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by SS at 6:41 am on Tuesday 6th April

0510: Yawn. I'm packing my sleeping bag into its sack. The ground is damp outside. There's no running water at the hotel/campsite and the toilets we have available to use are a horrific mess. I'm taking my inhaler and overclocking my body for the ninth day in a row, trying to compensate for my lifelong mild asthma.

15km: It's early in the morning, Adam and I are riding together, fast. With only this day to finish before the section is complete, we're both eager to maintain our sectional rank of 4th (me) and 6th (Adam) overall. We're trying not to gain any extra riders as we overtake group after group by sprinting as hard as we can each time we pass. After the third sprint we need to slow down - pushing so hard has left us breathless and weary. With no more groups in sight, we draft each other, each leading for five minute intervals before switching with the other.

35km: Adam decides he's unable to maintain the pace we've been doing. We cut back to about 70% of our previous speed. The wind has picked up and is doing it's Malawian trick of rotating between head-on and side-on. Occasionally the grey clouds shower us with drizzle, the spray from the road slowly soaking my jersey. I'm glad that my MP3 player and camera are well wrapped in own-brand Ziploc (tm) bags.

40km: One of the many children standing by the side of the road yells out 'give me money!'. I ask him, 'why?'. There was no audible response (but we were travelling at some speed above 25kmph).

50km: 20km until lunch. It's PVM bar time. Caramel nut. With a quarter of the bar left to go, it's my turn to lead and I'm struggling to breathe as I speed up to overtake Adam. It only takes another thirty seconds to chew the remainder of the bar.

73km: Lunch arrives, we've just overtaken Rod and Juliana and been overtaken by Stuart and Gisi. There are quite a few riders at lunch, we purposefully left quite late in the morning. It doesn't seem like many riders are racing hard today but there's no sign of Jethro or Tim who cleared lunch earlier. Nothing too amazing for lunch today, although there's an appreciated reappearance of wholewheat bread which Jen dutifully slices for the other riders. Adam doesn't want to leave in a hurry so I go on alone and wait for Stuart and Gisi to catch up.

80km: It's hard work in the wind. I'm struggling to get anywhere near 25kmph on some sections of road. My stomach is rumbling. The single sandwich I ate doesn't appear to have satisfied my appetite, understandably.

83km: Stuart and Gisi catch up. Stuart suggests we each pull for 5 minutes and leads us on. It still feels windy but with the draft we're easily going 5kmph faster.

95km: Gisi finishes her pull after ten minutes and Stuart comments 'guess we'll pull for 10 minutes now'. She rotates round and I'm at the front now.

110km: We're getting closer to the capital city of Malawi. Every so often there are eight flags lining a twenty metre section of road, four on each side. The traffic is heavier and we're sometimes pushed onto the side of the road.

121.5km: We hit our first roundabout of the day and the beginning of the only real navigation we need to do. It's straight over this one and soon after there is heavy traffic blocking the road. We slow down considerably and cautiously filter through the traffic (the truck incident leaving Arusha still memorable).

124km: We're stuck in traffic behind a bread van with the slogan 'Choices Bakery - Where success is always one step ahead of us.'

1105/133km: The finish flag is in sight. It's a quick sprint to the dinner truck's trailor which is home to the timing device. It takes a couple of button presses but my finish time is eventually registered. Stuart signs in but Gisi waits a few minutes, trying to give him second for the section (having made up time by winning the earlier mando-day and hence receiving a 30 minute time bonus).

1350: My tent has been set up, I've showered, eaten an egg club sandwich and finished watching yet another terrible (romantic?) comedy movie. My head is weary from the last sleepless night (Easter in this country is also celebrated as some kind of harvest festival with genuine discotheques, one of which was held in our hotel/campsite) and it's time for a nap. Pitching up my tent under a tree was a wise move and despite the overwarmth outside, it's pleasant enough to sleep. I fall asleep quickly.

1500: I wake up in a daze from a heavy, deep slumber. It's warmer now than earlier, the sun has come out. I grab a PVM bar (lemon & lime) and walk to the bar, trying not to trip. While eating the bar I accidentally bite my tongue.

1530: A group of riders were heading into town looking for Nandos and I hopped in, riding shotgun in the back of a local's Toyota pickup truck. After visiting an ATM, I spend half of my newly acquired cash on a veggie burger and peri peri chips. We're in Malawi, and eating at Nandos. Frickin' amazing.

1610: Jason and I are searching for ice cream in the Metro Cash & Carry. It's like some kind of wholesaler and there are fridges full of drinks and food littered around the supermarket. None of them seem to be particularly cold inside though. Perhaps this is a new selling tactic. The ice cream doesn't look appetising but I walk out with six packets of biscuits and a 100g bar of Cadbury's chocolate to last me through the next section.

1720: The section results are out, I'm third for the men's race. A hard couple of weeks racing and it's come to some sort of fruitful conclusion written in black marker on a drywipe whiteboard.

1750: It's time for the fifth meal of the day, campsite dinner. A pleasant Thai green curry served with a plateful of rice goes down quickly.

2030: After discussing the milkshakes available at Steers, a South African (I think) fast food chain, we finally snap and get in the taxi that is conveniently already at camp. Stomachs all rumbling a bit, Dan orders a pizza, Jason a burger and I have fries. Many delicious pseudo-milkshakes (lacking genuine milk) are consumed.

5 comments posted so far
Ash wrote at 3:23 pm on Tue 6th Apr -
Good job Sunil. 3rd in this section!! Quite an accomplishment. You're almost there. In 6 weeks you will be done.
TDA FAN wrote at 11:03 am on Wed 7th Apr -
I loved this hour-by-hour account. Congratulations on your stage results!
Paul B wrote at 5:47 am on Thu 8th Apr -
Hey man, congrats, 3rd is no mean feat. Enjoy Malawi while it lasts, and remember when it gets tough: at least you don't have any revision to do this year.
Paul B wrote at 2:26 pm on Fri 9th Apr -
Also, Nando's is a South African chain, so it's not all that surprising that you'd find one in Malawi.
Paul B wrote at 2:27 pm on Fri 9th Apr -

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