May 22, 2012

Dunkurque French Grand Prix

I finally got to experience my first true French Grand Prix! The weather was really cold and windy but thankfully not hectic enough to cancel the race. I came into the race expecting it to be crazy fast, but it was even faster and technical than what I imagined! During the race I was thinking “I’m gonna die!!!” But then was able to smile and have fun when the realization hit me that this is the EXACT reason why I’m here.

The swim was a fast 750m “point to point” layout. We had a 180 degree turn buoy about 100 meters from the start which made position and early speed essential. The plan was for me and my team mate Raoul Shaw, who swims an amazing 14:52 pool 1500m (for speed reference my best 1500m pool time is 15:49), to swim extremely hard and try to get away on the bike. In the women’s event a girl soloed out of the water to a minute lead into T2, so after watching that we decided to try that approach on the very technical five lap bike course. Even though we line up according to team ranking, and we had excellent positioning, I still got ruined around the buoy. I was top 10 at the first buoy but was about 15th-20th after the buoy. Once we hit the long straight away heading to the swim exit I took a few sighting strokes and noticed Raoul was already about 25m off the front of everyone! There was one other athlete in between the large main group and Raoul and once I was able to compose myself and see where everyone was it was go time. I attacked our swim pack like it was a cycling race, I went about 10m to the left and made a strong 200m surge to make sure I wasn’t going to drag the rest of the field up to the lead swimmers. To my surprise it worked and I was able to bridge up to the 2nd athlete by the last buoy and then exit the water in 2nd and about 15 seconds behind Raoul and 10 seconds ahead of the main field.

I had a very good transition and was onto the chase of getting up to Raoul so that we could work together. Luckily the athlete I bridged up to in the swim was an extremely strong cyclist and after I slowed a bit for him we were able to work together and got up to Raoul about ¾ of the way through the first lap. After the first lap we had 15 seconds on a chase pack of about 30 men which contained the majority of the heavy hitters. After the 2nd lap we only had 10 seconds, but we were still holding to our plan hoping the chase pack would let us go, but they wouldn’t have it and by lap 3 we were one lead group. It was a good thing we were going hairy hard for the first few laps though, because the lead group which used to be 30 men was now down to about 15. The extremely fast chase caused half of pack to get popped off the back and gave us better positioning going into T2.

Since our pack wasn’t gigantic and everyone knew what they were doing we had a very smooth entrance to transition (I was expecting it to be like a Mexican continental cup where there are no rules and everyone is going nuts to get into T2 without following unspoken safety protocol). I racked my bike and got my shoes on fine, but my hands were so cold I couldn’t undo my helmet. It took me quite a while to finally get it undone and I was finally off having lost about 4-5 unnecessary seconds.
The run was a two lap, flat but pretty technical 5.3k run. I went out really fast and bridged up to some fast runners and was in 7th after lap one, but after the first lap I realized if I kept running with these guys I wouldn’t be able to recover or walk for about a week. I decided to back off slightly and just lock into a solid pace for the second lap to make sure I was going to be able to train properly for Mardid WTS the next weekend. I ended up getting passed by quite a few more guys from our pack and from the chase pack and finished in 13th.

It was an awesome experience and I know after a few more of these races I will be ready to handle most ITU races no problem. Project development is ago!

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