By Vicki Barclay
I woke up on the morning of stage I, Cooper’s Gap, and I felt like someone was holding a knife in my rib cage. I had crashed during the prologue the day before and my handle bar had gone straight into my ribs. It was difficult to sit up out of bed, reach for anything using my left arm and the result was a mental meltdown that I had broken my rib and would be out of the race. After some tears, we decided the only thing I could do was to get on my bike and start the race.
At camp, I had a quick examination from Dr Todd, he listened to my breathing and said if it was broken it wasn’t cracked in a way that was going to puncture my lung. He said I could race, but to be prepared for it to really hurt and that crashing would not be good idea. I got a mental boost from chatting to Todd and kitted up trying to focus more on how my legs felt rather than the pain in my ribs/lungs.
As I warmed up I felt so much better, the stretched position over my handle bars eased the pressure on my lungs and my legs felt really good. At the start we all lined up together for the first time and were led out by the motto. I tried to position myself near the pro woman favourites so that when the race fired up I had some people to pace me. The first climb felt comfortable and then we tore down the first downhill like a bunch of loonies, it was so much fun and all the pain troubles I had had during the morning disappeared.
On the fire roads, myself, Amanda, Sue and Karen were working in a pace line with Richie Rich (NoTubes) and starting to real Selene in. Karen was leading with me second. I thought I heard Sue say ‘Vicki’, so I turned around. Before I knew it my wheel touched Karen’s, “BAM”, I hit the ground on the side of my hurt rib. Thankfully I didn’t take anyone else out. It all happened so fast that I picked myself up, got the lose chain back on my bike and jumped on Richie’s wheel who powered me back me up to the girls. After a quick check that I was ok it was back to business.
We hit some single track for a bit before starting a big fire road climb. I sat at the back for a while, feeling good but not wanting to expend too much energy too soon. Near the top it was only Amanda and I. We hit the next bit of single track, Upper Sassafras, together. I rode on her wheel for a while, and then asked if I could pass as I knew the trails a little better and I could hear the other girls starting to come behind us. After a while Karen caught up with us and the three of us rode for a good while together.
I was having a blast; I felt so comfortable and was excited that I could ride with these girls. I have raced against them many times, but rarely have the confidence to go out hard and ride the race with them. Eventually Karen set off. She is incredibly good at riding technical single track. I took a bit of a tumble (!) on a rock as we started to ride along Beautiful trail, and Amanda kept riding. I saw Selene coming and she rode behind for a while before passing me. After the long, fun, technical section we hit the fire roads for the race back to camp. I could see Selene ahead and I continued to feel smooth, strong and comfortable. I was catching her on the climbs but she was just too powerful on the flats. Soon I began to see Karen as well. Even if I didn’t catch them I was still thrilled to still be part of the race. I never did catch them, I crossed the line in 4th but only a few minutes behind the winner Amanda.
What makes Stage I the most memorable was the fact that I was considering not racing at all in the morning, crashed on my rib travelling at 15-20 mph, got back up and was more in the race than I could have ever imagined. I feel like I have been hit by a car, and I know each day it is going to get harder and harder, not only because of race fatigue, but because my body is battered. Some people might say I am tough, but as I am discovering, stage racing brings about a strange single track mind, where the goal of finishing consumes your entirety
More from TSE: Read all our racers’ exclusive dispatches from the race.