My last two performances had a lot of positives that the results don't reflect. First up was the Yeppoon Triathlon Festival that attracted a quality field. It was set to be a great early season racing experience. I missed the front and only swim pack that formed. This left me racing against the clock. After a lonely morning, I finished fifth in my fastest time over the Olympic distance. The frustrating part was never being a part of a group on the swim or bike. Without making the group, you are constantly left wondering if you could have held your own in different circumstances.
Take two: Sunshine Coast 70.3. A large field gathered for the race at Mooloolaba. It would provide plenty of opportunity to prove myself in the swim and bike. Organised and ready to go on race morning, I was asked for an interview while in transition. The main question was what this race was in preparation for. The question almost leads you to say there is something bigger and better that you are focused on. I answered honestly, I prepared for this and hoped to do well. There are so few professional 70.3 races left in Australia, that when I race one, it is my focus.
Lining up in the starting area, I was balancing the need to be focused and assertive while remembering to have fun. I've never had the chance to line up alongside Craig Alexander and for many years that has been a dream. These were some of my final thoughts before the horn went. In the finest beach start of my career, I hit the water close to first. Those who know how unimpressive my maximum speed is will appreciate how pleased I was with this! It didn't last long. An untimely wave which I couldn't quite clear brought me down. I never was much of a steeple chaser. After a bit of a trampling, I worked hard to stay amongst it and bridge some gaps.
Things settled down at the halfway point and I found myself in a position to lead my group back to shore. Prior to the race, I had expected to be comfortable swimming in the second group. They typically exit the water ninety seconds behind the lead group. Being able to lead that group was unexpected.
A good swim, a better transition, and a strong early effort on the bike had me clear of the group and riding with Tim Van Berkel and David Mainwaring. I was racing to feel and the effort they were putting out seemed like it would come back to haunt me later. I let them go and rode on at a strong but sustainable effort, my swim group couldn't be far behind. Tim and David bridged to the large main pack while I discovered that I was holding pace with that pack and the guys behind me. Stuck in no man's land, I eased up. After fifty minutes of riding, I was joined by my original swim group, plus a few more athletes. No benefits to a fast transition today!
I'd describe riding with the group as comfortably uncomfortable. There was moments when it flowed along nicely but more often than not you were surging or braking to pass the group, closing gaps, and staying outside of the draft zone. It wasn't a style of riding I liked but it was easier and more entertaining than riding solo. After approximately 4000 kilometres of racing I've been lucky to never have a flat tyre. Just after the sixty kilometre mark my luck ran out. The group disappeared and the time lost was damning. I don't find it easy to stop and go. I felt quite poorly afterwards and lost more time to my group. I lost site of the fun aspect, neglected my nutrition, and ran hard until the lights went out with four kilometres to go. It may not sound like a long way, but at that stage of the day, it was.
While it would have been great to bridge the gap on the bike I needed to be a little stronger. Or perhaps, a little more reckless. Either way, I finally proved to myself that I am capable of riding with the group and swimming at a level that keeps me in contention. Time to raise the bar higher and with a lot of hard work and a little luck, it'll come together.