26 April 2015 (Alcobendas, Madrid, Spain)
In April 2015, I returned to Spain to race in a duathlon championships, finishing 16th in my age group over a tough run/bike/run course on the outskirts of Madrid.
Two days after one of the biggest races of the year and I’m sitting in a café in Atocha Station, Madrid, looking out at the sunny day. Thinking back 48hrs things were so different. I woke on Sunday morning at 6am to the sound of dripping rain. 99 out of 100 days here must be sunny – so why were we so unlucky? It was like a wet, windy, cold day in February in Ireland. It’s nearly summer in Spain – surely it should be 25C with sun? Luckily I packed arm warmers, gloves, a hat and a jacket. Pity I forgot the mudguards and leggings. Cycling to Atocha, I passed runners arriving for the Rock n Roll Marathon, which also took place in the rain.
Pre-race: avoiding the rain
Anyway, this was my 4th year competing with the Triathlon Ireland team for my age group 30-34. It was good to see some familiar faces – Lan, Sheila Power, Killan, Michael, Frankie, Sean, Mike and our team manager Blanca. There were about 30 in the Irish team, ranging from 25-65 years old. Bikes were racked by 8:30am so I had 4 hours to kill until my start time. It was raining and I was cold, so my priority was finding a place with a nice warm coffee. It’s a pity we couldn’t stay and support the Sprint athletes.
Before the race, the rain got more intense. My feet were soaked. It was cold and the organisers were apologising for the weather, but “the show must go on“. I did see one guy call it a day before the start, removing his bike from transition and going home. And he was British.
The run was 4×2.5km laps of the city streets. Not as pretty or historic as the other duathlon races in Pontevedra or Nancy but they made up for it in having a twisty, hilly route. Good for cross-country legs! I settled into a good pace, hoping to run hard but enough for the bike. 36 mins was my target. It was 2nd of 3 Irish runners – Brendan was flying.
Transition was quick, I had my bike shoes clipped onto the pedals – something I’d never done before (how did I get away with it for 7 years?) I was hoping I’d get the Velcro straps on once I got moving. The bike route was going to be tricky – at least 15 turns, roundabouts and dead hairpin bends. Combined with the standing water, wet paint and manhole covers, I’d better watch out. First lap was cautious, finding my rhythm and gearing. I noticed I could fly down the hills and through roundabouts – catching TT riders who really had little stability through the corners. This happened for 3 laps with a British guy Masters and a Spaniard Mujillo. Good for me as the speed merchants couldn’t get as big of an advantage with their fancy bikes.
I gained in confidence each lap of 9.5km. My gearing, speed and cornering was better. I kept thinking of watching Formula 1 back in the 1990s. Horrible wet days at the Belgian Grand Prix in Spa or Monaco, when Michael Schumacher had this superhuman ability to keep his car on the greasy track and just fly away from the field. So many people looked nervous, braking through corners, missing apexes and sitting up going downhill.
I had a few hairy moments and was lucky with hindsight, to stay on the bike. It’s such a thin line between that and breaking a hip, as happened Alan in the Irish team. It happened at the slowest hairpin turn on the course.
Once I tried pass a woman on the inside of a corner going 40kmph, I shouted “on your left!”, the line was tight then I hit some white paint, did a wobble. Luckily I stayed on and got by. On another day I could have taken her and another rider all out.
The bike course was technical and hilly. No large climbs, must several rises and falls. A good road racer would do well compared to a typical tri TT specialist. I preferred this type of course even if I lost time to the leaders, about 12 minutes which is normal. T2 transition wasn’t pretty before dismounting I got by feet out of my shoes in time, but the line came quickly and I fell over at the line – no damage – just me on all fours with a shoes in my hand. And a bruised ego.
The second 5km run felt good, albeit my legs were heavier. I made up good ground and didn’t have any cramp. The support each lap from Sean, Frankie and Killian was great – a big cheer every time I ran buy. Thanks guys! On the last climb I saw my bike buddy Masters, so posed on by him, determined to show him runners have the last laugh.
Finish Area resembled a hospital
Running down the blue carpet to the finish felt good. So I raised my arms and cheered crossing the line. Yet it was weirdly anti-climactical. There were no other athletes to congratulate. I realised why – it was lashing rain, my feet were cold and my body wanted to warm up. I went inside the sports centre and it was packed. When I picked up my bag, there was free beer but I walked by it – it was the last thing a cold body needs.
Inside people were shivering, wrapped in aluminium foul. Some people were hypothermic. It got worse in the changing rooms (which were steaming hot). One old British guy arrived in, covered in foil. His manager asked for “dry clothes”. Nobody responded so I went over ad gave him my jacket and jumper. His skin was like ice. Bruce was his name. He didn’t speak. Finally a nurse came and we dumped him in a wheelchair and off he went, with my jacket, so I followed them into the medical area, which was chaotic. They were overwhelmed. No blood and guts just freezing people and scrapes and cuts from falls.
Finally the sun shone
By the time I got outside, the skies had cleared, the sun was basking us in glorious sunshine. Just in time for the last competitor to cross the line. How lucky was he! I met Lan and Sheila and before I knew it I was stand-in deputy team manager, since Blanca was off minding people in hospital. Lan and myself ended up checking all the Irish team results were correctly recorded. Then we’d to bring two bikes back to the hotel, for the guys gone to hospital. By the time we walked back, I was famished. And I needed a beer. Could we celebrate now?
Things were low key – we’d to dart back for up to the sports centre for the medal ceremony. It was great to see at least 6 Irish medallists. In the end we skipped the party that night. We’d to take bikes apart for the guys in hospital and by the time I went for dinner at 10pm, I was done. So I hopped on the cercanía train back to Madrid and called it a day. One very long but unforgettable day in Madrid. Let’s hope for sun in 2016, wherever that may be.
Full results at triathlon.org – my time was 2:10 in 16th place for 30-34 AG
Video from RTVE – minutes 24-27 have age group highlights