The morning is a bit easier to cope with today. Sorting out my gear, I quickly prepare myself for the day. There are two stages again today, however the finish is still undecided. With flood waters still keeping the Warburton Crossing closed, we may have to divert the race north, this will mean a half day tomorrow with a transit, and a couple of nasty sand rides. If the river level has dropped then we will continue South-east towards the Birdsville Track as planned. As far as the riders are concerned, we will not know until the third water stop today, turn north and the race is shortened, turn south and it continues as planned.
Studying the race guide I have a pretty good chance at today. The start is again straight into dune country, the first 20km is soft sand dunes and some windblown sand lies across the track, Travelling with a couple of other riders we make good time and reach the first waterstop just outside of sweep time. After a quick bite to eat we make a dash south for a run along a clay pan. 25km of fast hardpacked clay allows me to make up about 40minutes as I turn into the final dunes section. This should be enough of a lead to get me through the next section of soft sand, and then the final run south is on more hardpack between the dunes. Today I am going to finish. I keep telling myself there are no more obstacles in my way, Sweep won't get me today. At the final water stop I am still 5 minutes ahead of the Sweep. On the other side of this dune the Warburton Road turns south and the finish is an easy 20km away.Crossing the dune my heart sinks to a new low, the crossing is closed, the track turns north. To the north the track is covered in loose sand from yesterdays sandstorm, and I am now riding across it into a headwind. Somewhere ahead there is a another claypan, better riding but more exposed and a guarantee of more wind. At 65km I encounter the edge of the claypan, and crouch lower on the bike as the wind howls, scoffing down the last of my food, I have 10 or 15km left to go, I cant remember now.
All that matters is that I am still ahead of Sweep and still on the track. The wind howls and my muscles scream as I push myself through the wind blown sand over the track towards the finish, 70km, 75km... There are riders stopped in the middle of the track talking to the Medic, I know can't be more than 4km from the finish. The wind gets stronger and now it is a real effort to keep the bike going forward, soft sand is building up in patches on the track, and with my tyre pressure set high for the claypan my tyres sink into the sand slowing me down. I look at my speedo, 7.8kph. My legs are cooked, there is nothing left to lift me back up, gritting my teeth I dig in and keep going. It's got to be less than 3km now. Pushing harder on the pedals I struggle to regain speed, the Sweep arrives....
Shattered, and listless my support crew lift me off the ground and half carry me to the car. Unable to speak and barely able to hold a water bottle, I am cooked. Dave congratulates me on a big effort and lets me know I was 2km from the finish line. Then he tells me that he is going to tell the Race Director that I wont race that afternoon. I say nothing.
The whistle for weigh in for the afternoon stage blows. On auto-pilot - I climb out of the car and shuffle over to the doctors car. Climbing on the scales I am 2.5 kg down on my weight this morning. Given that I have just eaten about half a kilo of food and drunk about 3 litres of water and soft drink in the last two hours, that means that after drinking 10 litres this morning I still managed to lose 6kg in under 7 hours. the doctor looks at me. "are you riding this afternoon" Mal asks. "sure" I respond. Warily he nods at his assistant, " well just take it easy and make sure you drink alot". I nod and wander over to the start line. Dave brings me my bike, "are you sure?"
I need to start. The heat has a lot of riders cooked this afternoon. Struggling I pedal past nearly half the field before being swept again at the first water stop. I collapse in the car again after running with my bike on my shoulder, having gotten a flat 400m from the waterstop.
That night the desert throws everything at the camp. a sandstorm with 70kph winds and rain pound the camp and threaten a number of tents. Sleep, however, is not a problem.