Friday, September 2, 2022

Summer of Suffering 22

Summer of Suffering 22

It's been a summer full of suffering. Following the backside kicking I received at the hands of my Ironman rivals in St George back in May, I had to turn my triathlon season around. This wasn't an overly complicated problem to solve. Following a busy spring racing on the road, I simply needed to dedicate myself to swimming & running to get my Ironman season back on track. It's always been a pretty simple equation for me, if I don't do the work i simply don't perform. Some athletes, I'd call them the "Natural's", seem to be able to get away with minimal preparation & still crush the opposition. Certainly i see this more in road cycling than I've noticed in triathlon where you can obviously hide in the bunch a bit, end up in the right spot at the right time. In Ironman there's not really anywhere to hide & in every single race these days there's a world class field to contend with who've put in the work. If you haven't done the work they make you, i had to spend the summer doing plenty of suffering & putting the work in.

Another obstacle i faced on my quest for kona was simply qualifying for the race. There where limited races left on the calendar to qualify & all seemed to clash with team obligations in the form of road races or sponsor commitments. The weekend after Unbound there was the North American Ironman Championship also in Kansas. Instead of staying for that i raced back to Europe to race the ZLM tour in Holland that week. Next was Ironman Nice. Once again i was unable to compete there as the team sent me to Copenhagen for a series of VIP events in the week leading up to the TDF start. Also with Covid again reaping havoc, I was there on deck in case a last minute substitute was required. Fortunately all the guys made it to the starting line healthy & I wasn't required. This finally left me the opportunity to race the Ironman in Vitoria Gastez the following weekend. With only Ironman Sweden to come in late August remaining as an alternative last chance qualifying opportunity, I didn't want to have risk everything on that, a misfire there would mean no Kona, that was something that frightened me big time. I was all in on Vitoria Gastez.

Fortunately during summer there's plenty of big races going on so all of our superstars are training the house down. I spent a lot time training with Pidcock in June which almost tipped me over the due. He was on a bit of a rampage after a disappointing spring campaign & i know he was gunning to bounce back at the Tour De Suiess in his build up to the Tour de France. I was definitely on the receiving end of some flogging so in training from him & tested my ability to manage the other 2 disciplines aswell. I decided if it doesn't break me it'll make me stronger so stuck with the regime on the bike & surviving the swimming & running sessions the best i could. I have to say i was a breaking point when he headed of for the Swiss build up race as i could now back the bike off again & give a little more focus on the other disciplines. No sooner had i got ontop of the fatigue & in a nice rhythm across all 3 sports, Tom tested positive for Covid & was back home within a few days. He didn't take long off as had very mild symptoms so you can guess what happened now. Yep, he'd missed a few vital race days of conditioning so stepped it up even more in training not only uphill but downhill aswell, I've never had any Strava achievements on descents until that 2 week training block. When Tom finally headed off for the TDF i was well & truly on the edge, I'd absolutely ridden, run & swam myself into the ground. I couldn't wait to get to Copenhagen & go my own speed for a week, in that respect the VIP commitments & time that took out of the days was a blessing in disguise.

The Family had accompanied me to Copenhagen for the week. We absolutely love that city, it'd obviously been very good to us the previous summer when i did the Ironman there. Knowing that there was the potential for me to Race the Ironman the following weekend I'd trained as well as possible during my time there. I took the opportunity to focus on my swimming & running as there have a beautiful 50m Pool in the city, the Baltic Sea, & an amazing trail network for running. If I'm going to neglect a discipline for a week then the bike is probably the best one to do it to, I've got some good miles stored in the legs to see me through an Ironman. I actually did some of best swimming I've done that week which gave me confidence that I'd be able to get off to a decent start in the Ironman. I feel like i made the most of the situation that i found myself in with the week in Copenhagen & was excited to get home & have a week to tune up for the all important qualifying race in Vitoria Gastez.

We arrived at the airport Monday morning a few hours before our flight to discover the baggage handlers where on strike. That basically meant the airport was chaotic & they didn't even bother checking us in. Basically told us we'd have to wait until Wednesday night for another flight to Barcelona. That wasn't really an option for us as I needed to be in Vitoria by Friday to register for the Ironman, attend the pro briefing ect. I needed time to fly back to Barcelona, drive up to Andorra, organise all my stuff, & then make the 6hr drive across to Vitoria Gastez. this option basically gave me 1 day to orchestrate all of that assuming no more travel delays occurred along the way. That's also without taking into account its hardly a pre race build up to optimise performance. All of a sudden qualifying in Vitoria became much more challenging. Instead we searched for nearby airports for direct flights back to Barcelona. It seemed strikes where happening all over Europe so having a stopover seemed risky. Germany offered an option for the following morning out of Berlin. We promptly booked the flights then rented a car to drive across. It was quite an adventure as the most direct route was via ferry to Rostock in Germany & drive to Berlin from there. Wyatt hadn't been on a big boat before & it was also Olive (the dogs) first time on such a form of transportation. We made the best of the situation we where faced with, I'm very fortunate to have a family that so easily goes with the flow. We arrived home safely in Andorra on Tuesday which now gave me a couple of days to sharpen the sword & pack the car for Vitoria Gastez.

My Tasmanian teammate Richie Porte was in town which was another blessing. Richie is always good for my mood & putting me in a positive frame of mind for races. We had a couple of days swimming & riding together & i was absolutely confident as i could be that I'd have no trouble finishing in th top 2 & qualifying for Kona that coming weekend. It's funny that two people can tell you the same thing yet you only believe it when one of those people say it to you. Richie is one of those guys I really respect & believe in what he says, we've spent so manny hours together suffering away. When he tells me I'm going to go well it really puts my tail up & gives me the confidence i can do just that. We loaded up the car & jetted across to the Basque Country on the Friday, basically left it as late as possible to maximise my time in Andorra training with Richie. We arrived in Vitoria just in time for me to make it to the pro briefing & register, i was all set to see if i could book my ticket to Kona.

The Race went largely as I'd envisioned it would. For some reason i had extreme confidence in my ability & felt I'd be able to put myself in a commanding position on the bike. My good feelings i had swimming in Copenhagen translated into a solid swim on race day. I exited the water around 1 minute behind the leaders which meant i could jump across to the front of the race relatively quickly on the bike. Once with the leading group i waited for an opportunity to break free from the pack & head of solo in an attempt to establish a race winning advantage. I felt really good on the bike & felt like I went pretty quick. 4hrs 1 minute is the fastest I've ever ridden on a course & this one was far from flat. I felt within myself as I'm all too familiar that you ride for show & run for the dough$. Still, the race went perfectly to plan & when i reached T2 i had a healthy 12 minute lead & was excited to see what my run legs could do. To be honest i had no idea how I'd run, i just hoped it'd be good enough to qualify.

Sure enough in the end i did run just, barely well enough to qualify! I felt great for the first 10km's & was able to maintain my lead. Then, all of a sudden I was absolutely dead on my feet, i had absolutely nothing. Was cramping like crazy in my calf muscles & felt completely out of fuel, this was going to take some crisis management. I was extremely disappointed with how i fell apart completely in Utah. It hadn't taken me that long to do the marathon since my first year in the sport. I knew writhing myself that even on my worst day i shouldn't be running that slow. Armed with the humiliation of that day & some time to reflect on what id do if I was faced with a similar situation again, i had one option, pull yourself together & drink as much coke or black magic in this case, as possible. For the next 28km i walked every aid station & drank as much coke as i could. That's around 15 aid stations, I probably walked a good 2km in total. The reason i had belief in this strategy is because that's how we do our track sessions. For example ill run 12 x 1200m with 2 min walk in between each rep. I'll run 24km in total with a very slow warmup & cooldown either end of the workload, & ill still average sub 3hr marathon pace. So that became my strategy. Run the 1500-2k between aid stations, walk the aid stations for 30seconds - 1minute, & run a good pace in between. I had a nice big lead so i could afford to do this as long as it took for anyone to catch me.

As i started the final lap with 10km to go, i was almost caught by Muñoz, the local hero. He could smell blood & was hunting me down. He got so close that was waiting for the lead bicycle to pass me signalling my time in the lead coming to an end at which point id planned to try & race him. He never came past. 4km later on an out and back i had a good look at the field & where everyone was. Munoz had gotten so close to me i could feel his breathe on my back at which point he completely capitulated & came to a grinding halt. He literally run himself into the ground chasing me & had to be carried off the course on a stretcher. Instead another threat no loomed in fellow Aussie Nick Kastalein. He was still 1 minute back but moving very fast. The good news was 3rd was another 90 seconds behind him. Now I changed my strategy. I'd dodged a bullet with Munoz but i couldn't risk trying to fend of Nick & risking blowing up myself & finishing 3rd. I maintained my aid station walking strategy & finally with 3km to go Nick came roaring past. I knew there was an aid station coming up & I'd get a good look on where 3rd place was. I had one last walk at 2km to go, 2 more cups of coke, saw i had 1min 15 seconds on 3rd, & set sail for home. I figured if i went all in for 1 km to maintain the 1min lead, so long as I maintained a jog & didn't walk in the last km i couldn't lose the 1 minute & slip to 3rd. Sure enough my strategy worked & I actually closed on nick in the last km & pulled away from 3rd. I've never been so happy to finish 2nd!

Obviously being 38 seconds away from winning sucks, i love the feeling of winning & nothing replaces that. In this case however I knew I'd not done the work required to race the way id tried to race, basically thinking i could smash the world record that day. I was nowhere near the level in any of the disciplines to achieve that yet i stupidly raced that way for 3/4 of the race. What i was proud of was the way i rallied & found a way. I did through in the towel as much as i thought i had no other option when i was wobbling on my feet with still 30km to cover in the marathon. I'd been able to take the harsh lesson i learnt in St George & redeem myself in Vitoria Gastez. I ran a 2hr 57minute marathon that day. If you factor in all the walking it means i was actually moving not too badly when i was running. Just like in the track sessions the average was very similar, race the way the train they say. It was never more apparent to me than during the marathon that day. I was mighty relieved to finish 2nd.

I could now look ahead to Kona with quite alot of optimism. Firstly id actually earned my place on the starting line. Secondly with it being early July I actually had a good chunk if time to prepare. And thirdly, I was actually running pretty well when I'm actually running, I simply need to do the work so i can take out the walking parts, my swim & bike are already pretty descent. I left Vitoria Gastez with a happy family. We all love our trips to kona, it'll be Wyatt's first trip, he was in his momma's tummy back in 2019 the last time we where there. Having a race like this where you really need to find something you didn't know you had, keep a positive frame of mind when everything seems to be going wrong for you, i feel is a nice way to prepare for Kona as in the lava fields there's always going to be challenging moments. I simply had to get home now & keep working away.

I only took 1 day off after the race. Richie was still in Andorra for a week & so I didn't want to miss the opportunity to train with him. 10 days after the race the team shipped me off to the tour of wallonie in Belgium for a 5 day stage race. Ive gotta say I don't I've been so fatigued turning up to a race before. I still had the Ironman in the legs & id hardly recovered at all trying to be a hero riding around with Richie. I suffered through the first few days & then on stage 4 found myself in the race winning breakaway. I tried to drop my opponents on the final short 2km climb 4K from the finish but instead a few of them dropped me. They went onto finish 1 2 3 & i was caught by the peleton. I was a bit down after this as i realised id just blown a very unique opportunity in the space of 2 weeks. I'd been in the race winning position on both occasions & failed to capitalise. I don't race the bike to make up the numbers. I'm there to help my teammates win & if i get an opportunity i want to be able to take that opportunity. These opportunities are rare so when they come & you don't take it hurts that bit more. Anyways, its certainly given me the believe that next year should i find myself with a Ironman & bike race opportunity in close proximity that i can aim for the top steps in both.

For now its all eyes on kona. I'm on the plane to Los Angeles for the final training block before heading to kona. Ill spent the month of September training in LALA Land, I've always wanted to do a kona prep there so i finally get my wish. Ive had a good consistent block of training these past 6 weeks to build the fitness, now its time to really sharpen the sword! This had been a 3 year preparation thanks to the Covid pandemic. While my performances when I've raced have fluctuated over that time I've never taken my eyes of the target of Kona. That always been the thing that drives me to put the work in day in day out. That focus has certainly become single minded on kona these past few years with my cycling commitments. All other races basically become a means to an end, a hitout, a fitness check, or qualification. All the while the target has always been kona & i cannot wait to get to the starting line on October 8.

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Tuesday, June 7, 2022

Unbound Gravel

Unbound Gravel

I fulfilled my prediction, I've completed The Unbound Gravel. My last 3 completed events therefore are officially Paris Roubaix, Ironman World Championships, &, Unbound Gravel. Unbound in many ways was very much like my last Ironman. It was evident early on in the day that I was a little under prepared for the enormity of the event. Well that's only half true. I was more than prepared to show up & complete the event baring anything catastrophic. The other half was the ability, or in my case inability, to quickly fix mechanical mishaps. I was to learn throughout the day that for this particular gravel event, there's a lot more to it than simply riding the bike!

I had a couple of days prior to the race to scope out the town & the setup of the event. I was expecting something Ironman esk & that's basically what i found, perhaps a little more laid back. The prospect of having to run a marathon after swimming & riding that far, tends to make even the most relaxed individuals a little on edge. At unbound i got the feeling that come what may on June 4th, everyone was determined to face it head on & have a great time however the day transpired for them. That certainly calmed my nerves of worrying about the unknowns. I quickly came to the conclusion that worst case scenario there'll be a bunch of people going through the same thing as me.

The village & expo area was really impressive. Again very similar to Ironman yet a little more disorganised or should I say, less professional. In my opinion that's a great thing as it goes with the mood of the gravel scene, people are not there to take things too seriously so the laid back nature of the village was perfect. Without a doubt you could rock up to Emporia without anything & find absolutely everything you'd need for race day. This is basically what i did, everything that wasn't already waiting for me there i was easily able to find in the expo. For example, when i learnt of the rain & mud forecast for the event, i urgently needed to find myself some MTB shoes. I'd originally planned on just running my road shoes as that's what I've always used on my Gravel bike. Fortunately once my bike was built, & I'd taken a guess how to setup MTB shoes preying for my knees the following day, I had time for quick 1hr pedal to get the feel of them & run through the gears. At home i ride my mtb with flats as its easier to eject when I crash! MTB shoes certainly felt a tad bit foreign. I must be a natural at cleat position though as 320km later I don't have a single niggle in my knees. Guess it's my youthful adaptable joints looking after me there haha.

The food was also a little different to Ironman. There wasn't, dare i say it, as many "healthy" eating spots. Instead, additional beer gardens & what I'd call hearty wholesome, Pub type food, designed to keep your churning away for hours & hours in the gravel fields. Definitely the kind of food I personally enjoy very much. One distinct similarity however was the type of people. The gravel crew are very educated and respectful of your personal space & never like to encroach. They approach you in a way that makes you want to engage with them which is always refreshing. Sometimes in Europe the first thing someone says is can i have your jersey, or gloves, or sunglasses before they've even said hello. They almost approach you in a way that suggests they're entitled to ask for such because you've obviously got multiple of that item, its very of putting. I appreciate its a completely different culture & I'd never expect it to change. Its simply also the reason road cyclists are a little more detached from the masses at races. That, & in Europe particularly, many of the cyclists are megastars. I'm Merely just pointing out the stark differences of a mass participation event from perspective of someone who's been at events across all 3 disciplines. Please don't change that Gravel & Ironman people.

The day of the race rolled around pretty quickly, obviously that'll happen when you arrive 48hrs before the big day with a lot things to organise. In my case, everything. One of the perks of arriving from Europe is the jet lag. I was wide awake when my alarm went of at 4am for the 6am start. I'd had a solid day of eating on Friday so enjoyed a few bagels with Peanut Butter, Banana & Honey to top up the tank. I arrived a little late & was very greatful for a few of the guys on the front row to make space for me. I ensured them i was happy to take the wind in exchange for the spot at the front. My years of competing at this level, & the roll I have in the sport, seem to have paid of with a little respect in that regard. The atmosphere was absolutely electric. You wouldn't have thought it was 6am on a Saturday morning. Everyone, the crowds, the volunteers & the athletes where absolutely buzzing. Everyone couldn't wait to get stuck into it.

When the event finally kicked off i nestled into the front section of the bunch. My tactic was pretty simple, stay as close as possible to the front to avoid any crashes & be alert for when the group started splitting up. The first 10k or so i took that a little too far & literally sat on the front. Certainly made me feel like i was back in Europe doing my day job until i glanced around to see the 3000 people lined up behind me. Atleast i can say i led the Unbound Gravel race for a moment in time haha. I can now say I've "led" Paris Roubaix, Kona Ironman, & Unbound Gravel hahaha. Now that I've achieved that the most logical progression is to simply lead them all for a lot longer & win them! I'm definitely a dreamer which has gotten me this far, I don't think I'll change anytime soon!

The first 40-50km was pretty stop start. One great aspect of gravel is like Ironma, in theory, there's no teams, just individuals. That means when attacks happen assuming they are brought back, there's often a lull in the pace until someone else decides to have a go. In a normal bike race you'll have an attack followed by a counter & so on & so on until the front of the race is established. That dynamic lends itself to never really being a breakaway in Gravel events, more a wearing down of the field until the strongest guys find themselves together at the front. This is exactly what happened on Saturday, a few guys would get a small gap & always came back, this process continues as the group slowly but surely sorted itself out. At around 70km in the first testing climb was upon us. Ian Boswell, the previous years winner appeared on the front & instantly accelerated. Freddy ovett & Pete Stetina accelerated over him, Laurens Ten Dam over them, & you could feel in your legs that the group was starting to split up. Over the top the calls of "the groups split", "groups split", go go go reverberated around the front group & off we went. I looked around & realised it was still a decent sized group, perhaps 20 guys. We where on a rocky decent with a sharp corner at the bottom so i hit the front to ensure i took the corner first. Out of the corner we where faced with a solid rocky drag uphill so I accelerated again to keep the pressure on & split things up a bit more. This dragged about 10 guys away, a nice sized group of strong guys, all of which where the guys that went on to ultimately contest for the top places. I thought how good is this, my foray into gravel was going absolutely perfectly. Then, as quickly as everything was going well, as often happens in the classics, it wasn't.

The rocky drag that I'd accelerated on, having had the privileged position on the front to pick my line, had split the side wall of my tyre. I'd practiced plugging holes in tyres before travelling to Emporia & didn't panic, figured I'd quickly stop, plug it, & chase back. I couldn't plug it. It was cut on all sorts of funny angles & i simply couldn't get it to hold air no matter how many plugs i stuffed in it. I'd read as much as i could about the event, tips for first timers ect, & one thing that kept popping up was super glue to patch difficult holes. The night before I'd been at a petrol station looking for sunscreen & spotted superglue so i brought it & had thrown it into my pack. Fortunately at that moment i remembered I'd done so & carefully applied it across the split side wall. I tried to hold it all together with my finger but realised I'd glue myself to the tire so had to be a little delicate with that process. I whacked in another Co2, it was my last one so i was all or nothing on this superglue & to my delight it appeared to hold. I'd probably only lost 5 minutes by this stage so thought if things went my way i could slowly grind my way back up front.

I got going & morale was sky high as i grinned my way through the pack. The support of everyone encouraging me to chase down the front runners was absolutely awesome. It was still pretty rocky so i was perhaps taking a few to many risks on a fragile rear tire, however, at this point if i wanted to "compete" & not become a "participant" in the race kit was all or nothing. The euphoria of my new found mechanical skills proved to be very short lived as probably 5minutes down the road the rear tyre was dead flat again. My superglued side wall had been penetrated by another pesky rock.

The next option of course was a tube, the option I should've perhaps gone with initially. With the front runners now well & truly in another postal code, i took a little more time patching my sidewall to ensure none of the tube poked out & punctured that as well. More superglue & a rubber boot & I was confident it'd withstand the harshest of rocks the flint hills could through at it. Only issue i had now was I didn't have any co2! This is when the gravel community really steps up. It wasn't 5 seconds that'd go by that someone wouldn't slow to offer some assistance so it was relatively easy to get a co2 from someone. Then i had another issue. Removing the tubeless valve! The mechanic who set up the tyres had a lot stronger fingers than me & I couldn't get it undone. I patiently waited for someone to pass who might have pliers, something i now know to carry in the future. A few brave souls tried until they turned purple in the face to unscrew the valve but to no avail.

At one point i think there where about 5 people standing around my bike offering assistance. Some weren't interested in trying to help, more to simply stop & chat while i was parked up on the side of the road. It really is an incredible community. Eventually a man with the strongest hand shake I've ever experienced rolled up & offered his assistance. He effortlessly unscrewed the valve & asked if there was anything else i needed. He then told me that I'm obviously pretty useless without a team car following me, much to the amusement of those gathered to witness my rear tire repairs.

I banged in the tube & whacked it with a co2. Ping pang pock it sang away as it inflated & moulded into place, music to your ears! I threw the wheel in & off i went again. I'd spent quite a lot of time on the side of the road at this point so I knew I wouldn't be riding back to the front of the event, I was now simply participating. Peoples generosity was so selfless. Here all these people where offering up there spares to me where for all i know it could've been there last tube or Co2 canister. I guess that's another reflection on the gravel community, everyone knows someone will be there to help them should they be stranded on the side of the road, really wonderful. Suffice to say, when i finally did get rolling again, I'd slow to check on anyone looking a little helpless on the road side, obviously, what goes around comes around in this gravel community.

Just when you think you've had all the bad luck things got a little more challenging. My Di2 battery was dead so was stuck in a couple of low gears. I've no idea how this happened, I'd checked the battery the night before & it was all charged up. It was still 45km to the 1st checkpoint where there was mechanical support so i had to get there & see if I could get it charged. Fortunately i could ride most of the course, a little bit of bike pushing here & there but hey, this was just one big lesson in perseverance now. The next 45k where very social as i limped between groups as my gearing ratio allowed on the different terrain, sometimes forwards, more often backwards, it was rather comical for all involved at my expense obviously!

Eventually i made it to the first check point where Dan the mechanic was anxiously awaiting my arrival to go to work on the bike. I'd phoned ahead to let him know what needed fixing so being the professional he is, he was all prepared for my arrival. The Pinarello guys wanted to know if i wanted to continue which I obviously gave a definitive yes. It didn't matter how long Dan took to sort out the bike, battery & a few other things that popped up, i was finishing this event even if i had to push my bike. The thought of having run was a little daunting with still 200km of the course to cover! Dan worked his magic & got my bike back up & running like new, well, just like it was less than 24hrs prior when he gave it to me. I was back on the road with a fully functioning bike & it felt amazing. I decided to stretch the legs a little & push on at a decent clip to the next check point 100km down the road. Along the way it started raining pretty hard & while the gravel roads initially seemed to hold up very well, you knew it was inevitable before some proper mud sections would appear.

Sure enough as the rain increased the gravel turned to mud. When the rain starts you can't help but to feel a little grim about the situation, especially with 150km still to ride, no matter what surface you're on. When it turns to mud however, all of a sudden, it becomes quite comical & fun. The new Pinarello Gravel bike has been hailed for its tire clearance. Yes it means you can run wider tyres for a more comfortable ride but it also means your wheels don't get caked in mud & clog up the frame as easily. While most where walking, many laying in the mud having a wonderful time making Mud Angels, I was able to slip & slide past. It was perhaps the first time all day I actually looked like a Professional haha. To be clear my mud riding skills are zero, however, put me on the Pinarello Grevil & i felt like i could ride over anything! It really feels like a hero bike, makes you believe you can do things you don't have the skills for. It's truly a special piece of equipment. I realise that's a bit of a sponsorship plug, however, gotta give credit where credit is due!

I made it to the 2nd checkpoint to reload for the final 100km haul back to Emporia. I definitely realised at this point I'd gone a little overboard on the nutrition & size of the water bladder i was carrying. I'd say my pack weighed around 5kg, a few L's of water, food, spare tubes, extra co2's after running out earlier in the day, in fact was probably closer to 7-8kg! I'd noticed everyone else early in the race simply had a small camelback while I'd opted for a running vest with ample storage. Suffice to say I didn't need a fresh pack at the aid station as it was still half full of food & liquid so i simply switched out my cow/mud caked bottles for some clean fresh ones. While i'd spent around 1hr at the 1st rest stop, i most likely spent 1 minute at the 2nd, i was learning the ropes! No mechanicals to think of, no extra food required, i was back on the road in no time.

I caught up with a couple of the other Pro's as I exited the aid station, Ashton Lampie & Hunter Grove. I'd met Hunter when i was living in LA, lovely young lad who dreamed of being a pro cyclist. Since then he's made that dream a reality & is apart of the Legion of Los Angeles Team so was great to catchup with him. Ashton is a bit of an enigma in the sport of cycling, an enigma of the highest level mind you. Last year he became the first man to ride under 4 minutes for the 4000m Individual Pursuit on the track when he rode 3:59.9 or something mind boggling like that. Yep, that's a 60kmph average over 4km from a standing start! Think about that for a moment! It was really cool to meet Ashton as id obviously read a lot about him & of course watched him on TV. He was infamous for his professor type knowledge of going fast & you certainly felt like you where talking to a mad cycling scientist if that makes sense. Basically like you where talking to someone extremely intelligent who seems to know everything there is to know about going fast on a bike.

An interesting topic we discussed was the americas cup sailing regatta. He'd been asked to consider joining the US team as the grinding position has recently been changed to pedal powered. Seems simple doesn't it, just find the most powerful cyclists on the planet to fill the roll. However, being able to pedal whilst moving on a boat across the water at those speed requires a very unique stomach! Simply put, someone who can keep everything in there stomach under those conditions. Incidentally the UK boat is owned by Sir Jim Radcliffe whom also owns our cycling team. After Paris Roubaix our Team Performance Manager, Ben Williams, floated the idea past me of also looking at a pedal/grinding role in 2024. I'd actually been asked about it many years ago for a different campaign as historically Rowers have been recruited in the traditional Grinding role. After speaking with Ashton & discussing how unique the opportunity is, I must say, I'm very interested in pursuing the possibility of adding another sport to my CV. Why not. Suffice to say it was really cool getting to meet Ashton & have a chat with him. All of a sudden we hit another muddy section where once again the PInarello hero bike sailed across it & I didn't see him again for the remainder of the ride. You wait for no man in the mud pits hahaha.

After losing Ashton & Hunter in the mud, i spent the last hour or so of the ride all alone. It was a nice opportunity to reflect on the day that had began almost 11hrs earlier although thanks to the constant action it seemed to absolutely fly by. I honestly couldn't believe how fresh i felt both mentally & physically after an entire day in the flint hills of Kansas. I'd met a ridiculously large amount of wonderful generous people, all of which i owe a beer or 10 to. If any of you ever see me somewhere please remind me of this day & we'll sit down for a beverage & reminisce. It's difficult to remember every detail of a day you spend in such a way, it was action packed from start to finish. If you're in a group you're following the groups dynamic. To sum it all up. If you're alone your chasing something ahead or waiting for something behind. If you've got a mechanical you're busy on the side of the road figuring out how to fix it. If your having a hunger flat or suffering from dehydration your consuming everything possible to bring yourself back. At the aid stations you're catching up with your crew & recharging everything, in my case battery included, your fuel, fixing mechanicals ect ect. Basically all these emotions, every single participant in the field goes through the exact some thing. The only thing that differs between everyone is the time it takes. That's it. We are all out there doing it all together & that's beauty of mass participation events. Well done Gravel Community, I cannot wait for my next event with you all.


Sent from my iPad

Thursday, June 2, 2022

Monumental Spring

This year i planned to update my blogs more regularly, obviously that hasn't happened. It just seemed that when i finally caught my breathe from an event or race or anything worth writing about, i was of the next adventure. I was convinced that things couldn't get more unpredictable than they did in the spring. I was wrong. Here I am on the 1st day of summer, sitting on an aeroplane crossing the Atlantic to the USA.

As a kid i grew up dreaming of racing or competing in, this, that, & everything else, simultaneously, at the highest level. This latest trip takes me to Kansas for the Unbound Gravel event, aka the Super Bowl of the burgeoning Gravel Racing scene. While all events I'm currently competing in revolve around a bicycle, that means may last 3 competition's have been Paris Roubaix on the road, the Ironman World Championships in Utah, & Unbound Gravel, yep, that's a pretty big 3!

I have so much appreciation for even being on these start lines. If i think back 5 years ago, not even in my wildest of dreams would i have imagined I'd be in this privileged position in the sporting world. Being on the start line & participating is nice, however, it really hammers home how much nicer i would be if i could actually be competitive in all forms of the sport. To be fair to myself my role in road cycling is one of a helper. When the teams wins, i feel like I've won, almost feel like I've won, you certainly feel apart of the victory assuming you've done the job asked of you. In Ironman I'm expected to, & I expect myself, to challenge for the win. In Gravel Racing I've obviously no idea what to expect. I know there's a physical side to it which i believe will allow me to hold my own, however, I've no idea of the technical aspect of the event, skills, fixing mechanicals, ect ect. Anyways after Saturday June 4th, all going well ill be able to at the very least say I've completed all 3 events & can start plotting on how to potentially excel at them all simultaneously going forward.

With that all being said lets just do a little recap of what's happened during this wild old spring! I'll start with what didn't work out overly well, my very pathetic attempt at the Ironman World Championship in Utah a few weeks ago. Basically I hadn't planned to be there at all. I knew I'd have a busy start to the season racing on the Road & I've far to much respect for my Triathlon rivals to think i can rock up to an event involving swimming & running when I've not been doing the required amount of swimming & running i'd normally do to Ben competitive. The plan was to give me 5 weeks to prepare for the Ironman in Lanzarote after Roubaix, this was a period of time we found worked well last season with Copenhagen. A INEOS corporate event popped up on the colander in Namibia which i was asked to attend, 1 week trail running, hiking, & mountain bike biking across the Namibian dessert, & this clashed with & ruled out me racing Lanzarote. Utah was a few days before my departure to Africa so i decided id roll the dice & show up in Utah instead. I've been able to go a long way in sport on self confidence & obviously in this case id convinced myself I'd be able to rock up & be competitive. Obviously i was very wrong.

The race started out pretty averagely for me & didn't get any better from there. I tried to get off to a good start in the swim & briefly tagging onto the front group. I just as quickly blew up & dropped back to the next group including the eventual winner Kristian Blummenfelt. I was already at my limit & now found myself dropped from his feet & drifting back to the main pack. At that moment i was annoyed for letting my expectations get the better of my current capabilities however as it was a World Championship event it was all in or nothing. Stupidly I probably used all my bullets in the first few hundred meters of the swim. I was right where I didn't want to be with the race literally swimming away from me. This all happened in the first 500m so it was a very long 3.3km after that. When Lionel & his lazy arms banged me on the head a few hundred meters from the shore i knew i was in for a long day. When you're exhausted from the swim you don't then have a fresh body for the bike! I got on the bike & simply couldn't get going, i simply didn't have the legs to make a difference. I tried to manage my effort to stay in the race as close to the front as I possibly could trying desperately to stay positive & not give up hope of m oracle running legs. Those legs never arrived & I did my best for the Marathon to hon or the race & make it to the finish.

If you have any vulnerabilities then a marathon at the end of an Ironman triathlon will expose you & it was clearly evident i had plenty of vulnerabilities on this day. This isn't uncommon for me. In fact almost every year my first race goes a bit like this, usually however I'd find something a little more low key to blow out the cobwebs. In fact 12 months prior almost to the day I'd put together a similarly pathetic performance in the Girona Full Distance Triathlon. I'd obviously prefer to come out at the start of every season all guns blazing but for me it just never seems to happen. On a positive from past experience my Triathlon season generally gets better from there on haha.

Going back to the start of the year & things where back to normal normal with my training camp in LA with my teammate Geraint Thomas. He'd missed out on the 2021 camp with the Covid restrictions so was great to have his company again in the Malibu & Hollywood hills. As would become the theme for this first part of the year my time in LA was cut a little short with a call up to an early season race in Spain. I was mighty glad I received this call up as our youngest team member, Magnus Sheffield, soloed to his first professional win on stage 2. Last season i felt fortunate enough to be apart of 3 victories with the team, Dylan Van Baarles first Semi Classics win, Tom Pidcock's first Rd win, & one of seemingly 100's of wins Ethan Hayter effortlessly racks up.

To start the season this way i knew it was a good sign. Magnus's win was particularly special as I'd a lot of time with him over the off season in the US & also back in Andorra. He'd stayed at our house while he found his feet in Andorra & I've gotta say both Fallon (my wife) & I where mightily impressed by this young lad. As Fallon rightly puts it, his parents must be very very proud to see the boy they've raised, polite, educated, & seemingly gifted with the strength of raging bull. The boy seems to have it all & he's certainly showed no signs of slowing down since that maiden win. From this race the next stage race in Italy continued in the same fashion. This time it was Ethan winning again, Ben Tullet taking a stage, & Eddie Dunbar winning the overall GC. Ben, or little Ben as he's known within the team, is quite the smiling assassin. I'd not spent much time with him until i drove him to the airport to go to the race. Chatting with him i realised his target was to win & win was what he intended to do that week. For yet another lad so young, he exuded so much confidence that it was so fantastic to see him get the victory, as i knew he'd set out to do just that. A real sign of a leader. The guys where simply making it look easy & gifting me with the job i love the most, hours & hours on the front of the peloton keeping everything under control for them to strut there stuff.

Next up it was of to the heartland of cycling to do the final couple of cobbled classics. The classics group had had an incredibly successful campaign including winning the Amstel Gold Race on weekend prior to me joining the squad. Obviously coming of such a big win & being the only change to the team, you don't want to be the obvious reason they don't win next start! Fortunately for me, our Magnus ificant young American attacked from a select group of 6 including Tom Pidcock & Ben Turner (aka Big Ben), to win his 2nd race of his young career & first one day semi classic. Yes, of 6 in the deciding front group we had 3, the boys really bossed it & i could sleep easy that night knowing I hadn't caused the team to fall off there winning streak! The season from my perspective just didn't seem capable of getting any better, every race we where turning up to we where winning, it was just bonkers!

Well, it got better!!! During our celebratory dinner of Magnus's win, Kurt Boegarts (one of the team sports directors) came over & asked me what i was doing for Easter. I replied by saying sitting in front of the TV with my Son cheering on the boys in Paris Roubaix. He asked me if I'd like to be the one on TV instead to which i said of course assuming he was joking. Turns out he wasn't & told me to call my wife to let her know I wouldn't be home for Easter, shed be watching me on TV instead! I really couldn't believe it.

The next day we had the customary recon of the course. This was obviously pretty important for me as had no experience with these roads. Dylan had had another fine spring campaign with a close 2nd in tour of Flanders & obviously a big favourite for Roubaix. As was the case 12 months prior with his victory in Dwars Door Vlanderan, he asked me if i'd ride the 2hrs back to the hotel with him after the recon while the rest of the boys took the bus, it'd give him the confidence he needed to know he'd done all the preparations required for the big day. I was more than happy to oblige as simply put i love exercising so I'm more than happy to be out there all day. In fact when we finally got back to the hotel after 5hrs 30min of riding I decided to go for. 30 minute jog to make up 6hrs, I hadn't done a day that long since LA & i knew my body needed it if i was to stand any chance of surviving the cobbles all the way to the Roubaix Velodrome. During our ride Dylan told me he felt ready for this, an even better feeling than 12 months ago, suffice to say i was pretty confident he could pull it of. All we needed was to be able to execute our strategy & it was going to be very hard for anyone to touch him. A couple of days rest now & it was all in for the final cobbled race of the campaign, the big one, Paris Roubaix

Race day finally rolled around & you could feel the confidence within the team. Normally for such a big race with so many variables you can feel the tension & nervousness. Not on our bus, we where all cool as cucumbers. We all knew exactly what we needed to do & all seven of us couldn't wait to get of that bus & go & do it. I really couldn't wait, i went to the start line about 15 minutes early. That was actually intentional as i wanted to line up first, make sure everyone saw me right there on the front row. It was my way of saying to the rest of the field if you want to win this you'll have to go through us to do it!

The race finally got underway with the usual barrage of attacks. I was definitely kept on my toes & all the boys supported me amazingly to ensure i didn't completely blow up chasing absolutely everything. After around 40km i was definitely feeling the effects of the hard start however also noticed there wasn't a big fight for the front positions in the peloton, a tell tale sign everyone was finding it challenging. Next thing on the radio we heard the peloton was in a long line & could split, we all massed on the front & that was that, we split the peloton in 2. Our entire team of Seven made the front group & with the big favourites Matthieu Van der Pol & Wout Van Art both out in the 2nd group the day couldn't have gotten off to a better start.

Everyone had told me the safest place to be was in the early Breakaway, safest way to attack the dangerous first cobbled sectors. Well, I achieve that, was just a bit larger group than Normal! Around 70 of us to be precise haha. Still, you couldn't wipe the smile off my face. Here i was at one of the biggest races of the year, Easter Sunday, leading the race onto the infamous roubaix cobblestones, all my team mates lined upo behind me, we where absolutely bossing it! We hadn't gone crazy trying to gain a massive advantage, more just enough time to allow us to deal with any mechanical issues or crashes that always happen when the peloton hits the cobbles. Sure enough our 3 leaders, Ganna with a Flat tyre, Dylan needed to change bike, Kwiato had a nasty crash, where all caught out. In every case however all that happened was they had time to get the problem fixed & rejoined the Van Art & Van der Pol group.

With our misfortune out of the way & all the boys now safely in a select group of 20 or so thing started going our way again. When the others had there mechanicals they had to chase back to our guys in the front group. Dylan now just had to bide his time, wear them down, & launch his knockout move. Sounds so simple i know. If you saw however the way Dylan trained & prepared, you'd be excused for thinking it'd be as simple as that. He's truly the epitome of the word professional in every aspect. Sure enough around 20km remaining of a 265km race Dylan rode them all off his wheel & wouldn't be caught. Luke Rowe & I where 10km further back down the course getting updates from people on the side of the road. When i heard Dylan was solo with 1minute, 10km to go, I actually shed a tear, it was one of the most special memories ill ever have in sport. I was certain he'd finish it off & just thought about the whole lead up. The recon, the days leading in, atmosphere on the Bus, Dylan telling me he was going to do this, the way the race started, the way the boys executed the winning moves, it was just so special to be privy to that whole process.

When Luke & I finally crossed the line Dylan was already on the podium in the middle of singing his National Anthem. I was a little oblivious & screamed & yelled like an Aussie Larikan to him. Being the amazing team mate he is, he interrupted his statue pose staring at his flag to wave to me, much to the crowds amusement. The team had never won Roubaix before so that made it doubly special for everyone involved. As Luke Rowe put it best they'd been 10+ times & had there teeth kicked in, today the shoes where well & truly on our feet to do the kicking! Yep, thanks a whole heap for that Dylan, whenever you ask me to do some extra km's on recon days I know its always a good sign!

So that was that, the first part of the cycling season complete. I spoke with Dave B on the bus after the race as he'd made the trip to be there for the big day. You don't have the track record of Dave B without having an intuitive feeling for when success is about to happen. We talked about our conversation back in 2019, when i said I'd be happy to be a fill in guy for the team, if you need me call me, no matter where you are, no matter how far, you know the song. Anyways, i told him that i never imagined that'd mean doing a grand tour or being apart of the winning Roubaix team! Even Dave admitted he never envisioned them calling upon me for such important races. I probably should rephrase that. I liked the "thought" of getting called up for the biggest races, i just never imagined that'd actually happen. But then again its kind of like the sporting situation I currently find myself in. I've always liked the thought of doing exactly what I'm doing doing. Deep down however i just never imagined it'd actually happen.

Be careful what you wish for! Onto the Summer!


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