“That was pretty scary!” – the single most said sentence amongst athletes in this year’s 70.3 World Championship in Nice, France.
Why, you ask? I’ll come back to that in a bit.
As a start, this year’s WC saw around 60-70 athletes from HK, probably the most ever, so we got ourselves organised with some pretty dope HK team kit which is pretty cool and awesome to wear and represent.
For me, as hyped up as I was for the race, my final preparation for 70.3 WC this year was far from perfect – basically breaking and blowing up on 50% of my training and so as much as my mind was still competitive, I didn’t expect too much from my body. Nevertheless, all I can do is to prep as much as I can and give it my all on race day.
Similar to last year’s 70.3 WC in South Africa, the airport was overwhelmed with fit looking (often quite tall) people with Ironman clothing and M-dots logo tattooed on their bodies. In addition to people sizing up each other, what’s different this year is a question that had floated around everywhere– “Which is better for the bike course? Road bike or TT bike?” Most of the pre-race focus has been concentrated on the bike course, which includes 1000m of climbing up the Col de Vence and the subsequent descent down a series of tight and windy turns. There was a clear split of opinions with some arguing time spent on TT position will be minimal and so its better to climb and descend with a road bike, while others believe there are sufficient flats that TT position will still be advantageous. Even in the airport baggage claim area, people are still discussing it as if its going to change anything. For me, I brought my TT bike – mostly because I just got new wheels and repainted my canyon – so no way I’m gonna let this baby sit at home!
Nice is a pretty awesome place - turquoise water, blue skies and mild sea breeze, elements that would make for a pretty good race venue. While feeling good about it, the “Climb” was still at the back of my mind. While IM had prepared a video of the climb and the subsequent descent, its still kind of hard to gauge how difficult the hill will be so I wanted to test it out myself. The climb is around ~10km at a 6.6% average to reach a 962m altitude, so I wasn’t sure that I wanted to do the full climb so close to the race. (Just a side note, for tapering, Rob Turnbull did the full bike course 2 days in a roll! A bit crazy for me but kinda normal for him as we all know). For us mortals, a few of us (Margaret, Damian and I) decided to take a cab (uber expensive!) to the top of the Col and roll down. Just for the record, I hopped off the cab ~ 2-3 km from the summit and AT LEAST tasted part of the climb, to my surprise – the climb wasn’t as steep as I had expected – more like an extended repulse bay road. The descent was indeed quite interesting and the twisty tight turns didn’t disappoint especially on my TT bike, I was secretly praying no rain on the weekend as that would be pretty ugly for many who have carbon wheels, including myself.
As we are about to reach the top of the last false flat, a specialised TT bike with a redbull helmet zipped past and it was none other than Lucy Charles! As usual, I started to chase, and in my weird and non-sensical mind, I decided to stay with her on the downhill and even told myself, unless she gets up from the TT position, I won’t…… Well, I failed within 5 mins, after a couple of turns I started sitting up and she was gone. (oh well)
Out of the 60-70 HK athletes, around 30 were Tritons and friends – a very solid representation. On Thursday, Fen and AM had planned a practice swim and everyone was game – as we gathered along the coast, a massive Tritons reunion from HK and afar has formed, it was awesome to see Tritons all over the world - Ray Picard, Paul/Sue Alton, the Kosters, Nadine, Tim, Damian and Laurent. With Fen and AM on deck, the usual “Listen up guys!” echoed across the beach and the Tritons followed instructions and practiced like we owned the beach, intervals, pack swims, some warm up drills etc. Water temperature was nice with no wetsuit, but weather forecast pointed towards possibility of rain later in the week, which may drop the temperature and make it a wetsuit swim and a pretty scary bike descent with TT bike and carbon rims.
Fortunately, both Saturday (Women’s race) and Sunday (Men’s race) were blessed with good weather. The women’s line up included: Tanya, Mandy, Margaret, Anne and Sam. Water temperature was just below 24.5 degrees, so it was a wetsuit legal swim, though that advantage was countered by a strong current which made for a tough swim for the ladies, including Lucy Charles! The ladies, as usual, fought good battles with smiles on their faces making it look easy! Fortunately, no accidents on the bike and they all did a good race with solid finishing time. To my recollection, there weren’t many accidents on that day which goes to show women athletes are more sensible, this was a stark contrast to the men’s race the next day.
Men’s Race day (Sunday) – Got up nice and early at 4.30am, feeling pumped with my motivation video/music, did my usual routine, threw my hoodie on and headed out to the transition area. Atmosphere in the transition area was pretty tense, with athletes running around for spare bike pumps, checking the gears, packing their nutrition onto the bike, checking the tire pressure, re-checking the gears and then a surprising announcement – “Water temperature is at 25.6 degrees, this will be a non-wetsuit swim”. Fortunately, I came prepared with my swim skin. With some of the men panicking, I was smiling inside. Plenty of Triton boys toed the line – Ray, Jo, Rob, Dom, Erich, Olivier, Thomas, Fed, Marc, Domingo, Cae, Coach Mike, Laurent, Damian, Tim, Pierre, Merv, and Jeff.
Swim – Triangular course (800m-400m-700m). This is the 1st year I race in M35-39, and I find athletes here more aggressive and crazier. For example, the swim start area was carved out into ~4 waiting areas, the 1st wave waited in the area nearest to the swim start, 2nd wave were grouped in the area after that and so on. As each wave went off, the group behind gradually moves forward mostly by way of walking. But not the M35-39, we were sprinting, we were so aggressive that at one point, the marshals said: “Guys, calm down, you are not starting for another 15 mins. Calm down, don’t run”. None of us listened and continued sprinting anyway. With the Swimlab training under my belt, I lined up very close to the front, which gave me some clear water once we started, and were able to draft a few guys but unfortunately lost their feet at the 1st turn, so I had to swim solo for the rest. Pacing was not great as I slowed a lot in the last 500m – so something to work on there. All in all, not a bad swim.
[Insert JW swim out]
Bike – 4 main phases. FlatàBig ClimbàBig downhillà Flat. Coming out from the swim, I felt pretty fresh which is usually a good sign. Heard Fen shouting my name as I got to my bike, I tried to put on a Ray Picard style smile but failed miserably. Smooth T1, grabbed bike and off I went. Plan was simple, no crashes going out of town as it’s a bit chaotic, keep good power on the uphill, try to push on the downhill but don’t take any risks, then maintain power on the last phase going into T2 and then have a good run. The big climb was actually quite enjoyable, although there were many (like 200 of them) uber cyclists passing me and powering up the hill, I kept to my power and actually passed quite a few people myself. Without suffering too much, I was already near the summit and its time for the descent. Finally, all those Nam Fung and Peak repeats paid off. The initial descent was actually relatively enjoyable with not many sharp turns, and with Georgia there cheering at us at one of the turns, it felt pretty good!
[Insert Georgie bike pics]
Unfortunately, that enjoyable part ended after about 20 mins. Then its all about surviving! Its kind of scary descending in race conditions and its even more so, when every 10-15 seconds, there are people passing you at tight turns, twice your speed and trying to bomb down the hill. For the ~15-20K downhill, I kept looking forward for turns and backward to see how many cyclists are coming from behind – I felt I stole my bike and there are police chasing me down the whole way! As you can imagine, it’s a pretty intense situation with cyclists bombing down in groups, carnage along the road, ambulance, stretchers etc, then add on a ton of shouting from everywhere, which actually made things a bit more safe but its also quite annoying – at one point, I lost it and told them to f – off every time they shouted. But the worst (!) were those that didn’t say a thing and you just hear “voom voom voom” right behind you and then guys just zipped past you at close range during tight turns, those people – I just let go of my fluent Canto “Delay No More!”, which also helped to calm my nerves.
Coming back to town was also filled with surprises, tight u-turns, speed bumps etc, had a few very close calls but luckily stayed on my bike. Finally, I have reached T2, safe and sound. “Phew!”
Run – 2 loops of flat run with plenty of spectator support. Smooth T2 and came out the run storming and felt legs were there to back me up. The run was what my coach and I had worked on the most – but for the past few weeks, I kept blowing up on the runs and dying, so my run performance today maybe a bit of a touch and go. My coach (Jacob) gave me a simple plan, commit to the pace (4.25) and fight to the end – “at least puke a little bit after the finish line” were his words. With that, my mind was dead set on the pace.
1st loop – Didn’t look at my watch but felt strong, I think I reacted well (in my opinion) to the awesome Tritons cheerleading squad and was kind of enjoying myself. Soon, at the turn around, I hear Rob T saying: “Good run Jeff”, that immediately brought me back to last year’s WC run, where he said the same thing then proceeded to chasing me down. I continued to hold my pace but couldn’t help looking over my shoulders for Rob and Dom as I could feel their “presence” and then I stepped on a pothole and tripped…. that was embarrassing.
[Insert JW run pic and cheering squad]
2nd loop – Fatigue started to catch up as I unknowingly blasted the 1st 6K. Kept telling myself to hold the posture and this is only a 2 x 5K run – easy peasy. Fortunately, my pace didn’t drop too much and the horror of 2018 WC run didn’t repeat itself, I passed the finish with an atypical finish i.e. not on the floor passing out. Well…………. 2 minutes later, I was on the ground puking like crazy and volunteers almost took me into the medical tent because I couldn’t respond to their “are you okay?” as I was puking non-stop – in any case, did the run with 4.22 pace which my coach was proud – also a PB off the bike! All in all, hardwork does seem to pay off! Even if I blew up violently on my training sessions, those work are still stored in the bank!
Post race, we caught up with everybody and it was a great blessing that aside from a minor accident with Jo, there was no other bike accidents. There were many horror stories with the men’s bike leg, where people smashed into walls, flew off the cliff, totalled their bikes etc. The course was beautiful but the bike course was pretty scary – especially with ambulances and carnages throughout.
And that’s a wrap for 2019 70.3 WC!