Lee Rodgers’ Oman diary: Off the back
I’m looking for a interesting way to open this entry but it just isn’t flowing tonight. My brain this evening is a beloved chihuahua squashed in the driveway under the Dodge. An exploded gnat streaked up on a windscreen. A struggling bluebottle flickering in and out of life glued to a strip of paper dangling from some gas station ceiling in the desert.
The heat. The speed. The hills. They’re frying my mind. I might go all Colonel Kurtz out here at the Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa, heading to the stony cliffs with my tribe of disaffected Indian waiters clad only in giant blue lounger towels and armed with stainless steel soup spoons.
Today, Stage 4, was a bit of a killer. Just from a quick look in the race book, it looked to me like one big climb coming at 55km, a short but very steep growler at 85km and a series of climbs to be tackled on the final circuit. Yesterday my legs weren’t great — bad, in fact — so I was a tad worried about Stage 4.
Another long transfer preceded the start (a bit of a sore point with many riders, these long transfers, especially when we are staying in such a nice resort!), but it has to be said the drive into the mountains was impressive. Huge, massive, towering red giants rose up from the stony earth, dwarfing the flat-roofed dwellings that peppered the roadside. Imagining the lives of these people (and many, especially the elders, do embody the word noble) is difficult.
They simply live in a different time to us. They have TVs and cell phones, sure, but the space, the environment they inhabit, it’s something I can barely comprehend. Miles and miles from the towns, with no convenience stores, no Wal-Marts, no MaccyD’s, they subsist, they co-operate, and they get by in this very beautiful but seriously harsh place.
I caught the end of a conversation and heard some guy in the peloton say after the start that ‘Their clothes are a bit weird’, and just assumed (perhaps mistakenly) that he meant the locals in their hats and scarves and long robes, and I had to laugh — here’s a guy with shaved legs, wearing a blue mushroom on his head and RoboCop sunglasses, clad in less than a millimeter of lycra and matching fancy shiny little sweetie shoes and he’s saying someone else looks weird?
So, back to the action. We set off at, yet again, a nutty speed, which I could say about every day, but this was really your full almond-pecan-walnut trail mix kinda start, the speed hit 72km/hr on the flat — the flat! — and every turn was, for those at the back like me, truly the end of the cracked whip. Five of my teammates went off the back early on and seemed doomed to grovel for 132km, but fortunately the speed eased after ten km when finally a two-man break went clear.
The speed. It is phenomenal. I have ridden against the best in Asia in a few tours but this, this is something else. How they train for it, to be so fit and ready so early in the season, I don’t know. Whereas I am sat there after the furore has eased wondering how I hung on when I notice, briefly, through the aeons of time, the WorldTour dudes are laughing and chatting like they’re sat at the cafe.
First climb comes, it’s about 5km and tough but I manage it well enough. On the descent I don’t know how fast we went, I’ve yet to check the Garmin, but it was squeaky bum time for sure.
Next climb was a very steep little 1km bruiser, and I punctured 1.5km from the bottom. Not good. Very not good. A quick change, a panicked push and I was off again, darting through cars in search of the bunch as though my life depended on it. I just missed them at the top and chased back with one up and coming sprinter, who is an expert at the post-climb chase it seems, as he does it almost every climb, but is thick enough to still try to drop me on the flat sections. What’s up with that? (If anyone knows how to say ‘What’s up with that?’ in Italian, please let me know…)
On to the finishing loop. Man those growlers, they weren’t really that tough on their own but like all highway rises, ridden repeatedly they just sap you. I grappled with my fate like a man clinging to a dinghy coated in olive oil on a raging sea but the inevitable could not be postponed forever and I slipped below the water line again up the final climb.
Oh, and Greipel won. Incredible.
My teammates Jai Crawford and Alex Coutts rode very well too, home safe in the front group.
Me, 101st yesterday, placed 100th today. Can you see a pattern emerging?
Speaking of yesterday, it was 144km, the first 85 of which was downhill. Fingernails were embedded in my bartape by the end of that. FInal 5km was like a carnival ride, and a questionable one at that, with rusty screws and electrical tape all over the place. Roundabouts abounded, serving to the pack’s collective cornering techniques (fun at 60km/hr) and there was a final 1km preceded by a 90 degree turn that stopped dead anyone outside the top 30. I got gapped and it was all over. More time lost, but sometimes there is little you can do.
Tomorrow we have the Queen Stage. Greipel’s probably going to lose the lead, but then I thought that today he would have no chance. We have 158km of climbing to come, the final 5km of which has an average somewhere in the region of 10%.
Today had me wishing I’d taken up surfing instead of this insane sport. The memory of the pain has fortunately already begun to fade. Now it’s all beautiful, and I’m willing to suffer, yet again, a little more. So it is, and so, maybe, it’s supposed to be.
17 years after stopping racing as a junior in England and traveling and working around the world, Lee Rodgers started cycling again 4 years ago “to lose a bit of weight” and now rides for UCI Continental team, RTS Racing Team, based in Taiwan. He works full-time as a journalist and part-time as a cyclist.