“Le Champion d’Europe”, that was a nickname I was given on Sunday afternoon, let’s see why…
Me and my friend Marin got a homestay from organizer. Our host, Julien, told us that we’ll sleep in a lucky room where Martina Dogana slept last year and won the race. He said that he expects me to win and Marin to come in top5 and that we’ll drink champagne on Sunday evening. Unless I don’t win, in that case they will drink champagne and I’ll have to sleep outside. I considered that was a joke, but the champagne was already in the fridge and nights in Vichy are cold 🙂
I didn’t feel good in the water, so I was pleasantly surprised when Julien told me the gap to the leader is 5 minutes. Sergio Marques and Christophe Bastie were in a group with me.
We had two loop bike course that was relatively flat with only one longer climb at the start of the loop. I considered Marques as one of the favorites and I knew he’s an excellent runner, so I didn’t want to get in T2 together with him. That’s why I went hard on the hill and luckily I managed to get away.
Christophe Bastie stayed with me and soon the silhouette of Trevor Delsaut appeared on the horizon. We caught him about 40-50km into the ride, just after he got in touch with Jeuland and Koceic. Now we had a race official car in front of us. I thought they must have more than one of those as I expected at least Chevrot and Rota to be in front of us. Turns out, Rota swam slower than me and Chevrot had a flat, so we were actually in the lead.
There was a lot of wind on the course. Second part of the loop is much more exposed to the wind and in that part we had mostly headwind. I used one section with cross wind to try to reduce the size of our group. Size went down, but unfortunately, my friend Koceic was the one to lose touch. For the remainder of the loop I stayed at the front. I didn’t ride too hard as I wanted to save some energy for when Cigana goes by. Maybe it would have been smarter to let others do some work but I didn’t want to play tactical games until (or if) I catch the leaders. What I didn’t know was that we were the leaders. On the other hand, referee was always there and he made sure no one tries to bend the rules, so the gaps were never below 12m.
We entered the second loop and Massimo still hadn’t caught up. A sign that we were going well. I stretched my legs on the uphill and Jeuland lost touch. There were only three of us left, but I felt the effects of the effort a few moments later as well. At one point Bastie got a 15s lead and soon after disappeared in the distance. It was a bit strange as we again had a race official car with us so I thought he must have caught the first group and they have cars in front of the first and the second group. After the race I found out he made a wrong turn and lost some time.
Last 40km seemed to last forever because of the head wind. At one point I looked back and realised that I was now alone. One photographer said that I’m in the lead. At least Bastie was supposed to be in front of me, so I thought that I either heard it wrong or that he calculated something wrong. However, there was a possibility that he was right as I had a lot of media guys around and race official car was in front of me.
Second transition was empty. Either I’m really in the lead or the volunteers leave the bikes elsewhere. Change tent looked much smaller than in T1 and luckily there’s no penalty if you enter female tent :-). As I started the run I had a bike to lead the way and the cyclist confirmed that I was in the lead.
1st loop – enjoy while you can
Someone yelled that I have 2 minutes on Delsaut. He’s a good runner and I assumed Cigana and Marques can’t be far away either. I didn’t believe I’d be able to stay in the lead but I was hoping to keep a place on the podium. Adrenalin makes everything feel easy so I made sure I don’t start too fast and decided to enjoy the lead while it lasts. Towards the end of the loop I tried to imagine how would it feel like to keep this till the end. The feeling was new and strange and my vocabulary is unfortunately not wide enough to describe it. At the end of the loop I had a chance to see Trevor and few moments later Julien said the gap is down to 1:30min.
2nd loop – battle
I assumed Trevor will try to catch up as soon as possible and that he may lose motivation if the gap doesn’t come down. Now, I had a plan to pick up the pace and try to demoralise my chaser. By the end of the loop the gap grew to 1:45min. It was time to see if the plan worked.
3rd loop – maybe there’s a chance
It wasn’t until the 3rd loop that I started to believe I have a chance. Legs still felt good and I held the same pace. At the end of the loop I couldn’t see Trevor. Not because my vision got blurry, but because my lead grew to 3:20min.
4th loop – countdown
In the previous lap I had a small cramp in my stomach. It was nothing special and it got away after I reduced the pace for a few moments, but it was a reminder that in a race this long the flow of events can turn around in a second. I decided to play it safe, so I reduced the pace a bit and made sure I don’t miss any aid stations. Kilometers went by slowly until 2-3km before the finish when I found out the lead is up to 4 minutes. This one was in the pocket. I was hoping that Mayans, Nostradamus or someone else haven’t predicted doomsday for this day and even if they did that it will wait for another 10 minutes.
Those last 10 minutes and the finish are once again out of the scope of my vocabulary. I had this dream many times before so I was afraid I’ll wake up once again. Few days passed and seems like this was a reality after all. And then after the race, microphones, cameras, photographers, kids chasing me with a piece of paper and a pen (“I’m not doing your homework”, was my first thought)…
For someone who looks this from the sidelines this looks like a product of 8:21h of hard work. But I had to put much more effort to make it happen. Years of waking up at 5AM and going to bed at 9PM. Days planned out in a second. Training sessions in rain, snow, heat, cold, dark… And then after all this work you get disappointments, sub par results after which you have to hold the motivation and keep going in a faith that it will all come together one day. I had to neglect some very important aspects of my life as I knew I can make it only if this becomes an opsession. That’s why this success is much sweeter. I don’t consider this as a climax but as a beginning. A key which could open a door for further success. However, even if I stay at this one win, I can say: “It was worth it!”.
I’d like to thank my friends who I can still call that way even though I had to reduce my time with them to a minimum. Thanks to my coach to got me to this level of fitness. Thanks to my homestay family (Aurélie, Julien, Nathanaël, Emmanuel) who accepted me as a part of the family what made me very relaxed going into the race. Thanks to my family back home who tolerated my long training sessions on those few days a year when we see each other. Thanks to my current sponsors Fast Forward and Sponser (I hope the list grows next time). I hope this race opens some doors in the future so I’ll be able to detach more time for other spheres of my life.
Icing on the cake was seeing my friend Marin crossing the line in 5th place and Diana winning female race. As predicted by Julien, we drank champagne that evening and luckily no one had to sleep outside.