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Central Australia Bike Challenge - NE
Alice Springs, Northern Territory, Australia, March 14-20, 2003
Stage 4 - March 18: Convention Centre - Undoolya Station, 50 km
The thorny issue of punctures
By Joe Ward
While the world's thoughts turn to war, 65 mountain bikers went into battle at dawn against a hidden enemy. The "coalition of the spinning" against "weapons of mass irritation", pickles and thorns so savage they can take out a 4WD tyre. There's no prize for guessing this would be a race of attrition.
From the start Marcus Amstutz (Switzerland) went out hard and built a 30 second lead within the first 4km. While other riders were suffering up the hills with tyres laden with Slime and thornproof liners, Amstutz bolted up the climbs on lightweight tubes and tyres.
The rest of the pack had to settle for the awesome sunrise and views of the MacDonnell ranges and Alice Springs.
Of course it wasn't long until the desert thorns sorted Amstutz out and before the first water stop he had punctured twice. A handy lead was turned into a not so handy 4th place.
This was only the start of Amstutz's disastrous day as he suffered a further 2 punctures, one a slow leak that he had to pump up every kilometer or so. He'd also gone out without a pump and ran out of CO2 cartridges quickly. Adrian Laing, 4th place overall, showed what sportsmanship's all about and lent him his pump while quietly praying that he wouldn't suffer the some fate. Laing is running the "No Tubes" system, he did pick up a stack of thorns but the "No Tubes" sealed almost immediatly allowing Laing to complete the stage without stopping.
Out at the front, Jaap Viergever (Netherlands) and Chris Jongewaard (Australia) stayed glued to each others wheel, Viergever finding he had the advantage in the sandy sections that many had to walk.
4km from the end Viergever had built up a 20 second lead as they headed back to Undoolya Homestead. Then Viergever developed a slow leak, he stopped to add some air via a CO2 bulb, only to see Jongewaard looming in the distance. The last kilometer was a flat out sprint with both riders pushing the biggest gear they could find. Viergever showing that he's not only a great endurance athlete but can match it with the cross country race whippets on any given day.
Amstutz's day just got worse as he ran out of inner tubes, 5 km from the end the swiss rider showed some bush cunning and stuffed grass and hay into his rear tyre enabling him to complete the stage though he lost over 30 minutes to GC leader Chris Jongewaard who now leads the tour by over 20 minutes.
Jill Burston took out yet another stage to make it a clean sweep thus far. She said today was really hard with the relentless grind on the flats, technical decents and a strong headwind out to Undoolya.
Tommorrow the tour starts at the historic Old Ghan Railway, crossing the MacDonnell ranges and finishing on Anzac Hill in Alice Springs.