I don't think I've ever kicked a season off with a good result. Not recently with non-drafting racing, and definitely never with my former ITU racing. There's always been a 'baptism of fire' element to my season openers, so it's not hard to imagine why I didn't have much of an expectation of myself before Challenge Batemans Bay on the weekend. Surprisingly, it went really smooth and I'm really happy with my 2nd place result. Excitingly, the result is just one of many positive things I can take away from the race.
#1 - I can keep my cool when things go wrong.
- It's not often pro's have to rack our bikes in transition the day before and leave them in T1 overnight, so I don't have advanced knowledge of the 'what to do & what not to do's'. One thing that's definitely getting stored away in the memory bank is to never leave my computer unit on my bike. I have a fleeting suspicion that someone turned my computer on once I left the transition compound, and whether intentional or not, drained the battery so it was flat by the time I got there race morning. This is problematic when you train to race at certain powers, and put so much emphasis and focus on hitting those targets to execute a specific race plan.
When I realised the battery was flat on race morning, I ran around frantically trying to find someone with a cable to charge the unit for 15mins which would have given me enough juice for the race. This was unsuccessful so I just had to keep my cool & remind myself that I trained and raced without power for years, that is is possible to race without it and that this was only a season opener not a World Championship. I did feel quite embarrassed within myself though because I've been working with the new Texas based startup Best Bike Split, and we had quite aggressively advertised a power plan for a fun pre & post race analysis of my race. This obviously was not going to happen without any charge in my computer for my Quarq to relay data to.
- The tactics of any race I do is pretty much always going to be planned on the strength or depth of the startlist and the current form of specific athletes on that list. When I see an equally strong swim/biker as myself on a startlist, it's natural for me to plan a race assuming we'll be working together to build a substantial lead by the end of the bike ride.
My initial race plan was to work with Clayton Fettell to gain an advantage on the best runners in the field like Brah Kahlefeldt and Pete Jacobs. I knew I could throw away my chances of winning if I was getting off the bike with these two athletes. Immediately out of T1 Clayton and I were able to get a little pocket, which grew to probably 45 seconds by 4-5km in and at which point we were to make a hard right and head up a steep gradient for 3-4 minutes. I was in the lead at the time and made the turn, but Clayton for some reason chose not to follow me and rode off course. The turn was made on a downhill, so once he realised his mistake he turned around but was stuck in gear and couldn't make a bridge back up. I turned my computer on at this point and got about three minutes of juice out of it before it switched off again. I was riding this hill at 400watts and feeling great. I kept focused and prepared myself for another long solo ride. It would be naive to not believe this mistake by Clayton changed the race entirely.
#2 - I can race smart and tactically
- I'll always admit that this has never been a strong point of mine. When I was racing ITU it was all grunt on the swim & bike and I never left anything for the run. You could say the same about some of my middle distance races but typically I have met success with this tactic in this distance. When it comes to big fields in the championship races though, sometimes better tactics are only an afterthought. Not saying I'm terrible tactically, but it's something that's always needed work. Patience and confidence are imperative in triathlon, and this is something I finally found on the weekend.
Here's a map of the bike course and a hideous bonus terrain illustration
The course was laid out so that we hit about 15km of grinding hills at the beginning and end of the ride. In the middle was two laps of a flat & sheltered course. There was literally no wind to be found the whole bike leg because tall and dense trees were branching over the course almost the entire way, which makes it a lot easier to sit in a pack, and on the other end of the scale, harder to ride away from a pack.
At about 30-35km I hit the first turnaround still with a lead, but it's hard to say how much lead I had because I had no computer to get an accurate time. It was likely around 1 minute & 15 seconds. On the front of the pack was none other than Fettell who was driving the pace to catch me. Even though I was feeling good, I still had no indication of how my body was performing without the power meter. Because this was my first test of the season, I thought it was safer to drop back into the pack and try to get away again once we hit the hills on the way home.
Once I dropped back into the group and gave Fettell a verbal bollocking for being such a kook, I got to work by quickly examining the group dynamic. It was very surgey, with both Clayton & Pete Jacobs putting in small bursts of speed to try and split the group. Other than raising the watts momentarily when the attacks went, the conditions and course meant it was too hard to ever split the group, it would have just taken too much gas needed later on. Sam Appleton & Brad Kahlefeldt were sitting at the back and the attacks were no where near enough to drop them. I was bored & frustrated but I kept my cool and waited for the right moment, which came on approach to an aid station at 70km. In the five minutes prior to this, the lead changed a few times as athletes got to the front and then sat up on the hoods. I took advantage of this trend and caught them off-guard, quickly consolidating a lead once I got to the front. I was in ecstasy by the time I got to the hills, getting a huge rush from my successful break, feeling great up the climbs and grinding it out back to T2. The move wasn't enough to win the race, but it was enough to consolidate 2nd without digging deep on the run.
#3 - I can run
- It's not that I'm bad, it's just that I'm not great. The last two seasons I dedicated to getting my bike up to scratch, now the next season will be dedicated to getting a full box of tools with a sharp run leg. I have been doing a lot of work on my run this year with high repetition race-pace workouts and the work showed dividends with a 1:16:22 run leg.
While a 1:16 split is not blazing by any means, it was good for this 2.5 lap exposed course. There were 3 sections into a substantial headwind, and only 2 into the reciprocating tailwind. My 1km splits would be 15 seconds slower or faster accounting for the wind direction. Plus I've only run faster than this once, which was a 1:14 in the Euro Champs last year in Wiesbaden, but this was shaded &protected, and also my peak run for the 2013 season. A 1:16 is a good split on my first outing, and with only 3 months of focused work behind this time it tells me I've got a lot more improvement to find. It's the only run I've done where I've got off the bike feeling great, and finished the race with almost no decline by 21.1km.
So at the end of every race, I always draw on the positives but also debate what I could have done to improve my performance or the result. I think had both of the things I spoke about above in #1 occurred organically there was a chance that I could have won the race regardless of Brad Kahlefeldt's blazing 1:12 run. Interestingly, Best Bike Split had me predicted to ride at 293watts average to net a time of 2:09:59. My final split was 2:13:17 so a long way behind the prediction, but using this time the algorithm suggests I finished with about a 289watt average. I think this wattage is a bit generous because the ride was quite slow when I was sitting in and it should look more like 280-3watts. What I do know however is that had I ridden to my potential I would have been a long way up at T2, but that's getting too far into speculation. Instead I'm going to settle with the fact that my first outing of 2014 in Batemans Bay was better than what I was expecting, and that I have shelved a lot of confidence from the race to build on throughout the season. Why should I speculate anyway when I have bigger things to conquer this year. Mont Tremblant is less than 6 months away :)