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Highway to Hell

USN South Cerney Sprint Tri Report

ghylandby ghylandJun 11th 2011
I decided to drive down to the venue, Bowmoor Sailing Club near Lechalde, the night before to register (anthing for an extra 10 minutes in bed on race day) and also to recce the bike course. On arrival the weather was atrocious; massive rain storms, strong wind and very chilly (9 degrees). I prayed things would improve in the morning....

The recce was very useful. On paper the bike course had looked pretty innocuous, slightly long but I thought it would be a pretty easy course, but driving the route it was easy for the first and last few km but the rest consisted of short sharp climbs, technical descents, lots of junctions and crossing a couple of main roads suggested it could be harder than it looked.

On race day, the weather gods were smiling and it was warm, sunny and pretty windless, thank goodness. Perfect conditions. I got there in loads of time, racked the bike and sorted myself out. I took a gel and a Biestmilch booster about 40 minutes before the 9am start. The latter tasted absolutely foul. However it did seem to perk me up a bit plus I took a caffeine tab.

The swim brief was short and sweet, into the water for a quick warm up. Water temp was quite nice, I would guess around 16 degrees. I was hoping for a sub 15 minute 750m swim and would have been delighted with a sub 14. I manged to get into a group of about 5-6 guys of similar pace after the first turn at around 300m. I felt pretty crap at this point but things improved on the home stretch and I started to move through and was drafting one guy but stopped doing this when it was apparent he kept drifting off line then (over) correcting. I seemed to be able to swim straight and soon was in T1, feeling quite fresh, no jelly legs or dizziness and was able to run, rather than stumble, to my bike. Swim time was 14.52 so on target. T1 was a messy affair again, I was forced to sit down to get the wetsuit off. 2.25 there which was outside the 2 minute target.

There is an access road from the boat club to the main road which has a terrible road surface plus its narrow so you can't overtake so really its just an extension of transition, but you can ride it. It just adds a couple of minutes to your bike time as the course is not measured until you hit the road. I got onto the bike course proper and put the power down. With hindsight I went off too quick. I passed about 8-10 people in the first 5km and felt good but hit the uphill drag past RAF Fairford and was blowing a bit and a couple of people re-passed me. On the flat into Fairford village I picked them up again and got to the front of the group but then annoyingly had my first traffic stop of the race at the crossing of the A417, this cost me at least 30 seconds to slow down, stop and then get going again, plus the group I had passed caught and re-passed me on the drag up to Quenington. There was a nasty climb after the uphill drag at this point (around 10-11km) I was towards the back of a group of about 8 guys but things spread out more over the next few miles, no-one passed me and I did not pass anyone either. Coming out of Quenington is a winding descent then a nasty sharp little climb, I must have taken the descent too cautiously because as I crested the climb suddenly the nearest rider was 50m+ in front of me. I tried to make up the ground but gave up eventually and decided to pace myself home. I also slowed down to check on another competitor who was walking with his bike, he had punctured and was walking back, he still had about 3 miles to go. I am sure he will remember to carry spares next time! About 3km from home you make a left onto the main road and again I had to stop here, this cost me another 10-20 seconds at least and then I tried to put the hammer down back to T2 but struggled to get much above 35km/h. It was a tough ride, and my bike odometer measured it at well over 22km. Adding in the climbs, technical descents and traffic stops it was a tough course, so I knew my time would be below par for a "normal" sprint.

T2 went OK, but slightly slow. The run time and T2 times were combined, I reckon my T2 was around 90 secs. I headed off onto the run, again I probably was too aggressive for the first 300m and then slotted into a more steady pace. The run course definitely seemed long. Of course, it always seems that way when you are hurting but I was keeping a good tempo but the 2.5km turn just seemed to take forever to arrive. I was picking a few people off but was also being passed. However, I did manage to pick things up coming home and really pushed the last 500m, and 'left it all out on the course'. I finished just outside 1 hour 31 mins which at the time was very disappointing as I really had given my all.

Looking later at the results, the winner was just inside 1 hour 8 minutes, which is probably 10 minutes slower than you would normally expect for a standard sprint course. Only a few people went under 40 mins for the bike, I would normally expect to be around 38 minutes and I was at 45 mins. Also my run and T2 combined time was 29 minutes. No way did I run a 27 minute+ 5km. Based on previous performances at Dorney and the Costwold Tri I am normally just under 25 minutes for the distance. Looking at the run times, no-one went under 20 minutes which is pretty much unheard of for a sprint distance race. In other words, the run course was almost certainly long.

So, all in all based on the extra length and difficulty of the course, 1 hr 31 was not too bad a result. Whilst in the bottom 30% of my wave I actually finished mid pack for the sprint distance overall. The vast majority of the field did not break 1 hour 20 so that made me feel a bit better about my time. Also I woud say the calibre of athlete was quite high (which when you look at the times suggests the course was a tough one), a lot of sponsored and club athletes there and a lot of classy bikes etc. I would definitely do this race again as it was very well organised and was a real test, the venue was good and nice for spectators. My wife and two small children came to watch which I always appreciate and I think they enjoyed watching as well.
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