The first group settles rapidly into a reasonable pace. Even during the first rise there's not a single rider tearing off. I'm happy with this situation. For the first 10k we keep this reasonable pace. Then something uncommon happens, something I've never seen during the 5 other audax rides I've done in Russia so far. The Voronezh-club passes us in an excellent paceline, several other riders in tow. Up till now most riders I've seen during brevets overhere were riding rather individually, this is the first time I see a proper road men's paceline during a Russian audax ride. Immediately the front riders in my group increase speed and not much later the group rips just in front of me. I try to keep the gap small but hardly anyone wishes to help or is capable to do this. Most are quite happy to sit on my wheel for a long time. For a few dozen kilometers I ride with this group untill I stop for a call of nature.
I resume the road alone, something I'm quite used to. And it doesn't bother me at all. I quickly find a steady rhytm and roll along through the usual Russian countryside of endless forests interspersed with scenic lakes. Ocassionally a sideroad veers off to a distant riverside village. In this part of Russia the villages were founded along the rivers. The rivers were the old roads. Only in the age of motoring the asfalt roads took over and were built on the high grounds. Not far before the turn-off to the Fillipovo Monastry the first control is located by the roadside. Nothing fancy, just a car, some food and water and a few controllers. Not that anyone needs more. The only thing to be desired could be more water. It's a hot day and not everyone took enough water with him. I started out with 4 liter of drinks, most of it used allready. I top off at the control. There are still riders out when I resume my ride, I've allready built a comfortable time-cushion to the closing times.
We don't visit the Fillipovo Monastry this time so I keep on heading north. Temperatures start to rise, it should be around 30 degrees now. Normally I would enter the disaster zone here. Before I started using sports drinks my stomach would gradually shut-down above 30 degrees. After some experimenting I found some sports drinks I can still drink in the heat and which keep my stomach working. Not that I would enter rides were much higher temperatures are expected though. In fact, I choose this ride because usually temperatures are in the 20-ies here, my prefered range of temperature for long distance cycling.
Now we've passed the Fillipovo Monastry traffic gradually deminishes to a few cars per hour. One feels quite lonely here. It's my second time on this road so I know that I can expect some services at the second control. Here a road leads to the small town of Lipin Bor. We continue on the main road but not before checking in at the 2nd control. Just next to it is a service station. I stop there for a hot meal. Els is allready sitting there, enjoying some of the local pastries. I stock up with supplies. No-one knows if the next shops will be open or not, they only cater for the villager's needs. There's one halfway the next stage. I leave the route and to my surprise it's open. That's perfect, it's still hot and an icecream would be great. And stocking up on drinks again. During the first days I'm drinking about 15 litres a day so I need a regular supply of water. Last time the shop was allready closed, I had to use my emergency rations to reach the next control.
Just after resuming the route I meet Vadim and Elizaveta from Moscow. It's their first big brevet and they're still equipped as proper roadies. Shiny carbon fibre bikes and neat kit. They don't speak English so my basic Russian has to do for conversation. Sometimes we ride together, sometimes alone. But still to ocassional stretches of riding together are enough to reach the 3rd control in good spirits. Last time I was struggling here and needed some sleep. I remember that this control is midge-infested so one of the first things to do is using the midge-repellant. Industrial strength is needed in this part of Russia. I eat and drink the usual mugs of tea (staple drink at Russian controls). There's a 4th rider at the control, Aleksey. He suffers from a nasty crash and has to retire. When I'm about to leave Vadim and Elizaveta also pack. Vadim has kneeproblems and Elizaveta joins him in packing. Quite a shame, she's still in good form and there are enough riders near us to ride together for the remainder of the ride. I'm back in my usual position, last man on the road.
So I settle out alone again. The next stage is far more scenic and populated as the previous ones. Several times I'll cross the great waterway from the Volga to the White Sea. But first I have to negotiate some bad roads near the village of Depo. The main road veers to the left but I continue straight on, up ahead I see a cloud of dust in the evening sun. The asfalt disappears as I cross the small gauge railway track. This is a logging village. Last time I was here at dawn, now it's still evening. It's still scenic, the white nights are something to experience. Near Beluosovo the white nights are especially spectacular. I pass a scenic bay where several cruise ships are moored for the night. The Onega lake starts here.
To my surprise the local shop is still open. I enter it as I make my way through the cluster of late-evening drinkers at the doorstep. Probably they think that they've drank a bottle too much as they see me in reflective jacket and helmet light. I stock up again on food and drinks. When I resume the road I head north into the sun. A strange feeling for me, the sun shouldn't be in that corner. In Vytegra I reach the first turn of the ride. I've been riding straight on for more than 300km. Still one rider manages to overshoot the turn and log some extra miles. The small town of Vytegra is asleep. Probably some riders too in the local hotel. I continue on, not far up is the control of Saminky Pogost. I reach it without problems. A lot of bikes at the control, I'm clearly not that far behind. I opt for a short kip before eating and continuing. I'm not very sleepy but I have enough time in hand to invest in some sleep. Usually that makes you faster in the next legs.