Mando days are always the hardest day of any section. They are the days that the racers HAVE to race and can’t take as a grace day. I always look forward to them – but with a bit of trepidation.
Elephany Highway Mando Day wasn’t going to be difficult in terms of climbing or being on the dirt but it was very long – 207 km – longer than any day’s riding I had done before. Me and my On-One mountain bike were not totally convinced that doing this distance on fat tyres on pavement was a good idea, but nevertheless off we set.
The routine followed its usual path. Me, Sam, Amy and Mike got on the road about 6.30 after a good breakfast. The sun was coming up but it was pretty misty, really reminded me of home in Autumn. Angela was going separately as she had a faster pace.
The four of us rode on at about 23km/hr for 45 minutes or so and then the rain started hammering down. We were all soaked within minutes but at least it wasn’t freezing cold. And really, when you know you are going to be on the bike for at least 9 hours, there is no point even thinking about it because there is nothing you can do.
About half an hour later, a big peloton came past and we hopped on the back. It was going about 32km/hr so would pull us to lunch really quickly. This one was a strange mixture of erstwhile racers and speedies like the Brams and Bastiaan and then us. The rain was still hammering down, so hanging on to the wheel in front meant getting a constant facefull of spray. After about twenty minutes, I had had enough. I was having to try too hard to keep up and was worrying that if there was a sudden halt I would go straight into Daniel, who was the wheel in front of me. So, I dropped off and left Amy and Mike to it – Sam had gone a bit before, muttering imprecations.
Congratulating myself on the fact that I would now have a nicer ride, if a slower one, I kept on at about 25km/hr. The next landmark for me would be the lunch truck at 79km. Always something to look forward to, not just because of lunch but because it means you have acheived a chunk of the day.
The scenery was the usual Botswana fare, dead flat, scrub trees on both sides, cows and a great sky. By now, the rain had eased off but it was dull and overcast.
By 10 am I was getting really hungry and no sign of lunch, also wierdly no-one had passed me for a while and I was expecting both Nick and Christine to have overtaken.
Anyway, I pushed on. Upped my gears and the pace a bit as the hunger pangs gnawed. By 1030, I decided to stop and check the route instructions on my camera – maybe the lunch truck was at 89? Checked them – no – there it was, 79. So, upped the pace again and on I went.
At 11 am, I realised that something was really wrong. Even if I had been doing about 15km/hr I would have hit it by now. So I got the camera out, checked again, and saw “Right turn at Namibia sign, 47km”
This was not a good moment in my life. I had missed the only turn on the route and done roughly an extra 60km out of my way on the longest ride day of the Tour. IT was raining again and I only had two pvm bars and a coke.
But you can never tell how you will react to these things. Bizarrely, instead of ranting and throwing my bike to the ground and kicking a tree, I was actually pretty cheerful and just turned round (into a headwind obviously!) and started back.
Two hours later, the lunch truck found me. They had realised what I had done and had both saved me loads of food – thank you Gabe and Claire – and come back to get me.
Now I had some choices. Should I just go back to camp in the truck having done about 147km, should I go to the refresh stop and do the last 50km or should I catch up with the sweep and do as much as I could. I chose the last option – fuelled by a desire to do the distance and also the vast quantity of cheese sandwiches I had just consumed.
We caught up with Nick, the sweep, with 90km to go. I got out and started cycling as hard as I could to see if I could catch any of the other riders. About 3/4s of an hour later, Ram, Phil, Ribka and Aman rolled into view standing under a tree. Ribka was waiting for the truck as her knee had gone but Phil and Ram were ready to roll on. Joy! A petit peleton and company for the last 70km. By now I was absolutely determined to make it.
Our fabulous three cracked on. We got to the refresh stop where Martin the mechanic and Brian from TDA were waiting for us. Brian warned us that unless we did at least 28km/hr for the last 60km he would sweep us up in the truck. We had to make the border crossing into Namibia by 6pm.
Martin joined us, and the four of us formed up and decided to do 1km pulls at the front. It was sore but it worked like a dream. We all pushed, dropping out if a pee break or flat occurred and then catching again. I was on my own at about 15km from the border when hunger struck. I stopped and stuffed down a cheese sandwich, saved from the truck, and the others caught up. We plundered Ram’s PVM stash and on we went.
The story has a happy ending. At almost exactly 6pm we hit the border crossing. We had made it! Whoo Hoo. We felt fantastic.
Of course when we got to camp I was roundly (and rightly mocked) for missing the only turn of the day. I worked out that all in all, I had done around an extra 25km over the 207km distance, but I had had one of my best days of the Tour.