Three hard days, with extra miles and climbs caused by navigation errors, have taken their toll. Some riders are botching repairs on their bikes with the help of Darek the very able and inventive mechanic who is riding with us. Others are botching repairs on their bodies with the help of our physios. The group as a whole is trying to botch repairs of everyone's morale.
Everyone, even the strongest riders, have emotional lows on a ride like this. Mine came just before lunch.
We set off early. Seven in our group, the first out on the road. A straight and flat 20 or so miles took us out of town and towards a national park. A puncture to one of our riders forced a halt and at that stage Spencer, a strong rider and veteran of last year's non stop London to Paris ride but who has undergone major surgery since, asked if the two of us could go ahead to get start on the climb.
I happily agreed. Helping someone up a climb can be very beneficial and it was. We quickly reached the start of the nine mile climb and started gently up it. We chatted. In order to keep Spencer's heart rate low and save him for the rest of the long ride, it was important to keep him talking. If you can talk, your heart rate is good. Panting and puffing means you are over exerting.
We had a really pleasant chat about life, families, work and sport as we gently climbed the hill. The others caught us as we were climbing and passed. We chatted on and reached the summit a little later. Everyone was already in a cafe but, filling water bottles quickly, we decided to move on in an attempt to get to the hotel before dark.
This was our mistake. If we had followed others, we would have been fine. Instead we took a wrong turning and descended the mountain at speed, a descent almost as long as the climb. Glorious but when we reached the bottom, we realised we were a long way from where we were meant to be.
We navigated using iPhones and gumption. After twenty miles we found a way back onto the course and immediately cam e across a couple of other riders who were looking for the lunch stop. We followed them and discovered a delightful restaurant by a lake.
I was not feeling so delightful. I was fed up with navigational errors and swearing in a variety of languages with the word "Garmin" featuring frequently. Other sin the group helped to calm me down.
I soon realised that I had been lucky when I was told tales of injuries. The worst was of one poor young treaty underwriter who had had chaffing in his shorts. In an attempt to ease the chaffing, he had unwisely elected to wear underpants under his shorts. Bad chaffing had become agony and possibly infected. He was off his bike and not in a position to get back on again. His tour was over. The positioning of his chaffing, however, led to much laughter and many jokes, made all the more accute by his impending marriage.
After lunch, Spencer said he would ride with some of the slower riders and that I should go off with others riding more at my pace. I was concerned to leave him but he was insistent. It was a good call as it meant that I wasn't pushing him. He could take it more easily. I was concerned as to whether he would get back at a reasonable hour.
Three of us rode off and rode hard for the next 70 miles. With my diversion I would ride 140 rather than 130 miles in the day. We fought to beat the failing light. The heat of the day eased but impending dark concerned us.
The landscape changed from the drier south to more verdant hills. The buildings and towns looked more affluent. Fly dumping was less of an issue. We were getting closer to Rome.
As the sun lowered in the sky it shone directly into our faces making visibility difficult. A worry as cars passing behind us would have similar issues. Eventually the sun went and our lights went on. 15 miles to go. Just up this slope and then down hill all the way.
I hit another crumpled piece of tarmac. My bike jumped and landed on gravel. I went over. The contents of my jersey pockets spewed across the road followed by my glasses. I looked for traffic and made a grab for them, The cars had stopped. A driver alerted my companions who returned to help me. A slight graze. Importantly, no damage to the bike. I picked myself up, drank some water and we rode on.
Having left at 7 am, we arrived at the hotel at 8pm. A few had arrived before us. Many came later. The last group, including Spencer, eventually rode in at 10pm.
The injury list has grown. One rider, unable to ride futrther, is looking to fly home. Others are waiting to see how they are in the morning, how they are the day after.
With little room in the broom wagon, the rest of us will ride on. Tomorrow is the hardest day. More climbing. 118 miles (if I can manage to navigate).
The only way to think about it is that, as tomorrow is the hardest day, after that, it gets easier.