I never imagined I’d be in a position at the end of 2014 where I would be going for three 70.3/half-distance wins in a row. Well, the three wins happened, and I finished my best season as a professional triathlete to date with a victory in the inaugural Ironman 70.3 Western Sydney.
If you've been reading my blogs on the previous race wins, you’d notice I spoke each time about whether I didn't know if I had what it took to clench a win, let alone consecutive wins, considering the little amount of time I’d spent training, and mega amount of time I’d spent racing. I've since learned and now have the confidence to believe, that I don’t need mega-miles and hours to compete with the best. It’s not clear whether that’s come about through a long period of physical maturation into the half-distance, or just accumulative training benefits, or a combination of the two. Though without the process being clear, the outcome in unambiguous; I’m well suited to the 4 hour +/- race bracket.
I've scalped some good athletes to win each race in this last-ditch effort to bank wins in 2014. I've come to believe that no matter who shows up, I can always believe in my ability to swim and bike at the front of a race with 100% reliance on my own body & mind. Without being egotistical, each time I race I try my best to live up to my mantra, Non Ducor Duco. Meaning, I am not led, I lead. Though in saying this, I realise that winning bigger races next year is going to prove much harder. As I've written numerously the last few months, smaller pure time-trial races give me the best chance of winning. It just happened that my recent wins all fall in this 'pure time-trial' category, and I know I have a big job in front of me to adapt to other styles of racing in 2015.
Reflecting on the above, Joe Gambles was always going to be harder to beat than I feel athletes like Brad Kahlefeldt or Reudi Wild would be, assuming a pure time-trial race. While the latter two athletes have plenty of titles to their name, Joe’s record is proven; copious wins, some in running races, and some bike-run flyers. No matter the course or competition, you can expect Joe to ride and run ruthlessly in pursuit of anyone ahead. Kind of like athletes such as Sebastian Kienle, Terenzo Bozzone or Tim Reed; athletes with a high-regard for all-out racing but still with an intellectual edge, smart enough that you can always expect them to apply this hit and miss ‘all-out’ strategy with sound and effective tactics. I’ve always respected Joe as an athlete and have always been fond of his racing style. While there were other great athletes on the startline like Jimmy Seear and Joey Lampe, Joe was going to be the one to beat. Last minute withdrawals from Craig Alexander and Leon Griffin made the startlist somewhat lighter, but it was still a strong field.
The course was good and made for speed. The swim & run were based at the Penrith Regatta (a venue for the 2000 Sydney Olympics), and the bike was out on Aussie rural roads with lots of classic bush scenery. We started in the 26C water with no wetsuits, much to my relief. Apparently there were some angry AG'ers that it was non-wetsuit, which is always entertaining to hear. Cooking and dehydrating yourself in a wetsuit is never a good way to start a race, people should appreciate that! I was thankful to be wearing my cool yet buoyant TYR Torque swimskin, and got off to a good start. It was magical to swim in the regatta, if athletes were worried about a bad swim because of non-wetsuit rule, they should have rejoiced in the fact that it was as calm as could be. We even had a sighting aid below the water and could follow then entire swim route by underwater cable. Bloody rippa! I felt really good and pushed the pace with little sighting needed to slow my rhythm down. I got out of the water with a good gap, but had Joey Lampe with me as expected.
I knew heading out onto the bike that I would need as much gap on Joe as possible, as I expected him to ride a similar time to me. I would have been happy with 2 minutes, and ended up with 2:07. I was happy with this start. Jimmy Seear, who I expected to swim with joey and I was 45 seconds back,which meant that everyone would sort themselves out on the bike from this point. I quickly took the lead from Joey, who was first onto the bikes at the mount line. I set at riding to my pace and steadily began to pull a gap over Joey. I felt really great and settled into perhaps my best power output of the season. I was holding 5w/kg for the first 30 minutes, which settled to about 4.9w/kg for the next 30 minutes. I couldn't believe how good I was feeling, and quickly started to ride time into all the athletes. We were benefited with 2 time checks a lap, for two laps, and from memory I had almost 4 minutes on Joe Gambles by the 2nd time check approximately 35km in. I had no expectation to put this much time into Joe so early on, so I was emphatically motivated to continue the grimace. While Joe had IM Busso the following week, he noted in the press conference for Western Sydney that was 100% in for the 70.3 and less for the full Ironman, so I was weary that I was still in for a potential battle.
I was thankful again to have the company of AG'ers on lap two. It definitely eases the burn, for the simple presence of others on the course helps me concentrate and maintain power, even tussling here and there with zealous athletes that try and keep up with you. While the course was getting crowded in parts, I thoroughly enjoyed the route through the Aussie bush roads. The roads were quite rough, not the best for PB splits. They were so dead that while it is essentially a flat course, you don't feel at any point like it is. It was quite open to wind as well, and you really just had to be on your watts the whole way to maintain momentum. It was truly picturesque however, riding next to the Blue Mountains was really cool. However as the temperature rose and the ride was nearing the end, my power slowly began to fade as I thought about the run that lay ahead. I finished with a 4.7w/kg average.
I may have escaped a battle with Joe on the bike, but he sure as hell wasn't going to let me walk away with the title easily. I had 7 minutes on him and the main pack heading out onto run, and 5 minutes on Joey Lampe. Run courses that loop back onto the bike course are really handy for assessing gaps off the bike, and I saw the boys roll by and was able to know the exact time I had to spare. Joe quickly started chipping time away from me, but I knew at the pace I was holding (3:45k's) that he would have to do something really special to catch me. I just kept on holding the pace which was comfortable for me, but the course was relentless on the mind. Up and back, across and down, around the regatta we went, with the other athletes in full view almost the entire way. All you could really think about was getting to the next aid station, and putting one foot in front of the other. I focused on sipping my Instinct Sports electrolytes stored in my Fuelbelt, and started counting down the k's as Joe got closer and closer. The thought of winning another title kept me honest but the run course was so tiresome on the mind, and as the sun got higher in the sky we all started to strain. The feet really started to burn as the tarmac heated up, and every step was more uncomfortable than the last. I was thankful I wasn't locked in dual because the run around the regatta would have turned into a devastating coliseum of hurt. It didn't help that my guts were slipping either, but I made it to the end with a couple minutes to spare over Joe and then some. While my 1:19 half-marathon time was less than sterling, it was all I needed to do to get to the line first, and I look forward to chipping away at this aspect of my racing next season. The walk over the line was immensely satisfying for the suffering I put out there on the pavement, and I'm sure everyone else that finished the race would have felt that same satisfaction in crossing the line irrespective of place. Joey Lampe had a really solid 'welcome back' race to come in third, and I was happy to see longtime racing mate Jimmy Seear in 4th.
I couldn't have been happier to take the the inaugural Ironman 70.3 Western Sydney title, which was my third half-distance title for the year, and my 5th win in total for the season. I honestly never thought I would have lined up against Joe Gambles to beat him the way I did. I've surprised myself in many instances this year and I'm really looking forward to carrying to form through to the 2015 season, albeit after a well-earned break. I heard the Ironman will shake up the course in Penrith in 2015 with neighbouring parklands opening before the event next year. While I really enjoyed the first running of the event, I know the next one will be even better. Thanks to everyone for their support the support this year, it's been fun to have you all along for the ride!
Images thanks to ©JGRimages, Paul Robbins and Liam Bromilow