European Champs Standard Distance @ Geneva, July 15 – Race Report by Tom Williams
Geneva, Switzerland. Famous for its watches, exceptional organisation and beautiful lake. The ideal place for a Triathlon then. And so it was that Chris Standidge, myself and our long-suffering support team headed out for the European Triathlon Championships 2015.
The journey was uneventful, with the exception of me being stopped by airport security who wanted to swab the energy bars in my hand luggage. I was going to point out that when I called the Torq energy bars ‘dynamite,’ I wasn’t being literal. But being cheeky to airport security staff is unlikely to end well. I also wanted to avoid a full bag search. You can imagine the conversation:
“Planning an interesting weekend are you Sir?”
“Honest, the white powder in the clear plastic bag is energy drink.”
“Of course it is. And the Lycra onesie?”
“That’s a tri suit.”
“Hmm. And could you explain why we are having to resuscitate our sniffer dog after he stuck his nose in your training shoe.”
I decide to stay quiet and let them swab the energy bars.
When we reach Geneva we head to the apartment Chris has arranged. Now I’m not sure if Chris knows Roman Abramovich personally (he probably coaches him) but he seems to have borrowed his pad in Geneva. It is vast. There is a bathroom each, a room for the bikes, and a dressing room each for Helen and Heather. There was a worrying moment when I thought the plasma TV in our room wasn’t 3D. Fortunately it was, and the glasses were provided.
Dragging ourselves away from our opulent apartment we head up to the race venue. The Sprint distance racing is in progress and there is a great atmosphere. The grandstands, hospitality, expo are set up on the shore of Lake Geneva and Mont Blanc in the distance provides a stunning backdrop. Geneva is a lovely city and we spend the next two days generally chilling out in between checking out the course and watching the elite race on the Saturday.
Anyone who has raced for the GB age-group team will be familiar with the team briefing; it being famous for the questions asked at the end. For some, the addition of a union jack to their sleeve results in complete amnesia of ever doing a triathlon, coupled with an astonishing absence of common sense. They therefore feel the need to ask the most ridiculous questions. What is particularly amusing is watching the team manager trying to answer these questions without making the athlete look like even more of a Muppet than they already do. A couple of the best from this year:
Q. “What do I do if I get to my bike on the morning of the race and I have a puncture?”
A. Watching the manager try to say: “Fix it you tw*t,” in a non-condescending way was priceless.
Q. “When I did the swim recce my watch said it was 2.2km long.”
A. “You might want to try swimming in a straight line.”
So race morning dawns and it is another lovely sunny, hot day. Chris and I are both in the M35 age group that is the last wave of the day at 07:30. This is frustrating as the temperature will be climbing and there will be a lot of people on the course, but it is the same for everyone in our race.
I position myself next to Chris on the start line. This is now a tried and tested tactic on my part as I get a tow (still not literally unfortunately) away from the pack and as he steadily moves away from me I can use him to sight on. Breathing to the right I have a lovely view of Mont Blanc, although I should probably stop admiring the scenery and get on with the race.
Chris is out of the water in second spot, I follow in ninth. I’m relieved to see Chris has taken his own bike, given that we ride the same Torq-liveried frame and were racked next to each other. Had he not there would have been a comedy moment as I jump on his bike at the mount line and started pedalling in mid-air unable to reach his pedals properly.
Heading out on my own bike I quickly reach ‘The Hill.’ This hill had attracted quite a lot of attention in the run up to the race, I can only assume from people who live in Norfolk. Or Holland. Don’t get me wrong, the middle part did hit 10-12% but the whole thing was only about 500m long and was followed by a lovely fast flowing descent. Given our proximity to the Alps I’m sure the locals were wondering what all the fuss was about. The rest of the course was a Time-Triallists’ dream. Pan flat, perfect tarmac with long straights and not too much wind. That said, the Time Triallists I know would consider anything stronger than a rabbit farting a gale-force wind that has obviously affected their time. Unless of course it’s a tail wind. Which apparently it never is. Obviously.
Two laps later I hit T2 and instantly have a dilemma. Chris has parked his bike in my spot. Various thoughts flash through my head:
Should I park my bike in his spot?
What if they check?
Could we both get a penalty?
Possession is nine-tenths of the law and his bike is newer than mine…. (I’ve clearly been in Liverpool too long).
I compromise by parking my bike practically on top of Chris’s, resulting in what looks like an expensive carbon bike hug.
After a gradual climb the run enters a park and follows a twisty path. This would be lovely if you had it to yourself but with a large number of athletes from earlier waves it becomes a bit like a game of tag in a busy school playground. Constantly having to jink around others and change direction whilst trying not to get caught. Although admittedly there are less people fighting, smoking or trying to steal your dinner money.
Three laps later and the blue carpet of the finish chute is a welcome site. A very happy looking Chris is waiting for me. He has put in a fantastic performance and taken the win. He is a European Champion! I congratulate him as best as I can whilst trying to get my breath back. However, there is then a problem. On of the main reasons I put myself through these things is the guilt free consumption of coca-cola immediately post race. Understandably a nutritionist would probably tell me this is not the best recovery drink, lacking as it does any protein, vitamins or indeed anything of nutritional value. But it tastes really good, has enough sugar in it for a week, and my teeth are already screwed from too many energy gels. Unfortunately the organisers have seen fit to provide water and lots of fruit. Admirable, but if I ever organise a race there will be coca-cola and steaks at the finish line.
Locating our support team we log on to the live results stream and confirm Chris’s fantastic result. I have finished 11th which I am also really pleased with and represents a big step up in performance for me. I’m now mixing it with some of the best in Europe in my age group. Looking at the results, only a minute separates 6th to 11th place. That’s five places in less than 1% of the overall time. I realise the margins at the front of things are tiny. Maybe I need to start thinking about Team Sky’s marginal gains. Clearly I need a motorhome, personal chef, physiologist, see-through skin suit (don’t all protest/vomit at once), altitude training camps and the rest. Or maybe I’ll just train more, drink less coke and stop admiring the view while I’m racing. That would probably help.
Seeing Chris on the top step of the podium was brilliant. He has taken silver twice before so to see him receive the gold medal and become European Champion was a great moment.
That night we head out to celebrate in the old town. Sitting with my wife and friends, outside on a warm evening with a cold beer and a steak after a good day racing is a great feeling. Of course, we’re planning our next races….
A huge thanks to Chris for coaching me into this kind of form, and to Helen and Heather for their unwavering support and putting up with us both!