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by SS at 6:39 am on Tuesday 6th April

The Tour experienced (collectively) a strange feeling last night, something we haven't felt for quite some time - we were cold. After the last few muggy weeks in Malawi, Tanzania and Kenya, sleeping bags were given a purpose again and the night's sleep was pleasantly sweatless. We climbed yesterday, only a couple of thousand metres (not as much as our first mando-day in Ethiopia) but over steep rolling hills and it was demarked as another mando-day.

I'm not much of a climber, in fact, on every ride (ever) I'm always left behind on each hill. Hopefully, since the trip began, I've become better/faster - the ascents in Ethiopia were not to be taken lightly. Yesterday, ranking well for this section so far (4th overall, 3rd for the men and 1h 16m ahead of Jethro, the next highest ranking racer after me), I gave the climbs all my energy. It was problematic, I had drivetrain problems when using the small chainring and any of the middle 8 gears (out of the 10 total) on my cassette. This meant that for the most part I had to use the bigger chainring and then tactically shift into the smallest chainring only when I had reached the largest (or easiest) gear on the cassette. Not insurmountable but it made my legs work hard.

Going hard in the morning, I heard the truck beep behind me. It wasn't directly behind but some distance - it was beeping at another rider. Looking back, I saw a red blur and tried to guess who it was. Soon enough, Jethro came past, not much faster than I was but enough to disappear out of sight within a good minute. A minute later the grey clouds that had been hovering above opened fire, gently spraying us with misty rain. Naturally, my el-cheapo Cateye Velo 8 cycling computer (13 from Chain Reaction Cycles) gave up the ghost and at 36km, I was the cycling tour equivalent of blind. When the only information you have for the day is a distance, losing your odometer renders you to nothing but a brute force cyclist, forced to merely pedal on in the hope of sometime reaching camp.

I powered on, the rain stopped and Frans overtook me on a climb, shouting 'REMEMBER SUNIL! HIGH CADENCE! HIGH CADENCE!' as always. I yelled back 'I'm trying but no more gears!', cursing my choice of a narrow road racing cassette. Further along the road, lunch arrived. A quick sandwich (tomato and lettuce but NO CHEESE!) and water refill later and I was back tackling the stage, legs feeling like jelly.

The majority of the climbing was over before lunch and the afternoon was composed of some beautiful descents. At one point the road descended into an open plain where there was no shelter from the wind. The crosswind that had been playfully pushing us all day was now unobstructed and it was a fight to keep the bike on the correct side of the road - at one point I was shoved all the way to the right hand side.

Many annoying rumble strips later (Simon commented some time ago, 'whoever invented these rumble strips should be tied to the bottom of a car and driven over them'), camp at a primary school arrived. An astounding African sunset gave way to an equally astounding night sky and it was intriguing to observe the stars from the southern hemisphere in such clear detail.

Today's day was considerably easier, considerably quicker and considerably more downhill. An overall descent of 1039m and ascent of 555m, it was much less taxing and a lot of people were out to race this (either that or they wanted a room at the Inn we're staying at - usually first come first serve). I tried riding alone this morning but soon was unable to overtake some of the sectional riders (who aren't racing but like to antagonise us racers trying to overtake regardless). Ten minutes after overtaking Gerald and Jos, I saw the shadow of a rider approaching on my right - they'd caught up again! Greeting them, Gerald was completely out of breath and they quickly disappeared again.

Just before lunch came round, Paul and new Jos caught up, we rode the last 15km to lunch together, my legs feeling pretty sore from the previous couple of hard days riding alone. Celebrating Easter (or perhaps just a happy coincidence), lunch involved fried eggs and I had to have the mandated two sandwiches. As we ate, Jen came in, looking like she was about to explode again (a sign that she was going for the stage again).

Jen, Paul and I rode the remaining 52km together, taking it as fast as we dared. With less thn 25km to go, we reached a fairly long but gentle climb and tried to maintain a decent speed (~27kmph) up it. My muscles were burning and the geniuses who programmed the shuffle function on my Sandisk Sansa somehow managed to get R.E.M. - Everybody Hurts to play, apt indeed.

With 20km to go, Jen, a hobbyist spin class instructor and often Ms. Motivator, pushed us forwards with a 'lets go boys!'. At 10km, she pushed us on again 'let's go! only 10k!'. At 5k, sprinting distance, 'go for it!'. It worked and we rode into camp nice and early, arriving just before 10am, with the whole of Easter sunday free.

On the assumption that the shops in town would be shut, I'm staying around camp, having drunk three Fantas, napped for an hour on the lawn and finished watching a movie I started last night. The ants here are huge and move extremely quickly - one was trapped in my tent earlier and trying to set it free was an entertaining game in itself. With fifteen minutes until rider meeting followed by dinner, I think it's time for another cold soda.

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