When the phone rings at 4 am it’s hard to say if I had a good nights sleep or not, what I’m sure of is that it didn’t compensate all the sleep deficit from the last two nights. During such a race the question is not whether you can fully recover from one day to the other but rather how you manage the continuous build-up of fatigue. Having some issues sleeping caused by stress in the past year my strategy for this race is to avoid caffeine until the last few days / last day, hoping that this will help with the sleep quality. The downside of this strategy is that usually getting the legs working in the morning takes a bit more time, and that’s also what happens this morning.
The brisk morning air wakes me up quickly though and I try to have a quick breakfast while I pack-up everything, Max, who got up a bit earlier heads out into the night. I try to get everything together for the first couple of hours and start shortly after him, Christophe is also up when I start pedalling. Half an hour after starting I feel surprisingly well on the bike with legs which seem to have forgotten about the punishment from yesterday.
I catch up with Max, we share a biscuit and I bypass him on the undulated section before the first village of the day, Toluk. When I reach it it’s early morning and the village is just waking up and I manage to find a villager which guides me to his courtyard in order to refill my bidons. I’m fascinated with these small villages in Kyrgystan with places where life goes on just as it did 50 years ago. In many ways it resembles many of the villages in Europe with the single and important exception that people are not fleeing these places at the same pace as it’s happening in Europe. They still seem to be villages very much alive and not just dying places where only the old people live.
I also really like the silent and calm sunny morning on the streets of this village, and I briefly stop to change clothes and for a small breakfast before the first steep climb of the day. From a physical point of view today is very, very tough, with two very steep climbs and with an undulating terrain which doesn’t allow to much space for relaxation. I catch up with Arno, a veteran of such races and we change a couple of words on the climb. A bit further up the road I once again catch up with Adrien who had jus stopped for a quick breakfast, then again with Axel just before the second steep climb of the day.
This second climb wasn’t just steep, it is very steep, with gradients on which you could barely climb on the bike. Actually in several moments during the race I really wonder if it doesn’t make more sense to walk up and conserve energy, even if you I feel good for now. The morning sun is still out and the weather is quite calm, but storm clouds area already visible in the distance, turning darker and greyer as time goes by.
Adrien passes me again on the way up, I catch up with Toms and Janis, overtake them only to stop for a strange encounter with two young children by the side of the road, offering Kymyz from a plastic bottle. Somehow, I don’t know how, the locals had found out probably that there’s a race going on and the kids were offering the fermented horse milk to the riders coming by. I really like kymyz (if it’s fresh and from the mountains) and after eating almost only sweets for the entire morning I take a deep sip of the fermented concoction, only to think afterwards that doing this during a race requires some trust that your stomach will be able to handle this without issues. The second thought which comes into my mind when I get back on my bike is that several riders drinking fermented milk from the same dirty plastic bottle is a recipe for disaster. I crossed my fingers, hoped for the best and hopped back on my bike chasing Adrien and Stephane which were once again visible in the distance.
I find it interesting that even a mountain bike which wasn’t particularly light, and myself not being particularly light I handle steep climbs quite well compared to others. Descents are also quite ok, though I surprised at how well Adrien descents with his 26 inch gravel bike. Where my setup sucks though is on flat areas, especially with head wind as I can’t really make myself small on a mountain bike.
The unpredictable Kyrgystan strikes near the top of the pass and we go from sunny, warm and calm weather to a small snowstorm in less than one hour, only to find a small hurricane when we reach the end of the descent. From here the route follows a river uphill and northwards for 30 kilometres before turning once again west. The only slight problem is that the wind is blowing with a hurricane force exactly from this direction, which makes for a speed of 10 kilometres an hour if you work really hard, and all this after having spent already almost 12 hours in the saddle.
I stop for a resupply in Kyzyl-Oi, taking shelter from the wind behind one of the walls of the shop and I’m shortly joined by Adrien, by Stephane and after a while by Toms and Janis. The lunch for today consists of canned fish, canned corn, tomatoes, salted biscuits and sweets and we take our time with the break while the wind howls around the small shop.
One by one we reluctantly get back on our bikes heading into the same headwind which is soon accompanied by a drizzle with stormy clouds which announce nothing good in the distance. I stop to put on the rain jacket and hope that the drizzle doesn’t turn into a torrential downpour, Stephane and Adrien overtake me and disappear in the distance and I have to admit that I’m quite spent, both physically and mentally for today. You can go so fast from feeling high, like I did on the previous climb to feeling like every pedal stroke is torture. I really hate headwind, and I hate that I don’t have drop bars or aerobars at hand so cursing in my mind I grind the kilometres until Kojomkul with Stephane in front of me in the distance. Here I stop again for a long resupply while I check the weather forecast for tonight. It says 20 milimiters of rain, I can see the dark blue clouds in the distance and I think to myself that if the forecast turns out to be true and if I don’t find a good enough shelter for the night this can quickly turn into a bad situation, especially considering how spent I feel.
The mental calculus which I make says that I’m in 6th place at the moment, behind Sofiane, Adrien Liecthi, David, Adrien Gullmin and Stephane, but at this moment considering how I feel the race mood has almost completely disappeared. The only good news is that the wind died down, the bad news is that unpredictable rain clouds move on all the mountain ridges. I’m again dry after the last drizzle, I can see the rain in the distance towards Karakol pass so the moment I see an abandoned stable I call it again a day, hoping for better spirits and better weather for tomorrow morning. I feel it’s a bit of a shame because the rain actually stops after I setup my bivy inside the stable and I lose around more than 1 hour of daylight. On the other hand I fall almost instantly asleep, not before setting my alarm for 3:30 am for the next morning.
Day 2: 170km / 5000m / 15 hours.