Rotterdam. September 2017. The WTS Grand Final and Age-group Triathlon World Championships. Having qualified earlier in the season, along with athletes from all over the world, Team Williams find themselves heading to Rotterdam. And what better way to get to one of the worlds largest ports than by ferry.
As our ferry docks a significant number of British athletes, resplendent in their GB tracksuits, are congregating in the onboard Starbucks. That is until Ewan (6) walks into the middle of the cafe and sneezes violently. Twice. This prompts a red, white and blue exodus with athletes scrambling for their anti-bacterial hand-gel all keen to get away from this 4ft bio-hazard. With no queue I stroll up and order my flat white. Useful things kids.
Arriving in Rotterdam we get our bearings. It is a very modern and cosmopolitan city and everyone we meet is incredibly friendly. The infra-structure for bikes is incredible with a dedicated bike path along every road. It rapidly becomes clear that at any junction the priority is; cyclists; pedestrians; cars. In that order. It’s the Daily Mail’s idea of hell. Perfect.
The day before the race the GB team briefing takes place in a glass walled room on the 16th floor of the team hotel. I’m sure the view would have been very impressive if it weren’t for all the cloud and rain getting in the way. The first presentation is then from the organisers of the World Triathlon Series race in Bermuda next year. It is accompanied by pictures of coral blue seas and sun-drenched beaches. Gutted. Given the weather outside this felt a bit like offering a new vegetarian a bacon sandwich.
Anyone involved with team GB will know that the questions at the end of these briefings are the stuff of legend. If this were a Harry Potter novel I’d be describing how the GB tracksuit comes with an in built charm rendering the wearer unable to remember having ever done a triathlon before. In order to protect the (not so) innocent I won’t say any more.
Of course if this were a Harry Potter novel, more than two people would actually read it, and I would be a lot richer. I would also be seriously considering a trip to Bermuda. It looks lovely.
Race morning dawns and it’s a beauty. Clear skies and very little wind. Big crowds are forming at the swim start and the atmosphere is superb. The music is cued up as the commentators announce each athlete onto the start pontoon. Interestingly the music used between the commentary sounds suspiciously like the theme tune from Jaws. Not really a problem in a northern European dock, but they might want to review this choice before next years championships in the Gold Coast, Australia. Adrenaline levels are high enough without having to worry about sharks. That said, this would certainly provide the motivation to swim really, really, quickly.
As I step down onto the pontoon I’m feeling really good. I love this bit. All the training that has gone in getting to this point and now its game on! As the horn goes I get away well in the swim and bury myself to stay on the back of the main lead group. Twice I accelerate to close a gap to the feet in front to get the best draught I can. Occasionally I’m getting a bit too close but decide if anything is said afterwards I’ll just charge the guy in front for the foot massage.
Eighth out of the swim I set off to T1, which is quite clearly somewhere in southern Belgium. I don’t remember ever having longer run to T1. Although this is the first time I’ve been through a transition with Modern Art sculptures bisecting the racks, which is a nice touch. I get through quickly and as we exit T1 I’m into fourth place.
The bike course is technical with lots of tight turns, narrow sections and ramps. I’ve already decided I’m going all-in so get out and hit it hard. For all the concerns people had about the course beforehand, I’m loving it! It’s like a cross between Crit racing and Mario Kart; hammering around trying to avoid brightly coloured competitors some of whom are going sideways! Bike handling, cornering and the ability to kick hard out of every corner are all tested rather than just out and out power. Great fun!
Now every triathlete knows that a marshall waving a flag and blowing furiously on a whistle means slow down. And just in case any ITU technical delegates are reading this; of course we ALWAYS do this [ITU technical delegates please stop reading now….]
Technically, the rulebook doesn’t really define ‘slow down.’ Arguably, reducing your speed by 0.1kph is ‘slowing down.’ With this in mind, most athletes will (probably) stop pedalling. Or at very least, not pedal quite so hard. Some of the more cautious athletes may even come up off the tri-bars (unlikely). But under no circumstances does anybody actually brake. However as I hit a ramp that wouldn’t be out of place in a skate park, I’m off the ground long enough to reflect on the fact that I probably should have listened to the marshall. Or at least come up off the tri bars. Fortunately my landing is more BA than Ryanair and I press on.
Onto the second lap and I find myself in a race with Atsushi Shimada of Japan, who until recently was racing as an elite athlete. After some back and forth I put in a burst to get clear. It works but my legs are protesting as I hit T2. I head out onto the run hoping my legs come back to me.
The run hurts. I’ve pushed hard on the bike and am paying for it now trying hold a decent pace. With 4km to go Shimada comes past me. I grit my teeth and cling on as best I can. The elastic stretches out but never quite snaps and as we reach the last kilometre I’m closing the gap again. Knowing there are two tight corners to enter the finish chute I kick early and I’m very pleased and relieved to hang on ahead of him. By three seconds. There is a truly international moment as just after the line I turn and offer my outstretched hand to him. He faces me and bows smartly. Then takes my hand. Two cultures both offering their their own marks of respect and sportsmanship.
As I had crossed the line the commentator had said I’d taken the bronze medal but alas, Australian Leigh Anderson-Voight (in second) had lost his timing chip and wasn’t showing up on the screen. I was fourth. Still a result I was elated with!
As I staggered away from the finishing line I clearly wasn’t looking my best as an enthusiastic medic came running up to me, quite clearly under the impression I needed significant help. One word at a time I reassure him I’m ok. Probably.
I grab a bottle of water and sit down against the barrier watching other athletes finish. I’m spent but happy. I gave it everything I could. The race couldn’t have gone any better for me and I left it all out there. And at the end of the day, that is all you can ask for. Fourth in the World in my age group. I’ll take that!
As I leave the athletes area I’m mobbed by adoring fans. Ok, fan (my Mum). The boys even put down their scooters long enough to say well done. The news for the GB squad is good too with a good number of medals across all age-groups. And what better way to spend the rest of the sunny day, than sitting with a cold one on the dock of the bay. You could write a song about that.
Massive thanks as always to coach Chris Standidge at Total Tri Training, Keith at Eureka Cycle Sports and Storck bikes for the support. Huge thanks also to Ian Kitchen the GB team manager and of course my family for their unwavering support.
Finally; huge congratulations to everyone who raced in Rotterdam. I hope everyone enjoyed it as much as I did.
Until next time,