Ok, so this is the big one. It’s not only the longest stage, at 66km, but it’s also day 3 with more than 70km already behind me. The one saving grace is that today is only 600m climb, which over 66km is not very much at all (both of the previous 2 stages have been shorter in distance and had more total climb).
The remainder of the race is solid fun, with the occasional creek crossing, and the location and weather are beautiful. It’s at this point that I stop feeling stressed about completing the infamous “day 3” and realise that I am mountain biking in paradise. I drop in to sections of rainforest around the creek, and then ride back up and over the rolling hills of farmland. I think about the upcoming beach ending tomorrow and realise- there really IS no place I’d rather be!
I know I said I learnt my lesson about not pushing it too much after stage 1, but after stage 2 I now mean it. Stage 3 sees me self-seed roughly 3/4 of the way back, well below my current standing in roughly middle of the pack. To prove that I indeed take the start of stage 3 a bit more relaxed, I even stopped around the first bend to have a look at my front wheel because something was clicking. After the first 10km I find my legs warming up nicely, not at all sore, but getting some serious power and rhythm going. This gives me a bit of confidence and I up the effort and maintain an average speed north of 20km/h on the first 20km of farm track/dirt roads. This felt a lot more like my training for this race, which was predominantly on a stationary bike on my balcony, rather than the challenging single track of the past 2 stages. Clearly my training has paid off!
This stage is an out and back, with a loop of mostly single track at the end. I approach the feed station just before the loop, and I feel great. I’ve got more than enough water and my combination of GU gels and Clif bars is working perfectly, so I ride right on through. More calls of “Go Spiderman!” pep me up as I hit the loop track before the fastest riders complete the loop and hit the same road home. My initial goal for this stage was 4 hours, but I realise at this point if I maintained this pace I’d come in at 3! I revise my goal to 3h30m and I think it’ll take hard work but definitely achievable from here.
The single track was fun but not as well formed as previous days, with a lot more natural obstacles and 4wd wheel grooves. No stacks today, but one nice solid hit on my left foot makes me stop and check (legitimately) whether my little toe is still attached… thankfully it is.
After the loop, I head back along the dirt roads which I started on, and I once again find my rhythm and power through it. I’m occasionally overtaken on the few small sections of single track descents, but overall I spend much of the last 20km overtaking people. Up until now I’ve felt no noticeable fatigue in my muscles as the “well-oiled machine” is chugging along nicely. I do start to feel it at around 12km to go, but I need only slow down slightly to keep things at a level where it’s manageable.
The last 6 km feel like an eternity but I reach a point where I’m 100% sure I’ve got 1km to go. There are some fast wide turns on farm tracks cut into the reeds, followed by maybe 600m straight line over grass through to the finish. I follow another rider with a similar speed to mine into the reeds, but I almost take a wrong turn in a small clearing, causing me to lose all my momentum. I pick up the speed again, knowing I’m on the home stretch, but I figure I’ve got no chance of catching that rider now. Then I reach the straight.
I can see the finish line. I can hear people cheering. I get it into top gear and start using my pull-up leg muscles (thank you cleats), and I realise that I haven’t overused them yet! I take all the power I’ve got left in in me and I gun it. The combination up-down gets me just about caught up to this last rider and I think, maybe I can do this! I get in line with him and overtake literally 5m to the finish line. I come in at 3:25:03, under my goal of 3h30min. I look it up later, and the guy who I overtook at the finish line came in at 3:25:05, literally 2 seconds after me. To my dear competitor, Andrew, my apologies for the very late overtake, I am fully aware it was a total dick move… But what a finish!