As I sit reflecting on the past week, my memories of visiting an amazing corner of the world, meeting new people and enjoying great Spanish food and wine are the ones that are the strongest. Racing at the international level is an eye-opening, powerful and often humbling experience, yet somehow it’s always the events of the week leading up to the race that I cherish the most.
Daily team rides formed the start of every day after a 6:30am breakfast at the team hotel. Our rides would take us from our oceanside home base up narrow, winding country roads into the foothills of the Pyrenees, offering us spectacular views of the Bay of Biscay below. Our group would usually fracture into 3 smaller packs of riders with a sweep riding off the back to make sure no one was left behind. After 2 hours or so we’d fly back down to our hotel through a fast, twisty descent of about 5km on the same route as the race course each time trying to descend with less hesitation, less braking, staying aero as long and as tightly as humanly possible. Occasionally, as speeds approached 90k/h, a twinge of anxiety, fear of losing that last sliver of control necessary to keep me rubber-side down would sneak into my consciousness….aghhhhh, overbraking, oversteering, valuable seconds lost….back to the top I go and try again. By race day I’d found the perfect lines to carve my way down with barely a touch of the brakes. The full road closure would virtually guarantee a perfect descent with both sides of the road to work with.
The morning routine would finish with a run alongside the city’s canal through the tree-lined streets of Gijon, usually no more than 50 minutes, just enough to shake out tightened climbing legs after riding.
Afternoons were spent on the beach, surfing, shopping or grabbing a bite and a glass of Rioja in the old city then maybe a siesta, after all, “when in Rome”! As the team physiotherapist, when not training, my days were often spent treating national team athletes as well.
Accreditation, body marking, bike check, check-in, etc. all took place 24-48 hrs prior to the race. Our first glimpse of the transition was at bike check on Saturday night. All bikes are required racked and ready to go the night before.
I got up at 6am race day to get some breakfast and make sure I had everything I needed to take from the hotel to transition. My race start was 10:08 with the transition close being 9:45. I was scheduled to do a French CBC interview at 8:45 at the race start so left by 7:45.
After a quick warm-up I was relaxed and ready to go. 10:08 came fast as did the first km with a group of 15 guys coming through in a stupid-fast 3:00 flat. I stuck to my plan and stayed back, mid pack doing 3:15s. By 6k, the lead group had shrunk to four guys; two Brits, a Mexican and the eventual winner from Spain. At this point I was 5th with an American who had been sitting on me from the start. At the start line he introduced himself as Dave and remarked that I was “the guy to beat” so I wasn’t surprised to have him breathing down my back the whole way. By 8k there was only the Spaniard, out in front by about 45s. I was comfortably in 2nd with three guys sitting on my ass not making a move. At this point in the race I was very happy. I never race with a watch or computer so didn’t know exactly what my splits were but I knew I was less than a minute off the lead. My plan was to stay within 1.5 minutes so I figured I was sitting pretty. I sat back and coasted easily into transition within a minute of the lead feeling like everything was going according to plan. I later found out I was nearly a minute slower than I had hoped at 33:45 instead of 32:45.
“Just get me on bike, just get me on my bike…” I was so psyched to get out there on a course that suited me perfectly. As soon as I did I started mashing the pedals, passing athletes from other waves like they were standing still, was feeling awesome. The 3km long climb at 8-9% was nothing, exactly as I anticipated. An average gear ratio of 53-18 was easily enough, making me happy about my decision to go with an 11-23 cassette. Wind conditions were negligeable at 5km/h making the rear disk choice a good one as well. My only difficulties on the bike course were the riders who had decided to ride left instead of right (mostly Brits, South Africans and Spaniards) and some congestion on my second descent causing me to take an inside line through the final corner. These are things that everyone had to deal with so no unfair advantage, just a pain in the ass.
I began to stress a little when I realized by 35k that I had still not passed the leader. Finally, at about 38k, I caught him. I had ridden a solid race and put over a minute on him on the bike but even so, this still only put me about 15s in the lead going into the final leg, the 5k run. Last year I had nearly 30s and last year’s 2nd place was not as strong a runner as Fernando Dominguez, Spain’s National Duathlon champion. Oh crap. This wasn’t going to be easy. Sure enough he clipped me at about 2k. I tried to reel him in but I didn’t have it, not on this day.
So in the end, I had a silver medal, a bittersweet achievement after winning gold last year but I had experienced a new culture, a week of meeting new friends and reconnecting with old ones from all over the world. I earned my silver fair and square. If I had learned anything from the race it was that relying on your singular strengths may work sometimes but won’t ever guarantee a victory. I can only hope that I have gained the knowledge in this race to make me smarter, wiser for my next athletic challenge, whatever that may be….