Her pace began to slack with three kilometers remaining.
“Hold it for a little longer,” Ulrik told her.
I can do it. I am the storm.
“There’s been a bit of a falter in Mackenzie’s form as her pain barrier has been pushed to the limit. Hopefully, she can suppress it a little longer.”
“Even if Ross catches her, Mackenzie is the virtual winner on the road. The fight now is for second.”
“We’re down to the final kilometer, with Loren Mackenzie of IDC still out in front. She’s lit the entire matchbook to keep herself ahead!”
As Loren passed under the one-kilometer banner, cheers from the crowd told her someone was coming up from behind, and fast. I’ve worked this hard. There’s no fucking way I’m letting anyone beat me now. She banked hard into the corner and jumped out of the saddle to give everything she had left.
“Heading into the final turn at 500 meters, will she let it go? No! Mackenzie has found some dynamite in her pocket and takes one final leap out of the saddle! She finishes a wheel length in front of Heather Ross.”
“What a nail-biting finish! IDC’s Loren Mackenzie takes stage 5 and wins the Aviva Women’s Tour!”
Loren rolled to a stop several meters beyond the finish and hung over the handlebars. Don’t get sick. Don’t get sick. As each of her teammates crossed the finish line, they gathered around her, screaming and hugging her.
“Okay, okay. Don’t jostle me too much,” she groaned.
Cece held out her arms. “Back up! She’s gonna hurl!”
“Cut it out, Cece,” Loren grumbled. As Sven held her bike, she slowly dismounted and thanked him, then caught Ingrid and Cece exchanging a glance.
“Here, I’ll help you.” Ingrid grabbed Loren’s elbow and all but dragged her to the anti-doping area. After the drug testing was complete, Loren climbed the steps of the main stage where the head steward was waiting for her.
The announcer presented her as the overall winner and an aide helped her don a clean, long sleeved yellow jersey backward and zipped it up, so the sponsors’ logos could be prominently displayed. Loren tried not to grimace as she pulled the jersey away from her throat.
She plastered on a smile and waved to the crowd, then turned to shake the hand of the Tour representative who helped her with the jersey. She then turned to the right to accept the customary bouquet of flowers and almost fell off the podium in shock. Graham Atherton stood there, grinning; a bouquet of brightly colored Gerbera daisies resting on his arm. He handed her the bouquet, kissed her right cheek, then her left.
“Congratulations.” Before he could step back, Loren snaked her arm around his neck.
“You’re not getting away that easy,” she laughed as he steadied her with an arm around her waist, chuckling as he kissed her.
Cheers rang out even louder as Loren held her arms up high. I won. She flashed a grin at Graham. I’ll be really pissed off if this is a dream!