|Top spot again. I could get used to this.|
When I won in Malta it was mission accomplished in achieving my slot to the World Xterra championship in Maui. Then I started to think if I could get more experience and practice at other events, all subject to funding by the Bank of Self. I looked at the Xterra European tour and checked out the race in Athens. The races need to be near or cheap travelling distance from major airports and Vouliagmeni fits. I had a load of Avios air miles from Tesco shopping vouchers saved up and I have never been able to use them and suddenly I have a British Airway's flight from Manchester via London to Athens for £70 in taxes only. A bus from the airport at 4am to Various takes 25minutes and €6 and then its a 40 minutes walk lugging a bike bag, a carry-on suitcase and a backpack through the empty streets to Appolonia apartments in Varkiza, about 2km from Vouliagmenia. Everything is so peaceful until two large Alsatian dogs start barking at the noise of the wheels on the bike bag and run out onto the road I'm walking down. I know very little Greek despite living in Cyprus for 6 years of my life but u always remember my dad telling me to shout "no dog" in Greek which suddenly seemed relevant and helpful after 20-odd years. So, in my best Greek I hushed "oxi skilagi" (that's maybe the phonetic spelling! ), and the dogs stopped in their tracks and one sat down. I should also mention I positioned the bike bag between me and the dogs just for emergency. One continued to follow me for another few metres then I was able to relax whilst I lugged 23kg of bike bag to the apartment.
The key and welcome note was on the open reception (24hours service) and a quick check around the room at the facilities and in my chosen bed of three and trying to kip at 5.30am with the alarm set for 11am. Vouliagmeni is the Greek Riviera and played his to the 2004 Olympic triathlon, the one where Marc Jenkins punctured or had a mechanical and had to run the last few miles to get back to T2 and finish his Olympic dream. Nobody wants a DNF especially at the Olympics.
The venue is a gorgeous private beach and behind the beach are the rolling hills. The Xterra Greece team are setting up when I register and I leave my bike with them to go recce a lap of the run route. It starts flat on the paths and roads outside the beach area and a stepped underpass takes you under the busy main road. The road ramps up steeply near the race hotel then there are some steep steps that take you up to the edge of the off road section. To this point the bike and run routes are the same. The run route goes left up a dusty rocky trail and on the recce I was able to run it but its steep. Reaching the top I stopped to take in the scenery of the sea and the islands and Dave Nicholas, Xterra Managing Director, is there with his wife and friends. A quick hello and chat then I'm flying down the hill towards the next climb. Brutal is a word I would use for the next climb. Its just rocks and almost a scramble and steeper than the previous. After that its trail and a small road climb and descent back to the steps for lap two or straight on back to the venue. On race day the run enters the private area and loops behind tennis courts and finishes with a 200m beach run (to emulate Maui?).
After lunch at a local bakery I return at 4pm to recce ride the course with Nico Lebrun, previous Xterra world champion and a few other guys. The bike loop is completed twice and we are not permitted to ride the steps down the underpass for safety of other riders and runners on race day. The steps at the start of the trail need to be negotiated and it means carrying the bike uphill each lap. Unlike the run, the bike leg does a bigger loop taking in more hills and trails with a few technical twist and turn sections to slow us, well...me, down. The final section is a fast road via a water station then back out on loop two before returning to the underpass again. Everything seems OK except its easy to overcook a few corners on loose gravel and dirt. After the race briefing its back over the hill to the apartment and spaghetti and tomato dolmio sauce for dinner with a tin of rice pudding for dessert and then its off to bed to race in my head whilst trying to sleep causing me to stay awake for hours.
I get about 5 hours sleep and after porridge, custard bagels and tea I leave at 7 for the race. I set up my transition and recce the transition entry and exits and walk through my routine.
At 9am we are due to start and on the shoreline I chat with British professionals Rory Downie and Matt Dewis. There are not many Brits here, Louise Fox being the only female British pro. I do meet Gary Dressel, my age group, later on the run and I had seen he was a good swimmer if its the same Gary. I also met a Brit called Colin Brown but he lives here, and Rory's dad Gavin is also racing.
The swim starts and I'm positioned near eventual winner Roger Serrano but in metres he disappears but I'm also in the pack amongst the red-hatted pro's for the first lap before just dropping off the pace during the second 750m lap. It feels great and I'm buzzing with positivity. Getting to my bike I can see none have gone from my age group and there were only a handful of white hatted age groupers ahead on the swim. The bike goes pretty well despite jamming my chain at one point right at the start of climb and getting dropped by the female pros but at least I was ahead and I just try to ride smooth and maintain speed in the turns as Nico pointed out. I did have another forced stop which resulted in cramping both quads when female pro Latina Buss slipped her back wheel on a short climb and I was right behind her. I spun it off but it was in my mind just as it was in Malta.
Back into T2 and I'm the first bike back, yippee, and I'm out on the run feeling pretty relaxed, well trying to, knowing the bloody awful climbs are coming. The first road climb I manage to run but thereinafter its a walk with cramp again on the first rocky climb. In my head I am trying to keep the speed going to do enough to stay head without over doing it. Second time down the hill and its almost joyeous to reach the road and head for the underpass with just the beach to finish. I hit the sand and aim for the water line hoping for firm traction and its probably better than the really soft deeper sand.
I enter the finish chute and in my head I've won but I'm taking it for granted. When I'm having a massage and food, The Frenchman as he's known, Christophe Maury tells me I've won with him third after being overtaken by another French triathlete Franck Fonteyraud in the closing stages. Still I'm not convinced but 99% accept it. Later that evening it would be confirmed on the podium. Winner!
Another trophy and another winner certificate with the Maui entry code which Christophe is after but Franck may take the place.
I had won by 9 and 10 minutes over Franck and Christophe and I now lead the European tour with maximum points after two wins from two.
|Finish line thinking I've won but not convinced|
The tour is the best score from two silver and four gold events. I now need to race four golds to stand a chance. I am racing in Switzerland in June then hopefully France, the Xterra European championship in Germany then finish with Denmark in September before heading to Maui, Hawaii for the world championship. What a year! A lot of money to consider but I'll try to do it as cheaply as possible to make it happen.
Another issue I usually have is DOMS, delayed onset muscle soreness, and it usually wipes me out 2-3 days later. This time I had none which may have been due to the fact I was sent some CurraNZ supplements, on the recommendation of Chris Stirling, which are basically a shed load of New Zealand blackcurrants in pill form. They are antioxidants and help aid lactic acid dispersal and for now I'm saying they work and i'll be trying them again next time.
I've also got a half ironman and full ironman in Nottingham (Outlaw) pre-entered and I wish I wasn't doing them now but my perspective may change on these. We'll see.
I have enough Avios points to get me and Ali to Switzerland so just accommodation and a car to sort then its consideration for the other races.
If your reading this and your company or you know of a company could sponsor me for travel to the races or an individual event then please contact me. I'd be extremely grateful.
So, now my trip to a then is at an end and I'm sat in the airport waiting to check in writing this blog. Its been fun....when I got past the 24degree\40 minute walk back to the bus to the airport lugging all the kit again. I arrived here about 1.15pm and I can't check in until 5.30pm but I spent an hour helping an elderly British family download Easyjet tickets from a playing up machine to save them £180. I even have their boarding passes on my phone!
I'm so grateful to use BA with my Avios points as my bike travels as part of my luggage allowance up to 23kg and my wetsuit and cycling shoes etc are in my carry on luggage. Well done BA! Maybe I'll contact them or send this to them as a tweet. I'm using them again for Switzerland as I have just enough points left for me and Ali.
I'll add some photos and post this later. For now I will have another coffee, check in and look forward to my night at Heathrow before my morning flight back to Manchester and heading into work.
Thanks for reading if you got this far....... Retweet or share as you like. Race hard but smart. Mat
Update....photos added and Xterra Switzerland (ETU Championships) entered but France is full and I'm on a reserve list. Also entered Germany the European Xterra Championships.