ETU European Long Distance Champs (4/120/30)I seem to be blessed with racing in beautiful parts of the world this year.
I have never been to northern Spain before and have been bowled over by how spectacular the area is.
So the journey began by sitting for 90 mins on the tarmac at Stanstead airport from 7am thanks to a French air traffic control dispute. The poor cabin crew did not know what had hit them, they filled the time busily feeding and watering the hungry triathletes on board….we must have cleared the on board supplies!
Eventually we got underway and 1 hour 40 mins later landed at Bilbao airport where we were met by our travel hosts, Nirvana travel.
As the coach wound its way up through the hills surrounding Bilbao I got my first look at the beautiful countryside of the Basque region.We arrived at the hotel and settled in, got some food (eating seems to feature alot I remember).
When I am away on trips for competing the most important things for me to sort are getting food and water,putting the bike together and registering for the event,pretty much in that order. Managed to get the first two done and took the bike out to check all was in order.
The city of Vitoria- Gastiez is a cyclists dream, it is full of cycling lanes with their own traffic lights integrated into the road traffic system – makes for very safe and stress free cycling.
With this event T1 and T2 were in different places, with T1 at the lake 17km away from the main race venue so we knew that we would have to be organised to get bikes racked at the lake before race day etc.
All this stuff is normally sorted out at the race briefing. We were told that the race briefing had been moved from the main race venue,at the stadium, to a building in the old town, which was about 30 mins walk away. We got a lift with Nirvana up there but then had to walk for quite a way through the old town to where we were told the briefing was to be held. It was a team bonding moment as many of us wandered about in the heat trying to find the venue. No signposts, no A boards outside a building..in fact …nothing! Eventually we found a tiny doorway into a church type building that had an A4 piece of paper put in the window declaring athletes briefing.
Our poor team managerand several of the team did not manage to find it atall.Fortunately the meeting was not too long and we all got back to the hotel tired, ready to eat and get some sleep. It had been a long day.
Friday, day before race day dawned warm and sunny and I got out early to do my pre race session. There were several things that needed to get done on Friday, the most important being registering and getting the various race bags to T1 and T2. Both transitions needed to be set up on Friday.
The race organisers had detailed how we were going to be taken up to T1 on coaches then brought back to set up T2. We had been told that we would not be able to get into T2 on race morning so everything we needed for the run section had to be left in transitionon Friday.
Registration was easy and straight forward and I decided that I would give the lake reccie that had been organised a miss, choosing to get my feet up for a few hours instead. It is easy to get carried away at team events doing too much before the race. I figured I would see the lake when I racked the bike in the late afternoon!
After a restful afternoon we assembled at the stadium with our bikes and colour coded transition bags to be dropped off. I am not sure the coach drivers had been told they were taking a load of people with bikes on their coaches and I watched with horror as they opened the baggage holds up!
We actually travelled with our bikes on the coach with us! The journey up gave us a chance to reccie a bit of the bike course, which seemed mainly up hill and twisty turny.
The lake was very spectacular and racking the bike was sorted pretty quickly. However we then found ourselves waiting for the coach to take us back for ages…an hour later we were told that the coaches were not picking us up where they had dropped us…aahhh. We agreed this was turning out to be a trip that was training us to be a good at waiting.
So, having walked to where the coaches now were, back to T2 we went and laid out our yellow run bags.
Back at the hotel I put together my last minute bits for the morning and tried to get some sleep. I cannot say that the pre race care of the athletes had been perfect but I had got everything done as Ineeded to and just needed to go and race.
Race day promised to be another scorcher and the excitement was building as we all got ready to race. It was brilliant to see the elites with us in transition.
We had Jodie Swallow competing and the current Xtrerra champ, Eneko Llanos was also there.
Before we knew it it was race start time, a beach start. The klaxon went and I launched myself into the lake. A few fast strokes and I found clear water. The lake temp was perfect, in fact the lake was perfect. I settled into my pace for the 1 x 4k loop. I had a completely clear swim and was out of the water in 58 mins, I had had an amazing swim leg and couldn’t wait to get on the bike.
Through T1 and out onto the bike course. It was 2 loops of an undulating, rolling course, twisting up and down and through the breathtaking countryside.
The support from the locals in the villages the course passed through was brilliant. The support of people passing in cars was brilliant and also of the many groups of cyclists. It occurred to me how sad it is that we cycle in our country where there is not such a deep love and culture of cycling.
The marshalls were excellent both in directing and on the feed stations. On long course events it is essential that there is enough fuel and water for every athlete and as we females were last to go there were concerns that by the time we got to the feed stations supplies would be low or run out.Not so…I was really impressed with the support on the bike course.
I felt great cycling, at Bala two weeks before I had struggled on the bike…this was very different. As I went past T2 on the first loop the crowds were cheering like mad and the atmosphere was awesome.
The second loop was quieter but I felt strong and came into T2 with a time of 3 hrs 56. I was delighted.Through T2, I organised my gels and drink for the run…they were absolutely baking, having sat in the sun all day!
My electrolyte drinkwas like tea! The run consisted of 3 x 10k loops through a park and the local streets, with no shade. The temps were hitting 30 plus degrees and I soon realised I was more dehydrated than I had thought.
I adopted a run/walk strategy for the fist loop to rehydrate and get myself together. The second loop was better, the sun went in and it was hot but cloudy and the respite from the sun was welcome. The third loop was tough,the heat was brutal, a lot of people were walking by this point.
I went back to the first loop strategy and dug in to get finished. I was very grateful to see Jimmy at the start of each loop giving me good encouragement and keeping me focused!
And finish I did. The team manager handed me a Union Jack to wave as I crossed the finish line. I was very pleased to stop!! I had done it in8 hrs 06, a time I was delighted with.
I would like to mention a French competitor, an older man, probably 60 plus who completed the course in 11 hours 59. He had cramped on the run course and was in agony but he carried on and finished.
We were at the stadium to see him cross the line and I found it so inspirational.The human spirit is an amazing thing… after he had had a moment to collect himself they led him over to the podium and helped him up…he had won his age group!!It was a totally brilliant moment, very moving and one I won’t forget.
I was very proud to stand on the podium to receive my silver, and I shall treasure it.All in all a great race, in a beautiful part of the world, supportedby lovely people.