Today I was on a mission to be the first female over the line and there was very little that was going to stop me. My legs felt tired but no worse than previous days, maybe even a bit better, but mental performance was the most important thing today and being the last day I intended to give it everything. I also wanted to do it on my own, no pushing and I even had to tell Josh to stop encouraging me since I had enough self-motivation – I think he was a bit scared!
Early in the stage we were climbing for nearly 2 hours up through the olive groves, on into pine trees surrounded by huge cliff faces, and finally out onto open mountain pastures that felt like they were at the top of the world. We settled into a steady pace with a group of Spaniards, but as soon as the ascent kicked up into a steep singletrack we were able to drop them and move up to join Jenny and Kathy (Stans no tubes/Oryhopedics) who were leading the women’s race. Despite all the climbing I felt really strong and sat at the front of the group with Josh pushing the pace on. At 1500m it felt a bit chilly and suddenly started to snow – very surreal after a week of 20-25 degrees and sun but it made the views look even more stunning.
Finally we reached the top and the so began the biggest challenge of the day. All week we’ve been able to put time into people on technical singletrack descents, but when it comes to fireroad I’m terrible! The problem was that I couldn’t stop myself pulling the brakes, I know the theory of going fast but couldn’t make myself do it. I knew today was mostly fireroad and to do well on the stage I’d have to learn some rapid descending skills. Again it was all about getting my head in the right place, I simply decided that I wasn’t giving the wheel in front a gap and before long I was hurtling down at high speed and passing people out.
We had pulled away from the girls and most of the group we were with on the climb when disaster struck, my front tyre suddenly lost a load of air. We decided to put a tube in and had to use a pump to blow it up so it took a while and as we worked the front 3 women’s teams cruised past. It wouldn’t pump fully so I spent the rest of the day squidging around with 20psi. Gutted! to make matters worse it started to rain what should have been the best day yet became a horrible test of survival and we lost any hope of chasing back on.
The temperature was down to about 5 degrees but rain and wind-chill from descending at high speeds meant it felt much colder and we weren’t prepared for it. Luckily I had arm and knee warmers and a thermal top but they were no where near enough. We had over an hour of descending to do, getting colder and colder as we went. Fingers that won’t brake or shift gears is has been fairly standard this winter but its when your body gets totally chilled that there’s really trouble. We hurtled down screaming out loud in pain using every swear word we could think of in some sort of attempt to generate heat. I was praying for a climb but even when they came they were nowhere near long enough to warm up. Towards the end we started to catch people again, all suffering similarly. It went on forever so that by the end I was a shaking, whimpering wreck. We could barely lift our arms to celebrate the race win but to be handed a cup of hot soup at the finish was like a dream that seemed like it would never happen. We finished the 82km/2400m climbing in 4 hours 44 mins, winning the 6th stage and taking first place in the mixed category overall.
Hot showers, a massage and good Spanish coffee soon sorted us out so that we were ready to move on to beer and tapas. After that the final stage began – the podium presentations followed by a great after party with some crazy dancing. The Scandinavians and Eastern Europeans are a force to be reckoned with on the dance floor! With only 2 hours sleep and a hangover the journey home was the final test of mental strength.
Thank you to everyone involved in organising the race, one of the best I’ve been to and definitely one for the diary next year. Also thanks to WXC World Racing and team sponsors – in particular Compressport compression clothing was very useful for recovery between stages and Sportique warm-up oil and chamois cream were essential for staying comfortable during the long days.
more photos here