We started our team preparation for the first stage of the Division 3 French championship, in Dunkerque, after a long winter of training, on Thursday the 22nd of May. I had come back to France a bit earlier but that was the day Sam arrived in France. His first training was running on the Eurostar platform yelling “Mon velo!!” as no-one was disembarking the precious bike from the train. But all ended well and we could train a bit, including a nice “easy last training before the race” in the flat country, aka Belgium, with VATri our French club. (It actually turned out to be super hard session…)
Dunkerque is a big race. On the same day it holds the first stage of the Division 1 championship, which is to triathlon what a combined EPL and Spanish Liga would be. Sartrouville the favourite to win the league (and the club that went on to eventually win it) has the Brownlees, Javier Gomez, Mario Mola, David Hauss, Richard Murray, Fernando Alarza, Raphael Montoya etc. Mario Mola destroyed the race running the 5 km in 15min20 to take the win. He would win ITU London a week later. The girls’ race was probably more impressive, as the podium, Gwen Jorgensen, Andrea Hewitt, Sarah Groff demonstrates.
But the real stuff was at 4 pm, the race where legends are made. At 4pm the realm of fierce competition and adversity, was about to start. The race was a relay where we competed in teams of 2: 750 m swim in the harbour (even jellyfish came to watch it), 12.5 km on the bike (3 laps with 10+ turns per lap), and 2.5 km run (plus 1.5 km to run with the partner at the end of the second relay). While I was to lead out my team, Sam was going second in his relay. It was my first race since the unmissable Aberdeen aquathlon… in October 2012 (*sigh* injuries …) and when the horn sounded you could see my over-enthusiasm as I was 2nd after 200 m. In realising this, however, I made the mistake of slowing down too much and I also missed the first buoy by some meters so the pack that was overtaking me did not add drowning me to overtaking me. I still manage to finish my swim in 10’04 and in good condition placing in the third pack.
A slight mistake in T1, where I touched my bike before harnessing my helmet, made me lose precious seconds. I would never get those seconds back, and even worse, my lack of training due to many months of injuries cost me too much and from 18th position I finished my ride in 50th. I only salvaged 5 positions on the run leg and by the time I handed the time chip to my teammate Sam was well underway into his swim leg in 2nd position overall (his teammate having posted the fastest cycle and run time of anybody). The fight for 2nd or 3rd continued on the swim and the ride, but imposing his superior running pace Sam progressively escaped to take 2nd position; a position he and his teammate kept up to the finish.
The club’s 3rd place in the overall team competition meant we qualified for the second stage of the D3 championship. However an administrative imbroglio would disqualify Sam (and, with less consequences, me) from racing in the second stage.
Draft races are very fun, and the relay format was also great. Next year’s race is already pinned as a one I must not miss in my race calendar!
The summer continued, I raced another 4 races from June 1st to July 5th, getting a lot of experience. My season finally finished on the first weekend of October near La Rochelle for the French Triathlon Cup final. That was a Team Time Trial meaning each team starts at 1 min interval and races against the clock. The time of the 3rd athlete to cross the line determines club’s finish time (so if a club fields 5 or 4 athletes they can afford dropping 2 or 1). Our club fielded 4 athletes including Sam and myself. My role was if possible to go in front of the swim and protect everyone; however, with Sam in stellar form and my poor starting position on the beach it took me 400m to finally take 2nd position of our club pack and provide a draft to our strongest rider (our 4th member was swimming some 30 seconds behind, half of it he closed in transition).
At the end of the T1 we waited for our 4th team member to avoid disqualifying him, which would be silly as he is a strong rider. Some tentative bike mounting meant that it took us 1500 m to get in appropriate team TT position, but, by then, our strongest rider fell off on the cobbles! Sam and I avoided him in panic style methods. However, the rider soon got back on his bike and sprinted onwards. The pace must have reached 50 km/h as it felt much much faster than the day before when we rode that portion of the course at 43 km/h in training. The resulting pace meant I dropped off the back of our group. The team’s pace was high; a 41 km/h average over the 20 km with two 180 degrees turn and a town section full of tricky turns. The rest of the team managed to keep it together until the run where one of the members, while having ran a 1h14 half marathon 4 weeks before, couldn’t manage to go faster than 19’51 in the 5km. Even though it felt like we have a margin for progression, the club managed its best ever results in the race, improving on last year’s time by nearly 3 minutes.
Again this was a very fun race, it was also great to race “on paper” against some upcoming big names like Aurelien Raphael or some less young famous people such as Sylvain Dodet or Jessica Harrisson.