This was a big race for me as this is my first year in the 45-49 age group and I was hoping for a good result after finishing 15 in 2015 and 11 in 2014 at the European Championships.
On Thursday 14th April afternoon, I road-tripped to Kalkar in Germany for the European Age Group Duathlon Championships. After crossing 5 countries and wasted one hour around Antwerp due to traffic jams, I arrived just on time for dinner with WaldenTRI member Matt Baindbridge.
Kalkar is a small unassuming town on the border of Holland and Germany. It is notorious for its nuclear reactor - built in the 1970s but, as a result of ongoing protests and political wrangling right through to the 1990s, never actually brought online. It cost in excess of $4 billion dollars. In 1995 it was sold on for around $3 million to become a theme park called Wunderland, complete with rollercoaster and rides built into the old cooling tower. Where else would you hold an International Duathlon? A very weird place for a race. The whole facility wouldn't have been out of place in an episode of Scooby-Do, it appeared tired and rather desolate.
On Friday morning, Matt and I familiarised ourselves with the 2.5km run course (of which there would be 2 laps on the first run and 1 lap on the second) putting out a handful of fast efforts. Then we rode the 10km bike route (which would be tackled 2 times). It was a smooth pancake flat out-and-back route, with a single roundabout, one 90 degree turn and a dead turnaround at the far end. The bike course was totally suited to TT specialists.
Race day came and my start time was 18:30. That is comfortably the latest I have ever raced so difficult to plan the day. We racked our bikes in the indoor transition area which was fantastic, well organised and efficient, as you would expect from the Germans. Weather forecast was sunny spells, scattered showers and wind. Temperature was about 12°C.
I made sure I had a good starting position at the front (for the photo J). And we were Go! Spot number 543.
The pack went out of the blocks hard and I tried to stay ahead of the pack for the first 1km which twisted and turned through the park. I glanced at my watch – pace was 5.30 per mile which was my target. Then we hit a long open, windy stretch across a dyke and it was imperative to find some shelter from other athletes. I stayed behind an athlete from a younger age-group who was slightly faster than me at Bedford this year and entered into T1 in 3rd position after 17:54, 16 sec behind a British competitor and 14 sec behind an Irish competitor.
My first transition was very smooth with the best time of my the age-group and I overtook Mr Irish when exiting T1. On the bike, I negotiated the technical site exit and put the power down on the open road. I was pleased to see Mr British come back almost immediately and disappear behind. I was now leading the race!!! I knew some strong cyclists would catch me at some point but I had a feeling I was now in contention for the medals. The first TT specialist (his 10M PB is 19:17!) passed me like a bullet on lap 1 after the turn around at the far end. I kept working hard to ensure other cyclists could not close the gap and to stay in 2nd position. Towards the end of lap 2, despite all my efforts, 2 strong cyclists passed me on a headwind section. Arghh, I am now in 4th position. My bike leg came in at 30:33 (average speed over 23.5mph) the 4th fastest of my age group.
So, another transition later – again the best time of my age group, 50 secs which was 5 secs better than the 2nd T2 time. After winning some precious seconds, I exited T2 about 30 meters behind Mr Belgium and closed the gap very quickly. Back in the top 3. I could see the competitor in 2nd position about 100 meters ahead and I tried to pick up the pace. I closed steadily to around 20 seconds by midway through the lap. Unfortunately, thanks to the turnaround he knew I'm coming and increased his own effort to hold me off on the return stretch. A final sprint to finish in 3rd position (I think – provisional result), 16 secs behind the silver medallist. We congratulated one another - for what we are not sure. No-one was able to confirm our placings. But I am very pleased with my race and my first ever sub one hour time for a sprint distance.
Then it was a very long wait for the final results to be confirmed by the officials and ETU. I went back to the hotel, had a shower and then dinner. Plenty time to reflect on the race with Matt. Finally, I went back to the main hall at 9.30pm for the prize ceremony and was relieved to hear about my 3rd place from our Team GB manager.
A very good performance from Matt Bainbridge who finished 9th in the 30-34 age group!
The next “Rendez-vous” is now the World Duathlon Championships taking place in Aviles (Spain) on 5th June. Three WaldenTRI members are qualified for this event: Georgina Dunlop, Matt Bainbridge and myself.