Fourth edition of Falkensteiner Punta Skala triathlon was held this Sunday in Petrcane near Zadar. This year the race served as Croatian championship in middle distance triathlon. It was a hard race for me to do as anything except a win would have been considered a failure. First of all by me, but probably by many others as well.
I don’t like early morning starts, but unfortunately in this sport they are the norm and this race was no exception. When the gun went off I must have been only half awake as I lost 5 meters in the first 10 meters of running through shallow water. I made up for that quickly and had a good swim. There were 3 guys not far in front of my group. Two of them were part of a relay and third one was Avirović, one of the favorites.
My plan was to try to break away on the bike and get big enough of a gap so that I don’t have to run on the limit. First part of the bike course goes slightly uphill and that’s where I wanted to make a move. The rest of it is much flatter and thus much harder to break away. However, I messed up my transition and lost 20 seconds, so I first had to chase. It was close to the end of the uphill when I caught two of my main competitors Koceić and Patrčević. I spent a lot of energy chasing but still managed to make a decent attack. Few minutes later I turned around and couldn’t see anyone behind. Perfect situation.
Turns out that Avirović missed a buoy and got out of the water behind us, so I was in the lead. It was easy to judge the distance to the other guys as we rode 4 out and back loops. The gap kept growing and when we passed each other for the final time I had 6 minute advantage over Avirović and another 2 minutes over Koceić and Patrčević.
Everything was going according to the plan but I still had doubts. Two weeks ago in Aix, I could barely run at a pace that I usually hold on ironman distance. I knew that if that happens again my win might not be secured just yet. Luckily, within first few kilometers I realized that won’t be the case this time. I felt quite good and kept the pace that I thought was enough to get to the finish without any unnecessary drama.
It looks like Aix was just a bad day and now I can look at the rest of the season with optimism. My next race will be Keszthely triathlon in less then two weeks and then Ironman 70.3 Pescara the week after.
Last Sunday I took part in inaugural Porec triathlon which was Croatian championship at half-ironman distance (well, slightly shorter). After Vichy everything except a win would be considered as a failure, but my own expectations were the same as always. To give my best and see which position that brings me at the end. I can’t be unsatisfied if I give my best. Final placement depends on the competition and I can’t influence their execution of the race. Well, I could, but that’s not allowed :-). Of course, I was hoping that “my best” would be enough for another win. It’s always nice to win and it would be good to have a confirmation that I recovered well after Vichy and that I’m on the right track for another good race in Barcelona in 2 weeks.
I got out of the water in second group, 1:20 min behind leading trio. Combination of slow start, short distance to the first buoy and my swim shape that’s not as good as in the first part of the season.
We had 5 loop (out&back) bike course so there was plenty of opportunities to see the gaps. I started the bike with Flo Kriegl and I didn’t rush to close the gap to the leaders. I was hoping they will exert some energy trying to stay in front and it will be easier to break away once we catch them. The gap was slowly melting and mid way through 3rd lap we caught them.
After a short rest at the back of the group it was action time. Kienle recently wrote that there should be no holding back while attacking, otherwise if you don’t manage to break away, you’ll end up dragging the group until T2. After 7-8 minutes of hard riding we got to another turnaround and I saw that the group was intact. Kienle was correct and I spent the next lap in the lead. I reduced the pace to save some energy for one more attack in the last lap. That attempt had the same effect as the first and the race had to be decided on the run.
Soon after exiting T2 I took the lead, but the race was far from decided. On the first turnaround I saw that Patrcevic, who had slower transition, got closer and others looked like they were holding a good pace. By the end of the first (of four) lap Patrcevic caught me. We run together for a couple of hundred meters when he started to drift back and I was again alone in the lead.
Koceic soon moved into second place. There was no time to relax as he was running very well and the gap stayed small. It wasn’t until the last lap when the gap grow a bit and I could finally relax and enjoy another victory.
Overall the race went very well and everyone seemed to be happy with organisation. I hope organisers will be able to get more support from local community in the upcoming years so that they can close larger part of the road which is necessary for the growth of the race.
Unfortunately, on our way back from the race we had a traffic accident. Luckily no one was seriously injured. I have bruised ribs now and I’m not sure if I’ll recover in time for Challenge Barcelona. Luckily, this caused only one race to come into question, it could have put many more things under the question mark…
“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.
On Saturday I took part in Austrian ½ Iron triathlon on Rocksee lake near Slovenian border. This was third year in a row that I compete there. So far I had two second places and I was hoping to do a little bit better this year. The organizers probably expected that as well as they gave me start number 1.
I made a mistake on the swim as I started to look after some feet too soon. This happens almost every year in early season races. I have a diesel engine and to have a good swim I need to go hard for at least first 200m and then look for some feet to follow. If I don’t do it I get stuck behind slower swimmers who can start faster than me but then slow down after 100m. Once I get around them the group in which I could swim already has a gap. They say that you can make a mistake only once, second time it’s no longer a mistake, it’s a choice. On a bright side, better to make a bad choice now than in some more important races.
I got to dryland 2 minutes behind the leader and 1:30 min behind a small group. Usually I go too hard on the start of the bike but this time I wanted to try different strategy so I went a bit easier. By the end of the first lap I was in second position with about 1 min gap to the leader. I increased the pace and found myself in the lead somewhere around 50-60 km. My countryman Koceic followed me until the hill and then I repeated last year’s scenario. It was just lead motorcycle and me for the last 20k and I got to T2 with 2 min lead.
I often have an internal dialog during races (probably a sign of going crazy). There’s one voice that tries to find a reason to slow me down and the other voice that tells me not to listen to the fool. Usually second voice gets the upper hand in those discussions but this time first one had strong arguments. It was hot and humid so I decided not to go out too hard on the run and monitor what’s happening behind me. If someone gets close then I could try to increase the pace. And if I win I could tell everyone I could have run double as fast but there was no need ;-).
In each loop we had an out and back section so after about 7k I could see what’s happening behind. German with Hungarian name Senczyszyn was about 2,5 min back and Koceic was loosing ground. Not a big lead but it felt like a comfortable one so I decided just to hold the pace. When we got to that section for the second time I still had about 2 min and with 2-3km to go I knew I had the win in my pocket unless something unusual happens. Luckily nothing like that happened and I was first across the line, Senczyszyn was second and Koceic third.
Not to sound too cocky, I’m not sure how much I had in reserve on the run. Sometimes I feel like I can go faster but when I try to do it’s just not possible.
Good and bad news often come in pairs. When I got back to Croatia I found out that my grandfather passed away so I’d like to dedicate this race to him.