Thursday, September 22, 2011

Saving the best for last

With some sadness, my triathlon season in France for 2011 is over. Whilst I’ve subsequently done some high-altitude training since my last French triathlon (more on that next week), it is coming that time of year where the mornings are darker and the evening sunsets are earlier. The summer sport of triathlon is being abandoned and winter is on its way. However, I couldn’t think of anything better than my final French triathlon hoorah being an Olympic distance event at none other than a 14th century French castle. Was I saving the best triathlon event until last? Would it be my best performance for the year?

The Chateau de Chantilly triathlon is part of the UK Castle Triathlon Series which is staged in and around the grounds of 4 castles. Three castles are in the UK, and one in France. Being a UK based triathlon series I had high expectations as to the quality of the organisation for the event…but it seems that our channel neighbours are equally administratively-challenged. Whilst I didn’t have to reverse park my bike on completion of the cycle leg, the multiple opportunities for head-on collisions with competitors coming the other way proved to be a ‘thrilling’ aspect to the race.

Triathlon venue - awesome
My race day began at 5am, which would not be unusual for any Aussie tri, but I’m sure it was not embraced by my French compatriots.  I had hired a car the day before to get to the race venue which was a good 45 minutes drive north-east of Paris. Of course on returning to my place with the car I was required to park it under the watchful glare of a film crew that happened to be across the street. I think I was ruining their production as I was perfecting my park. I was also often reminded that the gear stick was on my right hand side as I kept smacking my hand into the door panel on the left.

I had a deal with my tri mate Richard. He would kindly meet me at 6am (despite his sprint race not starting until much later in the morning) at my place on his motorbike to guide me to Chantilly in the dark, in exchange for me taking his bike and gear up in the car. What is it about people who when they don motorbike leathers they become instantly cooler?

So off I set following Rich. ‘Remember, gears on the right’. Doof – hit hand on door, doh! ‘Ok, now merge onto freeway entering from the right, look left, change into 5th which is on your right, follow motorbike’.  Ah, so many things to think about, so early in the morning!

We get to Chantilly just after 7am. Poor Rich, despite his leather jacket was frozen from the ride as it had been a chilly morning. I had reminded him that the text message I had received from the triathlon organisers the night before suggested that the water temperature was measured at 19 degrees. Being a strong swimmer he questioned whether he should bother getting into his wetsuit for his sprint race, although he thought it might have helped him on the motorbike ride instead – we laugh. However, it was only moments later that we crossed the bridge towards the castle that ran over part of the moat connected to the swim course that we saw the cold mist rising from the water. “Bollocks, 19 degrees!” we thought.

Water temperature, 19 degrees?

Rich and I head over to the registration tent which is staffed with Brits, complete with classic g-string exposure above ill-fitting tight jeans, ticking off names and providing envelopes. I go into transition and quickly realise that no specific areas have been allocated for Olympic distance and Sprint distance athletes. This means that transition is going to be bedlam with athletes coming in from Olympic distance swim whilst others are preparing their transition area for their Sprint distance. O-oh! My hopes for a well organised triathlon are dashed.

Seymour in transition
At least however, for the very first time I was able to set up my transition with plenty of time (as noted by the emptiness in the picture) before the race. None of this last minute French stuff when I’m setting up and then dashing to the swim start pulling on my wetsuit as I go.

Rich and I survey the 400 metre run from the swim to the transition, including some decent 14th century steps from the gardens that had to be climbed. We get to the water’s edge and we can’t quite work out the course. The information on the website which I had printed out and was holding, didn’t match the way the buoys were lined up. I happened to spot the Race Director and asked whether the swim course was a straight out and back as suggested. “No, no, it’s an ‘M-shape’, and you have to do two laps”. He then admitted that they forgot to update the website….riiiiiight. Ok, so rather than 3 turns, I would be now be doing 9 turns – brilliant.

Walking towards the swim start
I was in the second wave for the day – 60 men, and me together with 9 other females. There would be a third wave also. Each wave was only spaced 20 minutes apart, so that meant all three waves would be going around the course together at various stages, with new athletes entering the water just as you’re passing the start/finish line for your second lap – awesome.

First wave - Elites
 Standing in my wetsuit listening to the Race Director’s pre-race briefing, I’m glad to learn that there are other people whose French is as bad as mine. My ears prick up when the Director warns those competitors with expensive race wheels to be very very careful exiting the Chateau’s grounds, a 1km stretch, as it is all gravel and full of pot holes. “Oh and sleeping policeman, be mindful there are quite a few sleeping policemen, what’s that in French?” he asks.

“What the hell are sleeping policemen in English, let alone French?” I’m perplexed. “Are there speed limits in some of the small towns? Will I be ‘clocked’?”

“Speed humps” Richard informs me. “They are speed humps” Oh - fantastic.

The pre-race information pack did suggest trail running shoes for the run course. Hmm, the race director makes no mention of this.

So in the no-so-19-degree moat, where I can practically stand at the starting line, as I’m picking algae off my arm trying to start my Garmin, the hooter goes off and 60 men surge forward. Despite my slow swim time, and the nine time-consuming turns, my swim feels good. This may have something to do with the fact that I hadn’t swam in almost a month, and it simply felt good to just have a swim.

“Excusez-moi”, “Pardon” I’m saying as I’m running on the blue carpet all the way up the stairs to transition. At least that was one saving grace for the event – a sufficient amount of carpet. This may have had something do with the fact that they had two elite triathlete teams racing against each other, a French team vs. a British Team. A Brit was first out of the water.

Run from the swim, up the stairs to the left
 This is where not having swam for a month shows up, taking off my wetsuit with shaky legs is proving to be a bit of a challenge. Not long though before I’m on my bike. Seymour the Cervelo is back into TT position (hmm remembering now that the Race Director said nothing about drafting), together with my new Mavic carbon wheels, now let’s see what we can do.

Moments later I hit the treacherous 1 km stretch of what cannot be described as a road, but a country path perhaps at best. Trying to get my feet into my tri shoes, I’m looking out for pot holes when I notice the elite triathletes screaming back in, heading straight for me. We’re all trying to use the tiny piece of flat/smoothish gravel in the centre of the path. A Frenchman has overtaken the Brit and is first off the bike.

The bike course only got worse. The course marshals are not paying attention and I’m almost sent the wrong way, not to mention that the road hadn’t been closed off to traffic. Rich almost had an accident with a car. He was close enough to touch the bonnet and contemplated falling from his bike and rolling over it for dramatic effect.

There were certainly quite a few ‘sleeping policemen’ to slow my pace. As well as gravel strategically positioned on corners, thus making turning exhilaratingly dangerous as my wheels were sliding about. There was some confusion on the second lap, given there weren’t any signs and course marshals are yelling out asking competitors which lap they’re on.

I’m yelling “deuxième” (second) and I’m not hearing a response, I slow down not sure where I should be going and finally some woman answers “ça va, allez tout doit” (it’s alright, go straight). Ah damn, as I’m trying to build the speed back remembering the upcoming sleeping policemen as well as sleeping marshals and gravel to navigate through again.

Back down the 1km gauntlet of death to the chateau I dump my bike front ways by the handlebars, whack on my tri racing shoes and start my run.

Trail running shoes, yes I can see why. For the first kilometre I have to run on soggy slippery, water-logged grass. ‘Oh my goodness, don’t tell that it’s like this the whole way’. Thankfully the second kilometre extends onto an uneven gravel path with a ditch of sorts in the middle, so competitors are either on the left or right hand side.

I switch sides as I’m passing people. I happen to pass a woman, also in a similar shade as my club lime green tri suit, but not affiliated. I then begin hearing some loud huffing and puffing on my right shoulder. A quick head check and it’s lime-green woman, hanging on. ‘I’m racing my own race’, I’m telling to myself, as the huffing and puffing continues, ‘but well done love for trying to keep up with me’. 

Just over 2.5km into the first lap, I wondering where the drink station is considering it should have been at the 2km mark. It’s getting hot, and I need hydration and water to cool down. Finally like a mirage in the desert it appears. I take a cup, sip and splash the rest over my head whilst lime-green woman passes me. ‘No you don’t’ I spurring myself on, and reel her back in and pass her again.

As the path splits into two, this time with a sign indicating ‘Finishers’ and ‘2nd lap’, lime-green woman surges forward into a sprint. I pick up my pace. She then peels off left to the finishers direction, ha ha, I laugh and continue to climb the hill in front of me for the second lap. Back again over the slow wet grass, the second lap seems to go quicker.

By this stage the French elite triathletes have taken the 1st and 3rd positions on the podium. Team France wins.

I’m running the last section of the course and realise that the male-cut of my ridiculously bright lime green tri suit has caused some chaffing, a random obscure thought enters my mind (you know who you are). I re-focus and cross under the finishing arch.

I look down at my Garmin and am rudely shocked! This is one of my slowest Olympic distance triathlons. For a long time I stare at my watch. I felt really good, the whole way round. Hmm, perhaps that was it, I didn’t push myself hard enough. Later, analysing the data I learnt that the treacherous bike course is what had undid me. However, on the positive side, I had my quickest ever run time, I was happy with that given the course.

One final look at my last triathlon event venue

So was it the best triathlon event in France? Spectacular yes, best event, no. It also wasn’t my best performance on the whole either.

Despite all of this, however, I’ve had an awesome time racing in France and feel very lucky to have spent a season doing something I really enjoy in such a special place.

1 comment:

  1. LO very L


    Yes, I know who I am......and the offer to kiss it better still stands