After 4 races in 2013, 2 DNFs and 2 poor results, a debilitating Achilles’ injury and some mysteriously missing bike legs meant I was seriously questioning myself. I am already not totally able to fully answer the question “what’s the point of all this ?” when I’m going well, so after being out of shape for such a long period the idea of quitting the sport altogether seemed to pop up on a regular basis. I know there are lots of non triathlon projects currently on stand-by which I would be happy to tackle if time suddenly became available…
The 1st Xterra of the season would be a good indicator of what to do next. Another bad race and i would probably cut the season short. Out in Cieza, way down south in the Spanish pampa and with 2 transitions miles apart, it took some serious logistics to recce the courses. There is no other word than brutal to describe the run course, with some relentless climbing straight out of T1; however the bike course is a lot smoother and promised to be fast. Still I managed my customary pre race crash which meant a trip to the local hospital for a few stitches on the elbow. Big thanks to Raquel and the local organisers who took great care of me!
I wasn’t exactly confident on race morning as a result. I did my usual swim and (very) poor T1 to find myself riding out with Carloni into the Spanish desert. We went quite hard from the start and i was happy to keep pace with François who is a much better rider than me, especially the steeper it gets. He would eventually drop me on the one big climb of the course, but by that time i was reassured that my bike legs were back, and most importantly i was enjoying myself ! Why doing road triathlons when xterras are so much fun ? Lebrun caught me not long before T2 (another sign that i rode well) and soon disappeared on the horizon. Nico is the definition of a mountain goat and would put 3′ + on everyone on the run, 5′ on me.
As expected that run was a march (literally, as I’d never walked so much in my life on a 10k run!) of hell, quads were on fire and i was in the red pretty much all the way through. This is possibly the toughest run course i have ever done. I was relieved to finish in 10th and finally have an ok race with a renewed love for the sport. Up front Ruben Ruzafa (mtb Olympian and 2008 xterra World Champ) took the better of Ben Allen for the win.
However both he and eventual 4th placed Hector Guerra (who flew by us in the early stages of the bike) feature heavily on the “suspect” list, having apparently both been banned for high levels of hematocrite before. Xterra and triathlon in general have it way too nice and easy on the old dopers, with barely any controls to speak of. At the Mallorca 70.3 race earlier this year, ex pro Astana rider Antonio Colom annihilated the bike course, some 3min faster than Starykovicz, himself the definition of an über biker. And he ran a 1h13′. The guy finished his cycling career with a 2 year ban for EPO. Finally only a few days ago, Virginia Berasategui tested positive at the Bilbao triathlon and admitted to doping. What’s in the tap in Spain? Rant over.
In any case this race meant i was excited again and happy to be at least IN the mix. 2 weeks later i was to Greece for another 1st time race on the circuit. No we wouldn’t be swimming in turquoise lagoons and running on white beaches, but in and around Lake Plastira, which stands at 850m altitude in central Greece. This is mountain territory, covered in snow and bustling with tourists in winter. It is a lot quieter at this time of the year, before the xterra tribe invasion that is. As i drove in from Thessaloniki thunderstorms greeted me and I have to admit i wasn’t too sure where I landed…Czech Republic maybe? However on Friday the sun was back and sure enough we wouldn’t see any more clouds for the rest of the week-end, with temperatures in the low 30s. Hot but bearable.
Of course i had a lil’ crash on the course recce, which meant that not only i reopened the same hole on the elbow where I got stitches after crashing during the course recce of xterra Spain (sic), but this time i also broke my handlebars in the process. In 2. Someone has to do the show you know. By the time new ones arrived it was too late to ride the course. One big climb (660m elevation per lap), one big downhill and some flat and fast sections along the lake, nothing too technical so I was told. The run i saw and it is mostly flat but very twisty, in and around private lands.
No Spanish riders this time to take the honors, but most of the usual suspects are here, Ben Allen, Nico Lebrun, Asa Shaw etc for the men, Renata Bucher, Jacqui Slack, Helena Erbenova and co for the women.
Come race day and that is 6th place for me after yet again a few adventures along the way, xterra style. Swam well (possibly best swim ever with a 19:31 and a minute ahead of the guys i usually come out with. No idea why though !) but broke my front derailleur coming out of T2 (!). Rode the whole course on the small ring, took a couple of wrong turns (due to a missed recce…), and finally tasted the Greek earth one more time towards the end of the bike when a rider i was laping cut my line…The run was hot but uneventful considering, I had enough stories already!
Allen claimed yet another title, but Shaw was in the lead when he broke his chain and would probably have won otherwise. Xterra newcomer but talented duatlete Kris Coddens took second just ahead of Luxem, while Erbenova won ahead of Slack from the UK and Muller.
All in all this was well organised and a great discovery of a (remote) region for pretty much everyone. Post race was spent devouring cherries atop a tree before drinking ouzo on a terrace. Bliss of a summer’s day. When in Greece…
Knee, chin and especially elbow are now crying but i am smiling nonetheless. However whoever wants to take over from me the little adventures for the next race will be very welcome !