Powerman St Wendel : Victory and loss
The ETU European Championships mid-distance duathlon was the first target race of the 2017 season for me. “Mid-distance” in this case meant a 10km run - 60km bike - 10km run. With training aimed more at longer-distance races later this season, I wasn’t at all confident that I’d live up to expectations as the apparent pre-race favourite! Powerman St Wendel was going to be a much shorter race than Zofingen and therefore a quite different physical challenge.
Adding to my concerns was the fact that I had only managed to get my new Bond TT bike up and running a couple of days before the race - and didn’t have time for a real “stress test” of race setup. That the mini Bond bike made it out onto the road for the race at all is only thanks to the help of Nick and El Pedal, and I’m hugely grateful to them for their brilliant advice and assistance. Sadly I’m still not skilled enough to complete a full bike build - but learning, slowly! I’ve learned over years of competing though, to try not to dwell too long on all the things that haven’t quite gone to plan (when is race preparation ever perfect?!) and to try to focus on the process.
Luckily, everything came together well on the day.
The run course was tough: two laps of a 5km loop which was packed with hills, tight corners, and offroad - it felt like a cross country race. I happen to very much like cross country! And I was very happy to be running in my new Salomon S-Lab Sense trail shoes, which were perfectly suited to the course. I stayed with Austria’s Sandrina Illes for the first run and we opened up a small gap on the rest of the field.
Out on the 3-lap bike course, I felt good and the mini Bond felt even better: light, low, comfortable, and mean! The first lap was cruisy. On lap two, I decided to put my foot down on the 2km climb out of St Wendel, and see what happened. I settled into a steady hard pace and - dodging traffic and other athletes, tried to put some time into my competitors - although for all I knew, they could have been moving faster than me. It’s hard to know what’s happening or what the gaps are behind you, in a non-drafting race. The mini Bond felt fantastic on the lumpy St Wendel bike course - I couldn’t believe how comfortable it was to ride despite the very aggressively aerodynamic position, and handling on corners was secure and swift with the 3T Revo aero bar.
On the second run I resolved to set off at a conservative pace in case I needed a sprint effort in my legs at the end - and was surprised to feel good. I was enjoying the interesting and varied run course, and once I found out I had a healthy 6 minute gap behind to my pursuers, I relaxed and (ironically) it felt easier to run fast.
I was delighted to hold onto the lead to the finish line, and thus defeat (at least temporarily) a few demons of self-doubt and anxiety. The result was a positive sign that my training since getting back to Europe has been working, even if I’ve often felt over-fatigued and doubted my training plan. It was also highly satisfying to win the European title to justify the belief that my awesome sponsors have placed in me; most recently, Suunto and Salomon having invited me to join their Swiss running teams. I feel like I’ve hit the jackpot with Bond: their first attempt at a 650c frame is a gem, built up with the new 3T Revo bar and Rotor cranks & Q-rings. Who needs aero carbon tubing anyway, when body and head position are the most important factors for aerodynamics?!
Despite being obviouslyglad to win, 21st May was not a happy day for anyone in St Wendel. While we were racing, the 2016 race champion Julia Viellehner was fighting for her life after a collision with a lorry in training the week before. I believe that on home soil, this hugely talented athlete would likely have run away with the victory in St Wendel again. The following day we learned that she had passed away. The shock and sadness of this news was a reminder how fragile and unpredictable life - and death - can be, and how important it is to appreciate sport and the enjoyment it brings, because health is a great privilege. Julia Viellehner was a formidably determined athlete but far more than that, a wonderfully kind and great-hearted person. She inspired me when I raced against her, as I know she did many other athletes through her coaching and racing. I’m grateful to have known her, to have shared races and celebrations and commiserations with her, and I know she will be remembered with love and respect. Jesse Owens words are true: "Friendships born on the field of athletic strife are the real gold of competition. Awards become corroded, friends gather no dust." Julia: this gold is in your memory.
With thanks to NGI, Bond.bike, GS Astuto wheels, Rotor, 3T, 720 Armour, OORR, Healthspan Elite, Suunto, Salomon, and C-Bear for their support.