Having travelled to Soria in Spain to represent Great Britain Age Group Team at the European Duathlon Championships 2017 I didn’t think I would we be starting a race report with a reference to the weather, at least not the severity of the weather. We had been monitoring the forecast for a week or so in advance of the trip and indications were that temperatures would drop and Sunday, race day, was going to be strong winds, rain and cold. Being more familiar with Scottish 5-day forecasts we expected it to change in the final few days but no – Sunday came and so did that weather.
Having taken the full ground package for travel we arrived in Madrid on Thursday, met at the airport and joined several other team members on the coach to the team hotel. My bike had been shipped earlier in the week and I was pleased to be reunited with it on Friday morning at registration to be followed by a 30-strong course recce. The bike course was to be three laps of what was essentially an out and back course which on paper didn’t look too hilly but 3-laps meant around 1800 feet of climbing. The run course was in the centre of Soria along a tarmac boulevard in the park which was no longer than 700m which meant zig zagging up and down turning every 500m to make up the first 10km and the same again for the final 5km.
Saturday saw the juniors and elites racing and gave us the chance to case out the transition area, mount/dismount lines and attend the race briefing from the GB team mangers who commented that the weather forecast was sounding better than first thought. With our hotel being a 20-minute walk from transition I opted, with many others, to leave my bike in the sports centre a stone’s throw from the transition area over night.
Sunday morning and an overcast sky at around 7:30am an hour before the sprint event and 4-hours before the standard event. A lot of chat at breakfast with many of the team members about a late change in the run course and when the storm would strike.
Walking down at 9am and it looked like the team managers were right, cold around 10⁰C but there was some sun mixed with the cloud adding a little warmth when out of the wind. Bikes were swinging in the breeze as they hung from the rails in transition, it wasn’t a day to leave your crash hat on the tri-bars with some already lying on to the ground. Everything set up, in and out discussed, discussed again and memorise, time to change and go for a warm up.
The sound of metal on tarmac sent a shiver down my spine as we walked back into the warmth of the sports centre, a crash barrier had been blown over, that wind was getting up. Heading down to the starting corral in hat, two layers and water proof to retain some of that warmth, two waves had started with fellow athletes hiding behind buildings, jumping up and down, sheltering under umbrellas to keep out of the rain and stay warm.
On your marks – and we were off. Lesson learnt by the time I was half way up the first finger of the course with absolutely no room to get passed so looping around the top I took to my toes and performed what probably looked more like a dance as I darted in and out to get clear of the slower runners. Next loop around and some space to settle as I push on up the gentle incline thinking I could use the down hills for recovery. Up and down, up and down, passed the aid station, passed the litter zone over the blue carpet to start the second lap. Next time around the run course and blue carpet became the magic carpet as the wind lifted it skyward only for it to be removed completely for the remainder off the event. The run course was busy with back markers and other waves bringing out the crowds of supports cheering anybody in GB kit. One lap to go and starting to think about transitioning to the bike, a right turn up hill across some grass around the bikes, down the middle, crash hat on whilst removing shoes, cycling shoes on (no elastic bands today) and a long 200m + run up the grass to the mount line.
Hop on the bike, clip in and down the hill to a hard left and up a short hill, left and on to the main road. Settle, settle as I adopt the tuck position and start spotting the marks ahead – traffic lights, why was somebody breaking for traffic lights, it’s closed roads – no not breaking being braked “wind” head on, side on coming from every angle as it snuck between the buildings and buffeted us on the bikes. Down the first big hill with the wind behind at 40 + mph and then all of a sudden I`m swinging violently off to the left and then right as I attempt to control the bike as the cross-wind hits. “Push down hard on the bars” I remember from an article I read the night before to give better control for strong cross winds and deep section rims. A head wind to the turn in the road as we all fight the bikes to both make progress and to ride in a straight line.
Lots of bikes out the course and the gusts making over taking tricky and the 3m rule seem more like a safety zone rule than a drafting rule. The turn couldn’t come fast enough but brought more bike-manship as I attempted to settle into some sort of pace tackling the hill up from the turn. Next downhill next gear, next gear, next gear and I’m all out of gears, all I can do I get in an aero position, hold tight and freewheel at around 50mph. I keep testing the pedals to see when I can pick up the pedalling and welcome a hill to allow me to start putting some effort back in. Negotiating the roundabouts and joining the closed motorway before the ascent back into the town and the start of “rain”. Lap two high winds, rain and feeling like 8 degrees, the forecast was right. I now knew what was in store for subsequent laps and looked less and less forward to starting the third and final lap, other than knowing that I was in bronze medal position with two guys to catch up the road.
Got one, and I saw him clock the colour of my number which let him know he was in my age group and was now bronze position on the road. Next hill and passed he comes, working his road bike hard climbing into the wind, I stay in tuck thinking the TT bike will give me the advantage after the turn. We turn and TT bike comes into its own, I pass him after about 500m and start to work on my advantage – hold tight on the descent, power up the climbs – hitting the roundabout and disaster almost stuck as a deer leaps into the road being chased into my path by race marshals. I jump on the brakes but fortunately no collision, now a big out of the saddle effort to get that gear going again having had no chance to change down. Off the motorway and climb back into the town, my legs are fading and I can sense a rider behind, yes it`s the guy in bronze medal position again, he passes me and we turn hard right to transition almost together – a slick flying dismount from my Spanish friend and we run barefoot down over the grass to T2.
Two officials are standing in front of my racking point and my Spanish friend has panic in his eyes – he can’t find his racking point. “Take as long as you want” I think to myself as he is still looking as I exit T2. A nice downhill from T2 to free the legs and get some run cadence in the legs, they felt good making me worried I had taken the bike to easily. Down the road and across what was left of the blue carpet to start the first of two laps – still light on my toes and running is feeling good – lots of “go Smith” “go GB”” being shouted as I complete the penultimate lap through the town and over the blue carpet. Back down one of the fingers and start the next uphill drag, drive out of the dead turn and legs “no”, push “no” gaps are opening on people I had been catching – I`m slowing. Passed the aid station, passed the drop zone, “passed” no I`m being passed, my Spanish friend clearly found where to rack his bike. Next right and his supporters held up two fingers, no language barrier needed for that, he was second on the road! Yellow socks, I clocked he had yellow socks and I had to get ahead of them – but no, I was past the point of no return, a fair fight had been won, I crossed the line 9-secconds behind him and we congratulated each other with a hand shake and further finger language “two finger for me and three fingers for you” he gesticulates – I get Bronze medal, third in Europe for my age group and first for GB, not a bad result despite the weather.