With numbers dwindling due to racers quiting and the length of the stage (88Km) racers got pretty strung out through the day. I back and forthed with a couple of racers, but soon found myself alone and pretty much riding by myself. No big deal, the course seemed pretty well marked and I was paying attention, or so I thought....... After flying down some double track I'm suddenly aware that there are no course flags anymore. Looking at the ground, there are no bike tracks. Argggh, I've gone off course! Damn, I really thought I'd been careful. I climb back up to where I made my error, and I really don't know how I missed the turn, but it happened - duh!
This put me a chunk of time back and I began to realise just how alone I really was out there. I had no idea if I was at the back of the pack, or just in a pocket of emptiness. I was hoping to catch back up to someone or have someone catch me, but it just didn't happen. I eventually passed through a feed zone and was told there were racers still to come through, but still I ended up heading into some technical descending feeling very alone. I now truly understand the reason most of these stage racers require you to have a partner. I was spooked to say the least. I couldn't trust the race organisation to be there if I needed them, so I rode gingerly down stuff that I would usually fly down, fearing that if I had an accident it would be a long time until someone found me. Once you start riding like this it just gets worse and worse and soon you are walking sections that you should be riding. A team mate would have been my safety net and stopped me psyching myself out. I had to talk myself down the trail - not so easy when you are already mentally and physically shattered.
After 8 hours, I did make it back, almost 2 hours back on the lead - yikes - DFL in my category! I'd been lost, been bitten by flies, stung by a bee and almost ran into a cow, but on the whole physically unscathed. I wasn't the last racer home though - it was still a few more hours before all came in, and some didn't make it back under their own steam (more stories about that later.......)
Only one more day and a 30Km TT to go now - can't wait for it all to be over.