Report from Howard Jeffrey:
Apparently every year about this time in mid Spain there is an atrocious weekend of weather. You guessed it….the weekend of the race. Arrived in good time on Thursday for all the necessary prep for the race on Sunday, briefings, registration, setting up etc. On Friday, after a minus 4 degree frost in the morning we were able to sit out in the sun. Saturday was variable, breezy and cool with some rain. Come Sunday for the sprint distance in the early morning the weather was like an early March day in the UK so not too bad, although the barriers with adverts had started to blow over. The standard distance for us set off at 11.35 and by that time an ominous weather front had moved in and it started to rain as we set off. For avid readers of my race reports you will recall two years ago the equivalent race, also in Spain, in the mountains over this weekend had been the worst weather imaginable (that race should have been abandoned). This time I was better prepared in terms of gear to wear and had a good selection so could make the decision just prior to the race. My theory is if you have it on you can take it off but if you haven’t you are sunk. It was about 10 degrees so a long sleeved base layer, tri suit and gloves was about the right garb for the race. Not for the pre-race assembly in the town centre then the wait in the starting pens. I stood shivering in a shop doorway as the wind began to whip up quite strongly and the rain lashed down. Had a chat will peers in just before the start and I suggested it was one thing to make the start all we had to do now was make it to the finish. Little did I know what a test THAT was going to be!
The first leg is a 10K run and it was four laps up and down a lovely park which sound a bit boring but it was thankfully nestling in banked grounds and surrounded by trees so was quite sheltered and plenty of spectator support. I set off steadily and let the pack over enthusiastically zoom away up the first hill. I got into the right pace for me and started to pick off people over the next couple of K. Success today was going to be finish in the top 10 in the age group and at least third Brit. That would mean auto qualification for next year. 10 minutes into the run I had established a pace that was quite a bit slower than I was expecting. Maybe pushing it at Stockton last week was not the right call although I did not feel tired, just lacking a bit of zip which no longer comes through as regularly as once it did. Got to transition in 45 minutes and fairly slick change into bike gear and then quite a long run across grass, up a hill in cycling shoes, up to the mount point. A minute or two to settle into your bike rhythm and today we had 43 K to do. That consisted of three laps out onto a very open exposed plateau, on closed motorway, to a distant turn round point (careful not to drop off the road!). I guess the wind was gusting now up to 50mph so on the descent towards joining the motorway out of the town you bike handling skills were put to test. There were a few casualties who were blown off their bikes. There were some quite steep climbs and descents but the hardest aspect was the exposed top 4 K towards the turn point. It was a ferocious and relentless headwind. I was on my TT bike so although it was tough got to the first turn and then of course you have the wind behind and your back towards town. Sporadic showers and the occasional glimpse of the sun meant apart from the wind the conditions were variable. I had taken off my gloves and did not feel it was particularly cold this year (40 hypothermic a couple of years ago). There were a couple of twists and turns round roundabouts to negotiate and the wet white markings did for one of the GB ladies, in second place at the time, came a cropper on the third lap. No broken bones thankfully. I reckon some of the guys got up above 50mph on the motorway back to town and there was the buffeting cross wind in places to contend with.
On the second lap it was a case of digging really deep just to get round and the worst aspect for me at that time was the wind driven rain into our faces meant I could barely see out of my glasses. Oh and the thought we have got to do this again! On the third lap maybe 2K from the final bike turn it was the closest I have ever come to abandoning a race ( bear in mind I have done more than 1000 over the years). I could not see where I was going, I was pretty chilled, my head was actually throbbing and I felt physically sick and pretty much pedalling on the spot! There were quite a number of DNF’s in the end but as ever, the last vestige of Yorkshire grit enabled me to ‘just get to the turn point and you will be blown back home’. I think all my training on the turbo in the spare bedroom means I am not well prepared for winds so I was probably suffering the consequences more than most on the day. In conversations after most people were just hanging on to make it to the finish and as a race it was only amongst the very top competitors in each group. Back to the last 5K which was two laps in the sheltered park again and back in familiar territory of up on my toes again running. Not fast mind but managed to overtake a couple of Spanish guys in my age group who had passed me on the bike. In the end I was 9th in the age group but 4th Brit so not auto qualification and the next one is likely to be popular. Popular because rumour has it that it will be in Ibiza and they are saying in October, which I guess is because of the often poor early season conditions. In 3 weeks there are the European ‘long’ (it is really medium) distance duathlon championships in Germany 10K 60K 10K. It is one thing to make the start, you then gotta finish!