I think the idea for upping the ante on The Yak Attack had been in the works for some time. Phil (race director) mentioned during Trans Nepal that he was considering combining some stages for future races. This year stages 2 and 3 were combined into one long stage going from The Famous Farm all the way to Gorka. I’ll be honest, I was a bit concerned. Even though it is not a horrendously long stage, clocking in around 51 miles, there is over 8,000′ of climbing. My knees were not feeling the best, and this is only day 2 of 8 days of riding with another monster stage 2 days later (combined stages 5 and 6 for a new stage 4). We also hit the low point of the race in elevation, and temps were going to be warm. But first, we needed to descend a narrow busy, sealed road for 5 miles and then, of course, climb a steep bit for a good mile or so to the start. This is Yak Attack, no freebies allowed.
The stage wasted no time in getting started as you climb an ever steepening grade for about 6 miles- all told, about 2,500′ of elevation gain. I was getting passed but settled in and just made sure I kept turning the cranks. At some point near the top, I started to reel some folks in, and then we got a great downhill. which of course led to another even steeper climb. At the top it is standard, beautiful upgulating (undulating, with more up than down, always up…) Nepali riding before another even longer downhill. I think it was here that I caught Tyler sitting on the side with a flat. I offered the obligatory, “are you good?” but the response was not positive. I hit the brakes and helped him get his valve core unstuck so he could put in a tube. From there I continued down and eventually came to a rickety suspension bridge across the river. Nothing much to do but ride it- better to spend as little time on this bridge as possible.
After the bridge was some steep hike-a-bike on loose dirt. It was hot but I felt okay. I caught at passed another rider (Thomas maybe) and was surprised to be pulling away from him on the climb that followed. The first aid station was only 13 miles in but felt like forever. The next section to aid 2 was rolling, occasionally up, occasionally single-track, and occasionally very rough. I was putting some time on a few riders from stage 2 but was caught by Tobias just as I was leaving aid 3. As I was taking off, I suddenly noticed John Salskov sitting on the threshold of the shack/shop. “You ok John?”
John was decidedly not ok. Heat stroke, Nepali stomach bug(s), general body break-down. He looked like shit and was talking of having to bail. I told him to rest, there were hours before the cut-off, and try to recover before I took off. Unfortunately, John ended up having to take the jeep from just past aid 3 to the finish. He was not the first or last casualty of the race.
I found another gear leaving the last aid station, and felt the freshest I felt all day. It seems maybe I am finally learning to pace a bit, and also benefitting from doing a lot of long rides. This is good because you set off on yet another long climb from the day’s low point, up, up, up. I did some walking, some riding, some grinding, and once again took a good tumble going up hill when I failed to release my right cleat- mental note. It was a dusty landy, and I was covered in fine silt now reddish brown where I had been black lycra.
The stage finished with more rolling, upgulating riding with stellar views everywhere. We were riding through centuries old terraced valleys and ridges. And then the finish line came in to view. I felt great as I crossed the line- it was a beautiful stage. It would make a great one day race all on its own. The knees ached, but nothing debilitating and I hoped I hadn’t dug too deep a well for the following days. Besides combing old stages 2 and 3, there were some significant reroutes to reduce the amount of time spent on roads. The race is all the better for it. Good job Phil Evans!
Stats: 51 miles, 8,300′, 7:04, 22nd, 2:30 off lead