Day 37, Stage 28, 89km
Start, forest camp
Finish, forest camp
The Blue Nile Gorge. A 20km individual time trial with a climb of almost 1500 metres over the 20km. At the end of the ride. After you have already cycled 69km with over 1000 metres of climb. Must have been designed by the criminally insane.
Before you can climb out f the Gorge you have to descend into it. At the top before you descend the views are absolutely spectacular. You sit there before you start and wonder why you would ever want to spoil such a great spectacle with the anticipation of so much pain. I started off at about the same time as Gus, a fearless, overweight Danish rider. Gus is shorter than I am and weighs over 125kg. But he is an amazingly string rider. He also has a lot of ballast, which is helpful when you are going downhill. On the 162km day a couple of days ago he passed me like a rocket on a downhill, rocky off-road section. I was white knuckles, smoking brakes, trying not to die a premature death. On the descent into the Gorge he once again passed me like a shot. He made it to the bottom in 22 minutes. That is 19km in 22 minutes. It took me 45 minutes and I thought I was being reckless. But her, we still had to get back up.
1500 metres of climb over 20km means an average gradient of about 7.5. That is steep. I start having suicidal thoughts with anything over 5. So I went to the start line waited for my cue and was off. We started at one minute intervals. Freek, a young and very strong Dutch rider and a real hill climber, started after me and was past me within the first kilometer. He ended up third on the day. By the end of the fifth kilometre I was struggling. I got off my bike and walked. There is not a whole lot of difference between cycling a 6.3kmh and walking at 4.5. I needed a rest. I soon got back on. But after another kilometre I was walking again. This pattern continued from km 5 to km 8.5, the steepest sections by me account. At km 8.5 I got back on again and cycled to a coke stop at km 10.5. After a couple of warm cokes and a bottle of water I felt much better. Back on my bike I was able to cycle to the finish. The winner finished in 1 hour and 22 minutes. With stops I took almost 3 ½ hours. But I made it and was still alive.
We camped in the woods right at the top of the Gorge. It was still spectacular and the anticipation of pain had receded into the background. It was worth it. We walked over to and sat on a rock outcropping and watched the sun set over the Gorge. It was pure magic.