot and humid and exposed. So it is a fitting description. Some steep concrete sections gained some altitude, but it was more stoney little roads, climbing ever higher. Through tea plantations, pine forests, and just ever upwards.

“I kept pushing hard and never looking back,” said Yuki. “But once I knew I had a pretty good gap I set my tempo and rode to the finish.”

We traversed along singletrack and came across some double track, and I was in trouble. There was only Yuki and one of the Nepali riders ahead, but Albert and Tim had caught back up. Tim was bombing, Albert was riding smart and I knew I was about to jam it in reverse.

Which I did.

The climb circled around steep peaks, with expansive views to the valleys below on our right, and the trail ducked in and out of the trees, and through small villages. The final feed zone came into sight and a tiny banana was gratefully received. That same road climb was now a descent, with sleeping dogs, plantation workers, tuk tuks and motorbikes – standard.

The final 10km dragged out but really, every person you pass gives you a smile, they’re happy to say hello, and the area really is beautiful. I was pretty happy to cross the line, have some sweet tea and come back to smash a plate of fried rice, a pot of coffee, some fruit and now hot chips.

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Yuki Ikeda won the stage withNarayan Gopal Maharjan in 2nd, Tim 3rd, Albert 4th and I was 5th. Karen Hill won the women’s race. Full results will be online soon.

What’s next at Rumble in the Jungle?

Tomorrow is the Queen Stage. There is an epic 1300m climb to tackle, which could be good, it could be murder! With 66km to ride, the total climbing is 2900m which if you need that translated, is a shit load of climbing in 66km. We climb up to a plateau which will be pretty cool. Today I already had to think how special it was to be riding in the mountains in an otherwise flat tropical island.

Yuki has a few minutes lead now but who is to say what will happen tomorrow. There is a lot of climbing and there are some very talented climbers here who have had some bad luck. Karen Hill is racing strongly but we’re all human – and the key now is to not get sick. Just like any stage race.

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