In my opinion, Stage 2 had the best scenery of the whole race! The first 80km were quite uneventful as we rode from open plains to big rolling green hills, through some lush green forest and up valleys encircled by beautiful rocky outcrops. The last climb of the day came at about 80km. Far in the distance we could see riders traversing the enormous ridge to the left but it was so spectacular I hardly noticed the pain. We were grinding along at such a slow pace it was easy to take everything in. Yellow, purple and white wildflowers, the smell of cedar and pine trees and the cooling air as we climbed and climbed.
I was feeling OK: still a raging sore throat but it seemed all the congestion in my head was slowly making its way out. Our Aussie buddy Cam on the other hand, was not so lucky. He seemed to have some mutation of the thing I had and was feeling crap at best and so we ended up riding the whole stage together.
On the decent of the final hill I was giggling and yelling at how amazing the track was but all of a sudden had to screech to a halt with blood spurting out of my nose. The rapid change in altitude had given me an epic blood nose and because my heart was pumping so fast, it just wouldn’t stop. Cam and I spent a good 15min on the side of the hill with every rider stopping to see me lying there with my face covered in blood. It looked so hardcore, but it wasn’t.
Drama over, we continued on towards the end of the stage still alone in our pair of misery. At about the 90km mark we started crossing rivers. Once had you gotten off, heaved your bike to your shoulder and waded through the freezing water, you were back on for maybe five minutes tops, before having to do it all again. Some of these rivers were deep and flowing fast, so I was very happy to be riding with Cam in case I got completely swept off my feet.
When we finally reached the end of the stage we were both ruined. It had been such a long slow day, with our elapsed time being close to eight hours. The goal of ‘just getting through’ was a struggle in itself and I envied all the race talk that was going on around camp. RACE!? I could hardly ride. With a 170km stage looming for the next day, we ate a huge meal and got to bed early. It was raining heavily and I fell asleep overhearing a local racer saying that rain was forecast and it would be about five degrees in the morning. Mongolia was really putting the hurt on us.
Strava route – http://app.strava.com/activities/82240843
Really awesome Stage 2 video –
Indeed in the morning it was frigid. We started in the drizzle and nearly every rider had their long pants and raincoats on. It was quite an amusing start to the stage, with riders spreading in every direction dodging mud and huge puddles. It quickly became apparent that these freezing muddy puddles were impossible to avoid and within 15 minutes we were all drenched from at least the knees down.
I found myself in a group with my friends the Spaniards again and we set about pacelining across the valley into a bitterly cold headwind. A bumpy, ass-pounding climb brought us to the top of a swampy marsh like area. We headed partway down hill, the bog getting increasing deeper, until we came across the convoy of bogged race vehicles. Through the swamp (finally) we bombed down a crazy steep downhill and crossed a raging river. Around the corner we came head to head with the race leaders. “WHAT THE HELL?” We thought initially they had gone the wrong way or something but it turned out a river was impassable and we were being sent back the way we came.
Back across the raging river, up the hike-a-bike hill of death and, of course, back through the swap and passed the convoy of vehicles who were now bogged going in the opposite direction!
We spent a few hours holed up in a friendly local lady’s Ger where we were fed some peanuts and coke. 40 riders sitting around in wet muddy lycra which they had been in since 7am. You can guess how good that Ger smelt. Poor lady, she will have probably built herself a new house by now.
Eventually we got transported to the camp at the end of the stage in the race vehicles. In true Mongolian style we were told it was maybe 40km and shouldn’t take more than an hour or so. Very vague…
Four hours later the sun was setting and we were still driving. Getting thrown all over the vehicle, smashing heads on the roof and crashing into each other as we careered through the Mongolian countryside. We passed time in our car (which was two guys plus Erin, Jess, Marina and I) by conjuring up meals that we would like to eat. It seemed roasts and Asian food were the flavour of the day.
So from race start to getting the camp the ordeal was about 11 hours. That is a long time to be cold, hungry and in the same set of lycra! By far worse than riding the 170km which we were mean to. Some of the amazing volunteers didn’t get back to camp until 1am. What an adventure!
Most photos are © Eric Peterson