After finishing off and handing in my dissertation on Monday meant that I was ready to get away for a bit and disappear out of the UK. So what better excuse is there then to go to Alcobendas, Spain to compete in the Duathlon European Championship? My mum of course decided to come and watch (thank you so much for all of your help and organisation, it was so good to have you there and I’m so grateful for your support) and my sisters would join us at the weekend.
We arrived in Madrid on the Wednesday morning, which allowed us to get back to our accommodation for lunch. Sitting on the terrace with our sunglasses on, the lovely 26-degree heat fell onto our faces and with a fresh coffee and some lunch, was the best reward I could’ve had for working so hard … Oh it was nice to relax a bit after handing in the dissertation.
There were a few slight hiccups in the lead up to the race which I’ll only mention slightly, namely that I was hit by a massive parasol in some freak wind, hitting me in the back of the knee, which had just about recovered. I also left my transition bag that had my helmet, passport, race licence, run shoes and bike shoes on the train, thankfully the Spanish were very efficient and were able to track it down very quickly – so thank you to the Spanish train line. Finally realising that my bike headset was lose as it started to shake, whilst travelling at 60kph, and that my gears were jumping in the lead up to the race. At least things happen in threes…thank you to the British and Spanish mechanics that sorted it all out and made it race ready.
Remembering the conditions at the World Champs in Pontevedra last year, in the days leading up to the race, along with the casual trip to Madrid and the odd bit of admin to do, I tried to acclimatise to the hot weather and went out for a run in the peak heat a couple of times and by around Friday I felt strong and ready to race, the hot weather wasn’t going to hinder me this time.
However, that evening after looking at the GB Facebook group, I saw the forecast and it wasn’t looking good for the weekend at all … definitely wasn’t the weather I was expecting. I was ready for the heat. Ana and Gabriella (my sisters) had only just arrived, meaning they missed all the lovely weather … sorry about that. Oh well, typical British weather it is!
With only one day left to go and with my bike and kit ready, my knee healed, I was prepared for both the weather and the technical and relatively hilly course, having 96 or so roundabouts in the space of 40km. It was going to be tough and very different to what I’m used to, especially as I’ve never been out on my TT in the rain.
26th April … Race day had arrived … waking up at 6 am, I set off at 6:30 to get to transition area to set up. Yes, unfortunately the weather forecasters were correct and it was raining, got completely soaked, and was shivering like anything, nearly lost control on the commute in. Wouldn’t have been a good start.
After setting up transition in the horrible conditions, I went to get a coffee and caught the train back to the accommodation to eat, warm up and have a little nap.
After a couple of hours, we got back to the transition area and with the rain still falling and a few helpful tips from the Sprinters to take the bike easy and just try and stay on the bike, due to the course being as dangerous as anything, with people falling off, left right and centre, with a racks of abandoned bikes forming due to athletes being rushed to hospital and staff members running low, we were told not to come off and to take it easy, making sure we just get around. Not the news I wanted to hear, especially as I was planning to take some roundabouts at 40mph. But at least I knew.
Lining up at the start, I was ready to get going. Not long after, with the Spanish taking the front row we were set off and started climbing the first hill, the first of many on this undulating course…4 laps to go…I started off at a good pace just getting the legs working and warming up, trying not to aggravate the knee too much. I then started pushing the pace to try and keep up with the people in front of me, especially as I knew I wouldn’t be able to gain as much on the bike due to the weather.
Towards the end of the third lap, climbing the second to last hill I can just remember my legs feeling like jelly and I really started to find it hard but just kept on thinking of where I was and how far we’ve travelled so I continued the pace and pushed on. It was a tough course but I knew I only had one more hill to go and then I was on the final lap and the bike would be waiting for me.
Finally the last lap, the last push to get into a good position and to get in front of the people around me so that I don’t have to deal with them at the mount line.
Coming into transition after just after 35 minutes, I took my shoes off, put my helmet on, and ran towards the mount line with my bike. Running in the puddles with no shoes on was not ideal but at least it meant that I’d soon be on the bike.
Over the mount line and onto my bike I took the first U-bend easy and tested out the brakes. All ok, I pushed my way through the field, up the hills and across the numerous roundabouts. The conditions seemed better than I had thought and I started to gain a bit more confidence. I continued to push myself and tried to race past those struggling going up hill, thanks to the advice Barron gave, who took me round a couple of times prior to the race, which was to blitz the hills and recover on the downhill which would soon follow, I was advancing quickly through the field.
Turning around at the far U-bend I was on my way back and with roughly half the first lap completed, I tried to keep pushing the hills when I could and then easing on the way down and preparing for the roundabouts.
Last push of the course, known as the three sisters, hill number one, small 10m flat, hill number two, another 10m flat, final steep hill, to push and gain a few positions from those struggling before being able to rest a bit and do the downhill sprint to the start of the next lap.
Whilst on the downhill sprint towards the end of the first lap, I realised I was going a bit to fast around the roundabout and felt my back wheel slide, I was heading for the rails. Luckily, I managed to decrease the speed enough to make it around the corner safely without coming off. It shook me up a bit but with the new set of brakes only just put onto my bike, seen below, I was ok … that little bit more response really helped so thank you very much.
Although I was shaken up a bit, this was a race I was going to push myself. I knew I had to gain on as many sections as I could and therefore once coming out the bend I stood up and pushed my bike side to side trying to pick up the speed I had lost, pushing it around the following roundabout … it was all good bike handling practice I suppose.
By the third lap, the weather got worse and you could see the hail hit and rebound off the ground … the conditions were tough. I think it was the first time I’ve started to look forward to the final run in a duathlon, rather than being on the bike.
Heading back to the dismount line, on the final lap, I was absolutely drenched and was so cold. I’m glad I decided to race in a thermal top, with people catching hyperthermia and coming off the bike, I had managed to get around in one piece.
Jumping off my bike onto a wet road with numb legs and feet, was such a weird feeling, I can just remember that the run along the road into transition without any shoes on was so painful but thankfully I knew it’d be over soon. Racking my bike, taking off my helmet and putting my running shoes on, I was off … last 5km to go … two laps … and then coffee time.
I kept focussed and just tried to keep in good form. My knees weren’t hurting … a good sign of course. Struggling around, with my legs feeling like they were going to collapse I kept pushing and with the amazing support from the crowed I continued to push on. Knowing that it would be worth it in the end.
Coming down that final hill into transition felt so good, there was only a few hundred meters to go and then I could get inside and warm up. With my spin theme tune, pirates of the Caribbean, playing on the loud speakers, I came through the finishing line to end up 4th and 2nd British in my category, meaning that i’ve pre qualified for Germany next year. You can partially see how wet and windy it was in the pictures below. A very tough race but learnt a lot from it and can’t wait till my next race in Geneva and Australia, where I’ll make it onto the podium!!!
Thank you so much to all my friends that I’ve trained with over the years and to my mum and sisters for your amazing support especially in those horrendous conditions. Along with my sponsors, Apex and DaysOut.co.uk for the amazing bike and gear along with their continued support and backing, and to Warwick Physio and Rehab for their help in making sure i’m fit and ready to race.
Till next time in Geneva in a few weeks,