It was an early start today... Up at 4am to get on a bus at 5am for the hour long trip out to Trephina Gorge. It was too early to see any scenery, but it was quite pleasant checking out the moon in it's last phases and the stars in the clear desert sky over the silhouette backdrop of the MacDonnell ranges. I think a very common misconception about the desert and Alice Springs is that the weather is always blistering hot... Nothing could be further from the truth, with overnight lows during the week sitting at about 4 degrees, so you can imagine how "fresh" it was jumping off a bus in our riding gear just on sunrise and clambering around finding our bikes which had been transported out to the gorge the evening prior. We couldn't wait to get on our bikes and get the blood pumping and get warm.
We set off at 7.30am and started off up the road, staying in a pretty large pack until we turned off the road, jumped off our bikes to clamber up an embankment, then followed a non-existent trail across the plains through the gorge... This involved jumping across a 6ft deep river cutting and getting mildly lost as we bush-bashed a path through an unmarked course (apparently now, there is a really sweet trail where we went). This first bit was ok, but I unfortunately got stuck behind some slower riders and got left off the back of the main bunch. We then found ourselves on a rough firetrail, which I was pretty stoked about because it meant I could drop the hammer and just peg the 100km back at warp speed. My attempts to do so, however, were thwarted by the abundance of sand pits right across the road every hundred metres or so... Worse still, some of these sand pits were half a kilometre long, and they were soft. So, we had 2 choices... 1) Try to bush bash a line around the outside of the road (sorry national parks!!!), or 2) Run/walk with our bikes through the sand. This was ok the first couple of times, until it became quite evident that the entire 95km ride was going to be like this... On the bike, off the bike, walk through sand, bush bash, on the bike, off the bike. Unsurprisingly, my patience gave way around the 40km mark after spending the last 20km getting on and off my bike and getting stuck in the sand. The unfortunate thing is that with my short legs, I was losing time against my competitors... Big time... So at the finish line, I had come in 9th place and dropped my general classification place to 8th.
I must admit it was a bit of a shame to have such a sandy, unridable trail after experiencing the last two days of bliss on the town's singletrack trails. It was, however, a good lesson on how fluid the results are throughout the week of a stage race... Small things can happen and have a massive impact on the result. Back on the bike tomorrow to try and make up the 20mins!!!