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The route starts with a gradual climb through the Gates of Paradise Pass before dropping down and following a meandering trail through the villages at the foot of the mountain range. There were one or two challenging bits to keep us on our toes, as well as a portage down a particularly rocky section filled with loose rocks the size of baby heads.

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Shortly after this our team dynamic imploded spectacularly, after a communication breakdown over stopping to help a solo rider with a mechanical. This cost us a few minutes as well as a much needed spot in the peloton for the windy district roads ahead.

We filled up at the first water point and then entered what is known as the Valley of Desolation or Death Valley, depending who you talk to. These are both apt descriptions. The valley is remote, desolate, baking hot, and filled with incredibly taxing technical climbs which get the lungs and heart exploding. There are also a few portages which slow things down horribly.

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Water point 2 was followed by a painful slog into a headwind on rolling district roads. This was a dark place for us. Things got even bleaker after water point 3 when we continued to climb into a raging headwind. A quick detour into one of the only wooded areas on the route kept things interesting, although our GPS navigation failed in the trees and we got a bit lost. After wrestling our way through a few flocks of sheep we continued the battle. After a fun, fast descent on concrete switchbacks we hit a welcome tar climb towards Roma.

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The last eight kilometres featured some agonising kickers, as the vertical ascent on our Garmins shot way over that of the route description. Hot, dusty, and exhausted, we finally arrived at the welcoming cooler box at the finish line.

Now to recover for another monster stage tomorrow from Roma back to Ramabanta Trading Post.

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