Whenever you do a race, you always learn something. Something that you will do differently next time. Something that you will need to bring next time.
Something that you will need to buy next time. This might be food, equipment of clothing for every type of weather condition. Today was one of those days where you learn a lot.
Stage 7 was a 200km stage through some very mountainous terrain. From kilometer zero, the race went straight uphill so those more climbing challenged will have a difficult day. But this is not the worst part. In the mountains it is a little cold. In fact, it was 5 degrees celcius at the start of the stage. Normally, this is not a problem- you simply put on a million layers to block out the wind. The thing is, we woke to a cold and wet day.
Rain fell consistently all morning before the start. Outside you could barely see 50m into the distance as a thick fog covered the mountains and the wet, slippery roads were going to be a nightmare for the riders on the tricky descents. Standing in a full tracksuit, beanie and second jumper, I was freezing, nevermind riding in it. With the wind chill factor, it was going to be like sitting in a freezer with a fan on in wet clothes.
Before the start, riders did everything they could to keep out the wind and water. Heating oils, glad wrapped limbs and bodies, taped up helmets and socks, surgical gloves, plastic bags on feet and for some, taped up dishwashing gloves for extra grip and warmth.
102 riders started the stage and it was clear that not everyone was going to be able to suffer through it. By the 80km mark, around 20 riders had already climbed aboard the broom wagon, with some literally only able to crawl on their hands and knees. By the end of the race, this had grown into the 30's.
As riders crossed the finish line, they were caught by their trainers with grimace on the faces, trembling bodies and crab claws for hands as they were unable to feel their fingers. They were rushed off to the team cars to warm up before hypothermia set in. This meant dry clothes, hot coffee and even vodka to get the blood flowing. It was a true day of suffering.