On the evening of Wednesday 21st I flew out to Düsseldorf ahead of the European Triathlon Champs. I qualified for this event last year at the Nottingham Sprint Triathlon and since then have put in a huge amount of training to push my ability further and further. 4 nights in Germany before the race gave me some much needed acclimatisation time and I was able to do a little bit of training whilst there. The weather was tropical the first few days and I was very glad that it cooled down for the day of the race; I’m useless in hot weather, any ambitions would have taken a backseat to survival. Thankfully, come race morning it was a familiar 15 degree air temperature, although the water temperature was just below 22 degrees, meaning that wetsuits were optional for the swim leg. As I walked to the race start, I could see a lot of standing water on the major technical parts of the bike course and I just hoped that the combination of water, tramlines and white painted lines didn’t cause too much carnage later on. I arrived in transition with about an hour before my start time and set up the remainder of my kit (my bike and helmet had been set up the previous night). It’s at this point I should point out just how long the transition for this race was. With over 800 people racing, it was at least a 400m run from one end to the other. Typically, as one of the youngest in the field, I was right at the end. This meant I would have to run almost 800m in total from the exit of the swim to the start of the bike, barefoot! I was not keen but it would be exactly the same for my rivals too, and I’ve found the run to transition is a key stage where you can make up some ground.
So, fast forward 50 minutes of my pre-race playlist (mainly Eminem, a little bit of Gary Barlow) and a sweaty wetsuit clad dash to the start and I was stood waiting on the end of a pontoon. Into the water with one minute to the start and cue the sound of a heartbeat over the speaker system. At this point I was feeling pretty calm, my entire season had come down to this point and yet there was no point worrying, I had done everything I could to give me every possible advantage and now I just had to deliver what I was capable of. The airhorn went and after an initial 100m of typical swim brawling I was in open water, heading toward the first buoy 315m away. I never expected to be in the front pack for the swim but I was happy to see the field wasn’t too spread out. Starting at the left of the field meant I had a lot of space around me and wasn’t in the melee to my right, although this meant I didn’t have any feet to follow for most of the race. I followed the spiral swim course uneventfully, keeping the technique I’ve spent so many hours working on. With about 200m to go I started to see which athletes were around me and could identify a couple of racers who I knew were usually better swimmers than me. I was out the water in 20th position and immediately had to take in 30 steps from the temporary exit to the top of the bridge where the clock stopped for the swim. Up the steps I managed to overtake a further 4 athletes, bringing me into transition in 16th position.
The smoothest of wetsuit removals saw me record one of the quickest transition times (3 whole minutes!) and I was soon off and away on the bike. The initial 5 kilometres were pretty technical and it took me a while to get a feel for how wet the road was. My power numbers were looking good (300W) and I was overtaking athletes from the off. Within about 2k of the bike start I saw the first crash, a guy misjudging his line in front of me and taking a dive. 30 seconds later, on the next corner, a Belgian hit the deck in front of me and the sounds of carbon scraping the tarmac behind me indicated another crash. It was at this point that I made the decision not to push any of the corners and to ride sensibly, hammering the flat sections and making sure I made it to the run where the final battle would occur. The route crossed the Rhine twice before reaching a pan flat out and back section. Just as I was heading to the out and back section, there was a brief technical descent off the bridge which was the site of yet another crash. Thankfully, post-race I heard everyone was okay, and a couple of people even managed to finish after crashing. On the out and back section I could really put the power down and was averaging over 25mph. Despite the technical nature of the start and finish of the route, and my careful cornering, I still managed to average 39kph which shows just how much my bike splits have improved. Before joining my uni squad I had races where I would struggle to average even 30kph.
Though I was unaware at the time, my efforts on the bike saw me enter the second transition area in 3rd place! Only a Danish athlete and a Belgian were ahead of me at this point. After another smooth transition, I started out comfy as has been my style lately. I maintained this until about 1.5k where I was joined by another British athlete, a Frenchman and a Belgian. The French athlete charged past; I was only able to hang on for about 400m. I continued to battle with the Belgian, slowly reeling him in while fellow Brit James Hodgson moved slowly ahead of me. He would go on to finish as first Brit only 30 seconds ahead of me, despite crashing. I overtook the Belgian with about 2k left to go on the run, only to be overtaken by yet another Belgian who had been waiting behind. I was unable to hold on to him and just tried to run as hard as possible to the finish. The out and back nature of the course meant I could see the athletes both ahead and behind me, and I had my eyes locked on a Danish guy just ahead. I caught up with him with about 600m to go. Usually I wait and let the other person launch their sprint first. I wasn’t having that this time. With 300m to go I kicked hard and put in about 20 strides before looking back. Seeing he had nothing left, I knew I’d secured my place but still pushed hard. Perhaps too hard, as anyone watching on the livestream will have seen my finish line antics!
I was ecstatic to be 6th and the 2nd British athlete to finish. This means I have automatically qualified for next year’s European champs in Glasgow, where I’ll be looking for my first international silverware. As one of the youngest in the field, I have another 4 years in this category so I’m very excited to see what I can do. I will be back.
Next up for me is a well-earned break from tri; I’ll be travelling round Europe for a month with my girlfriend Lauren. Upon my return, I’ll have around 8 weeks until World Champs. I’ll do a local race or 2 during this time and work hard to make sure I’m a serious podium contender for the race in Rotterdam.
Thank you for taking the time to read my blog. Thank you to all my supporters and my friends and my family. Thank you to everyone at the University of Nottingham Triathlon Club, you’ve all had an impact on me this year and helped me get to where I am. A big well done to Niall Rennie and Kat Hewitt who were also representing the uni. They both finished 12th with great overall performances; at one point Kat was leading! A big thanks to coach Steve Lloyd and the lads from the performance squad who have peer pressured me into the vast majority of 6AM swim sessions this year. Special thanks to my Mum and Dad, without whom I would never have been set on this path. It’s only thanks to them I’m able to do this sport and I will be forever grateful.