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The hunter and the hunted

Day 4, Stage 5

Stage 4, the long one, was good to me. I moved from fourth in the general classification to second. Next up were two very short stages that would change everything. This morning, stage 5, was a 23km individual time trial stage with all the racers going off in 30-second intervals from slowest to fastest.

The whole thing took just over an hour. At the start of this stage, Jodie Willett was solidly leading the open women with about a 15-minute lead over me. Jenny and Gracie Elvin were both just about five minutes behind me in third and fourth. The two of them were separated by just 15 seconds in the overall.

The course had just a few kilometers of jeep track before heading out on a technical, rocky singletrack with some very steep climbs. It was short, punchy and really hard for me to get up to speed as quickly as I would have liked.

All of the other women in the top four are primarily cross country racers, so I knew the short distance would suit them more than it did me. I was feeling the cumulative affects of four days of hard riding stacking up. I felt like I had a decent, clean TT and really made the effort to stand on the climbs, push a big gear when I could and let it rip on the singletrack.

My effort still wasn't enough to hold much of my lead. Jodie, who started after me, had an awesome ride and won another stage. She caught me just a couple of km from the finish and ripped by me. I finished the stage in fourth for the women and had lost more than half of my lead over Gracie and Jenny. I still held second, but only by a couple of minutes, and I knew that they both smelled blood and would be really hard to fend off in the night stage.

Night Moves - Day 4, Stage 6

Same day, same course, but everything else was different. The night stage was held on the same 23km singletrack course, but this time it was a mass start in the dark. I know I can ride at night and have plenty of experience with that. I was excited about this stage and was hoping my experience with night riding would pay off.

It was still basically a sprint, but the added element of the darkness would add a whole new element of surprise. I opted for full Light and Motion lights on my head and handlebar. I wanted the full amount of illumination for the technical terrain. The course had plenty of hidden erosion ruts, tons of super sharp, loose rocks peppering the trail and some quite technical downhills with consequence.

The start was super hectic with dust kicking up and light beams everywhere. It was a tussle to get to the singletrack and there were crashes and people riding off in the bushes everywhere. My legs felt like lead and Gracie, Jenny and Jodie all flew by me along with a ton of other people in the men's field. I felt a bit deflated, but tried to just ride smoothly and smart and stay out of trouble.

Passing opportunities were slim, so I tried to hammer the climbs and get around a few people when I could. The riding was super fun and I feel like sometimes I ride better at night because I can't see all of the scary stuff. I did get caught in a few sand bogs, but otherwise had a clean race.

About 4km from the finish, I passed the race leader, Jodie, on the side of the track fixing a flat.I tried to take advantage of the opportunity to stay ahead of her and go for the third place time bonus. When I crossed the finish line, I was surprised to hear the race announcer say I was the second woman across the line and that Gracie had won the stage.

I found out later that Jenny had broken her derailleur in a crash and did not complete the stage. Jodie had two flats during the stage and lost more than half of her lead. Gracie won the stage and moved into third position in the women's.

I maintained my second place GC, but with Gracie trailing me by only ONE SECOND! So the race is still very much on right up until the final stage tomorrow. I wish tomorrow's stage was another 100km day, but it's only 45km. Estimated finishing times are around three hours, so at least it's longer than today's stages.

It will be an exciting day and now it's time for me to get to bed and rest up for the battle tomorrow!

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