Dongola to Canal Camp (Dead Camel Camp)
‘Damn, they must of upped the pace when I stopped’ I knew it was going to be tough to catch back on if I stopped for the picture, but the opportunity to capture a herd of 50 or 60 camels crossing the desert was just too enticing.. The road we are on today follows a popular route for driving camels, donkeys and other animals to market and the desert next to the road is littered with the carcasses of the ones that didn’t survive the journey. It’s a bit surreal racing along at 42 km/hr surrounded by desert and the dried remains of camels, cows, dogs and donkeys but I can’t think about that now, I’ve got o catch back on before lunch or I’ll never see the front of the pack again.
Everyone had a great rest day in Dongola. We drank our fill of hibiscus and chai tea and ate enough fuul and goat meat to refuel our depleted energy stores from 3 hard days of off road racing. The hospitality of the Sudanese people is amazing and has really helped everyone relax and enjoy the markets and shops to the fullest. The pace of the race group leaving Dongola was moderate, 35km/hr with all 17 of us rotating and sharing the work. When I stopped for the photo I thought it would be easy to catch back on but I’ve been pedaling at top speed for 20 minutes and even though I can see ahead for 2km, the front group is nowhere in sight.
I can picture the group in my head. Alan and Nick at the front driving the pace, Brian sitting in, riding smart and planning his tactics to limit his losses or maybe take another stage win. Malcolm and Paul would be right up front too. The rest of the group would be sharing the work when they could but ready to slow down whenever possible, especially the mountain bikers who don’t have the proper gearing for these flat, paved sections. Finally, I catch a few racers who have been dropped from the group. But in a few more km I see lunch truck. Just enough time to wolf down a quick sandwich and the racers are off again, 58 km to the finish.
The pace from lunch is again moderate for the first 28km, then Nick and Allan explode off the front and the chase is on. I find Paul Porter’s wheel and stay in his draft for a bit before jumping across the gap to the lead group. There are only five of us now off the front: Nick, Allan, Malcolm, Paul and myself. We quickly settle into 1 km pulls and maintain a brisk 43km/hr pace. At 15 km to go the crosswind becomes stronger and the pedaling is hard now, but we keep pushing, trying to extend our lead. 10 km to go and the road turns again, almost full headwind now, we’re all tired. At 2km to go we spot the finish flag but no one wants to lead out. The headwind is too strong and whoever leads out will probably not have enough strength left for the sprint. But Malcolm takes a gamble and jumps off the front. No one chases, we all think he’s gone too early. At 1km to go Malcolm still has a gap and Allan starts the chase with Nick and Paul on his wheel. Malcolm is riding strong despite the head wind and hard efforts of the day and they can’t catch him. Malcolm takes his first stage win of the tour followed by Allan, Nick and Paul. Congratulations and high fives are shared as we laugh and recap the race to Mark who was at the finish line to time us. On to camp for some hot soup, a swim in the canal and a quick game of desert cricket.