Every race you have to be prepared to hurt, however that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun. Challenge Batemans Bay certainly fell into this category. I’m reasonably happy to time trial all day, however I prefer racing. Batemans Bay was a race through and through. The professional field was small however it included some standout athletes. I felt like my pre-season goal of consistently placing in the top five would be possible. Preparation had been quite good, I’d altered my bike position and I’d had 5 weeks between races to properly rest and recover. In fact it was the best I’d felt prior to a race in the past year. I was ready to test myself.
Arriving at Batemans Bay on Friday evening allowed me to get out for a short run and swim on the Saturday morning. I was surprised by the chill in the 8 degree air temperature. Let’s face it, my dislike of the cold is not a secret. However with calm and sunny weather forecast to accompany the chill I didn’t dwell on it. The swim was set to be held just off the almost idyllic beach at Corrigans Cove. However, my brief foray into the water did leave me questioning how much of the race would actually be swum. Sandbars were abundant and you could be 200m off the shore but in knee deep water. I spent quite a bit of time practicing my running ability out there whilst an internal debate as to whether it favoured me raged. It would make for an interesting scenario at any rate. The rest of the day passed by in the chronically slow fashion that the “day before” always does. I did however drive around the bike course. The course certainly wasn’t easy and it would be an honest day in the saddle. The first 10 or so kilometres included some tough climbing which excited me. I love climbing. Also for someone so inept at mounting my bicycle at speed (I promise I will rectify this one day) a good climb soon after race start gives me a chance to make up the ground that I inevitably lose in the first 30 seconds. So the scene was set, I knew who I wanted to swim with and how I could use the bike course to my advantage. I generally assume that the run will take care of itself. Either you will have running legs or you won’t, there is little you can do about it and even fewer tactics which can be employed.
The alarm sounded at the unusually late 0455 for the equally late 0700 start. I went through my pre-race routine and after spending twice as long as necessary checking my bike over in T1 I suited up. The professionals were questioning whether or not it would be a wetsuit swim – were they kidding? It was 8 degrees and the water didn’t look inviting. No thermometer needed. I took a different approach to the swim start this time around. In Husky I was caught out looking the wrong way and not on the frontline when the horn sounded. Here I positioned myself alongside triple world champion Peter Robertson and the man of the season, Sam Appleton. The 30 second warning was the field’s cue to start pushing forward which made me quite nervous. Nevertheless I was still positioned where I wanted to be when the chaotic flurry of arms and legs got underway. As those around me immediately got away I began to question if I’d started with athletes who’s swimming ability was a bit too far beyond me. The race really did have two distinctly different abilities of swimmers. The expected lead group moved away as one and left everyone else to form the B group. I had the distinct honour of leading this group with a single athlete left just ahead of me but not with the first pack. Despite my efforts I could not close the gap to that athlete although it remained steady. I was working far harder than those swimming on my feet but I felt reasonable and wanted to limit the losses to those ahead of us. Halfway through the second lap I lost sight of the swimmer up ahead as we ducked and weaved through the amateur field. I was allowed to get my breath back in the final stages as my pursuers swam past me heading back in to shore. I emerged with the four athletes whom I expected to be with and in hindsight, if you were not in either the A or B pack you were not in the race.
My bike mounting ability held true to form as my sunglasses instantly fogged up and left me blindly trying to find my shoes with my feet. Sadly I found the underside of the shoe and a pedal stroke later the bike jackknifed to a halt. Everything had gone to plan, I was out with my group but now they were riding away – and quickly. I chased for everything I was worth and managed to put myself within a stones throw of the group 4km down the road. Here I allowed myself a moment to compose myself as we had arrived at the base of the extended climb. I put in the effort required to move myself up to and through the group on this climb. Heart stopping moment over. Our group grew to six as we reeled in the lone swimmer German Per Bittner and lead pack swimmer Rob Skillman. Once you reach the top of the climbs the majority of the race takes place on the flat lands. Bittner was clearly the strongest athlete and although (or perhaps because) a few of us took turns at the front Bittner was able to break away. However it wasn’t long before our numbers once again swelled with the addition of another lead pack swimmer Nick Kastelein who looked to be all but finished with the race. The rest of the bike passed by uneventfully as long as you overlook my near crash when I hit a pothole whilst struggling with numb hands to return my bottle to its rear mount. Throughout the ride I felt that things were becoming increasingly difficult and I’d also never felt stable on the descents (but then again who does at a max speed of 78.7kph in pink bathers?). However there was not much time to think about this. The final 10km run back into town is nearly as difficult as the outward bound section and allowed myself and David Mainwaring to break away. Tom Rodgers and Nick Kastelein who unbeknownst to me were still riding quietly behind the rest of the group brought us back before transition with Rodgers opening a slight lead. I entered transition in 8th and came out in 9th as Kastelein left me once again to battle with numb hands and other tasks requiring dexterity.
Some days you have running legs and some days you don’t. Coming out of T2 just behind the aforementioned athletes I thought the latter was the case. Despite the beautiful flat running path I struggled to get going and everyone was moving away from me. Within a few kilometres the black suits of Kastelein and Mainwaring were literally specks on the horizon. I wasn’t moving well but I wasn’t going slowly either so I silently wished them luck with the endeavour and set about bringing back Rodgers just after the 5k mark. Appleton had a huge lead and with the likes of Robertson also a fair way ahead there was little chance of a high finish. Still a long way ahead but within reason were Jake Montgomery, Joey Lampe and Per Bittner. I moved my way up to 7th at the halfway mark as Mainwaring faded dramatically, however Kastelein was now just over 2 minutes ahead of me. I took my mind off the race by looking out for friends, family and fellow athletes on the course. I just let the legs do what they have been trained to do. Through 16k I was up into 6th but far too far behind Montgomery in 5th to catch him through my own efforts. I maintained my pace in the hope that he may fade over the final kilometres. I was rewarded when his bright orange socks came into view with just 2 kilometres to run. Once I had moved into 5th I was pretty happy, that was the plan and I’d managed to execute it. Little did I know that Kastelein was fading over the final section of the course, I was within earshot as he was announced across the finish. Nevertheless he had the fastest run split of the day with myself 28 seconds in arrears.
There is no fanfare when you finish, if you are lucky you are still coherent. I didn’t actually feel too bad following the race but as of writing this, that delayed onset muscle soreness has really caught up with me. Thankfully I’m not in it for the fanfare (I’m in it for the fame and fortune). I am however in it for the satisfaction. I think I’ve had a pretty good summer season for a rookie professional. Apart from the slip up in Melbourne (henceforth forgotten) I’ve hit my top 5 targets against strong fields. I’ve learnt a lot and whilst there are numerous races to go before my rookie year is out, I’m enjoying the ride. Heck, Batemans bay alone gave me a chance to take the start line with rising stars, multiple elite world champions and athletes from far corners of the globe. Hopefully I’m becoming part of the former group… time will tell. Oh, and that feeling of instability and increasingly difficulty I was getting on the bike? Post race I returned to pick up my bike to find the rear type all but flat, a slow leak I believe. It’s hard to know how long this had been a problem but it gives me confidence that I can go quicker.