After a perfect start to the ICME on day 1, I was very cautious in my approach to this morning’s stage 3.
I have done this race enough times to know that there is a certain weight on the shoulders of the yellow jersey wearer and that disaster can strike at any time at Alice Springs due to the rocky and rough nature of the trails. Having said that, the spirits of the bunch were high as we headed out for 49km of cool trails as the sun made an appearance for the first time since most of the racers arrived on Saturday.
The 200 riders rolled out from the Old Telegraph Station at 9am and it was Ben Hogarth who set the pace early, before an early break of Andrew Hall and Kyle Ward established itself off the front. For Shaun and I sitting first and second on GC, we were happy to let these guys have a dig and we rolled the odd turn with the others just to keep their advantage less than a minute.
As we approached the first technical section called “The Roller-Coaster” (basically a rut, an awesome rough singletrack rut) I went to the front and tried to lift the pace a bit. When we bottomed out in the sandy creek bed, the break was back in sight. Shaun was on my wheel and things felt like they were in control…then I realised my rear tyre was going down. I set about fixing it and, being still quite early in the stage, I had heaps of words of encouragement and offers of spares from other riders as they came past.
After I got going again, things became a bit of a blur. When you are chasing back from a mishap it is really easy to panic and go too hard, especially when you are in the leader’s jersey and you are desperately trying to limit your losses. I tried my best to retain composure but I was pretty cross eyed as a gradually made my way through the field. It gets harder and harder to pass riders as you get closer to the front but I made steady inroads.
Mentally I was buoyed by the knowledge that Shaun would be in the front group with no obligation to do any work and would therefore be a great chance to take out the stage. I passed Ben Mather on the side of the track fixing a mechanical. It was a really bummer for Ben, and he eventually lost 15 minutes.
For me, on the other hand, it meant that there was one less strong man driving the pace in the front. On the final bitumen climb up to the reservoir with a few kilometres to go I was catching third-place Ben Hogarth and at that point I caught a glimpse of Shaun and Michael Crosbie out the front of the race.
Although I would surely run out of track to catch them, I was now confident that I could retain the jersey and I was sure Lewi could beat Crosbie in a sprint. I crossed the line in third place, less than a minute down and enough to keep the jersey. Unfortunately for Shaun he suffered a flat tyre with one kilometre to go and had to ride in on the rim, leaving Michael Crosbie to take a well-deserved maiden stage victory.
At the time I am writing these words, we haven’t had a chance to look at the GC results but have been able to work out that, but despite the problems, the stage actually worked out well for the Swell-Specialized team. I’m still in the lead, just with a smaller margin to Shaun in second, but with the issues suffered by both Ben Mather and Kyle Ward (who broke a seatpost) we have put time into some of the other main contenders.
I have to cut this report off now because we are actually off to take a joy flight over the MacDonald Ranges. But before I run, I also have to report that Rowena won the women’s stage over Jenny Fay again, but with the big stage tomorrow suiting Jenny, the battle for the lead in the women’s race should be interesting.
All photos :: CHLOE GERAGHTY