After several weeks of resting, recovering and eating too much after Challenge-Roth I started September with a new spring in my step and an eagerness to get training and racing again. Apart from the Red Bull 400 in Austria I had not raced at all and I had to pull out of a few races, such as the Sandman Triathlon, due to injury and the stress associated with moving to a new house.
I was therefore really looking forward to getting out to the Kuota TriO Peschiera triathlon in Italy and racing again- whether I was fit or not. The plan was to race the Olympic-distance race on the Saturday and then the Sprint-distance event on the Sunday but this would depend on how my knee held up on the 10km run.
I was fortunate enough to have been invited as a guest by the TriO team, which included the fantastic Alice and Andrea, to experience the event on behalf of Race Force. This meant that I was looked after especially well but I would have had a great experience whether this was the case or not.
Getting to Peschiera, which sits on the southern side of Lake Garda, in late September is easy and cheap. Flying from Gatwick to Verona in just 90 minutes left only a 30-minute transfer to our great hotel, Hotel Dori. It was also a great time to get out of the UK as the temperature had just started to drop back home, whilst Italy was sunny and in the mid-20s, as it often is in September- I was reliably informed.
Peschiera itself is a relatively small town with its centre just metres from the lake. It was a great setting for a triathlon as several bars and restaurants were situated next to the finishing area and there was plenty of space to fit the transition zone, athlete village, course and finish line into the town centre itself.
Alice had been a star and had arranged for me to ride a Kuota road bike for the event, meaning that I did not have to go through the hassle of transporting a bike on the plane. Race Force were not available to transport my bike for me on this occasion! A 10-minute spin on the bike on the morning of the race was obviously not ideal but I got my set-up as good as I could in the time I had and apart from a faster wheelset, I was really happy with the bike.
I went out to Peschiera knowing that my A-Race for 2016 had been completed at Challenge Roth and so I just wanted to enjoy the two events I was competing in. I was not at all sure on the standard of competition but had an expectation that I would finish top-ten on both days. It soon became apparent that the Garmin TriO Series is actually one of the biggest events in Italy and that the Kuota Peschiera race was the season-ending event which would decide the series. It was effectively the Italian Championships. I was then also informed that Barnaby Gregory was competing in the Olympic event meaning that a world top-20 athlete was taking part. At a similar time, I was shown an article in ‘La Gazzetta dello Sport’ which mentioned my travelling out from the UK to take part in the event. Things had all of a sudden become more serious!
On race-day I was then met by what looked like 1600 finely-tuned Italian athletes. Everyone seemed to be in slick, snazzy, team-branded triathlon-suits with ‘ITA’ and their names on their suits. More Italians had ‘ITA’ on their tri-suits than those in the UK have ‘GBR’ on their suits. That is some going! Everyone also looked very fit and athletic. No offence meant to anyone in the UK but there was a stark contrast!
Andrea had helpfully upgraded me from a later wave to the first wave on both days, so that I could compete with the big-guns. The swim starts were away from the main event transition area and finish, several hundred metres away around the lake, but still we had hundreds of spectators watching. With 160 people per wave and 1600 competitors in total, the start area was busy to say the least. As we were called forward there was a stark difference to UK races as everyone seemed determined to get to the front for the swim start. This may just be because no one is in quite such a rush when competing over four hours plus, like I am now used to, but this was very crowded!
Immediately I realised that the standard of swimmers in the field was very good. The actual route of the swim was fantastic as we swam perpendicular to the shore and then into the harbour and canal, with its tall, steep walls on either side of us. I was told that we looked fantastic from above. I on the other hand had never experienced such a messy swim as I was constantly being grappled with and I had my ankle grabbed for more than a few seconds on two occasions. All part of racing, right? I was glad to exit the water and run into the awesome transition area, which already had some big tunes playing.
There are very few events in the UK where we are allowed, or trusted, to have draft-legal events. I had an idea that the Kuota TriO might be draft-legal- given that Alice had advised me that I would be on a road bike- but it was not until a few kilometres into the cycle that this was confirmed. Upon starting the 42km cycle my legs were not playing ball and I just missed the chase group of eight exiting the water. I was pleased a second chase group of seven caught me just a few kilometres later as this gave me a chance to recover and to try and get my legs firing.
As much as I prefer non-drafting events for the sake of real, fair competition, I did love this! The Italians all seemed accomplished riders with excellent handling skills so even on the downhills I felt safe riding in a big group. Several sections of road had been closed to traffic in the interests of safety, with just a few of the wider main roads open to traffic flowing in the opposite direction.
Draft-legal racing brings new tactics into play, especially if you are racing for position rather than just for fun. I was there for both, and really enjoyed being the only non-Italian in my group. I have done very little road racing in the past few years but I used to love attacking up climbs and fighting for position within the peloton. I was pretty sure they were working together to break me and this was confirmed at the finish line when a few of the group I had been riding with discussed the cycle- prior to my running away from them on the run :)
Hitting the start of the 10km run, I was really pleased to have my run-legs straight away. I was feeling strong, despite having done no brick sessions in 10 weeks and having only run twice in nine weeks since Challenge Roth. More encouragingly was that my knee was not troubling me at all, meaning I could run flat-out for the first time in months. I had an Italian for company from 3km but I was relieved that, in general, the Italians were not quite as fast at running as they were swimming and cycling. Either that, or I was just running well. It was a hot day and I thought of Jonny Brownlee on a few occasions, but I pushed on knowing that it was nothing like as hot as it had been for them in Cozumel and so it was unlikely I would end up like he had! The run course takes you past the majority of the crowd on several occasions as well as across the ‘drawbridge’ into the main village. This all adds to the scenery and the atmosphere. As I headed out onto the second and final lap I was really pleased to be feeling strong and my fast finish was worth it as I caught someone with just a few hundred metres to go. It turned out that in doing so I had just pipped the guy to first place in the 25-29 AG.
15th overall on day one at the Olympic-distance was a great result and 1st place in my AG was a complete surprise. So much of a surprise in fact that instead of being around for the presentation I had gone to nearby Sirmione to try some Stand-Up Paddle boarding and to check out the location of one of the other Garmin TriO triathlons, which is held in June. I was 8 minutes 16 seconds down on the leader as I finished in 2:01:29 hrs.
It was great having raced on the Saturday to know how everything would run on the Sunday. The start-time on both days was at 1pm, meaning you could have a good breakfast and a nice relaxed morning ahead of getting ready to race. I now knew that the racing would almost definitely be draft-legal and I also knew the course, which would help a great deal. The swim was messy again today but with it being just 750 metres I managed to exit the water only a couple of minutes down on the leaders and I also managed to join one of the main chase groups for the cycle.
With it being just 21km on the cycle it was even faster, and even more fun, than the previous day. I was relieved that my legs did not seem to be too tired from the previous day and this meant I could put a few attacks in on some of the small climbs. Arriving back in Peschiera with just a few kilometres to go, we were joined by around 30 others. On the final descent I eased off slightly to save my legs for the run, and I had also just remembered that I had forgotten to renew my travel insurance before leaving the UK!
I ran hard out of transition and was relieved to once again have escaped any jelly-legs. It was on! I was leading the large group I had arrived into transition with and I only had 5km to run! Despite one fast Italian passing me and just pipping me, it was the same story as the day before as I eased past several guys on my way to the finish. I am really lucky that I can run a sub-17 minute 5km on such little run training. Perhaps the cycle commutes to work have kept my fitness level at a good level post-Roth!?
I was 14th across the line, 3 minutes 40 seconds down on the winner, crossing the line in 1 hour and 31 seconds. I decided to actually attend the after-party on day two and was really pleased to win the 25-29 AG for a second day in a row. Although I had almost expected a top-10 finish on both days I have to be really pleased with both days’ performances given the standard of competition as well as my lack of training in the build-up to racing.
The presentation ceremony and after-party really is a lot of fun. It may be down to the later start and the awesome weather but no one seemed in any rush to head home. The music was great and even though I had virtually zero idea of what was being said, you could tell that the MC’s were doing a superb job. The stage was great- much more than a simple podium. Because the series winners were also announced this meant some very excited people. It was also a great touch that both male and female winners, apart from overall, were brought to the stage at the same time. This not only saved time but made the podium more fun.
I really recommend the Kuota TriO Peschiera event as a great end of summer race to attend:
* It is great value for money thanks to the cheaper September flights and Italy is still warm and dry at this time of year
* The swim in Lake Garda is fantastic and the unique exit as you swim into the canal is appreciated even if you are being grappled with at the time!
* The cycle is on smooth roads and is on a fast, rolling course. The draft-legal element adds an element of fun and is something an Age-Grouper seldom gets the chance to do in the UK, at least if they are competing fairly!
* The event village is busy, fun and loud- in fact there is a great atmosphere at several points on the course
* There is so much to do at Lake Garda that it will automatically become a holiday as well as a race. We tried Stand-Up Paddle boarding one evening, ate some incredible meals and even crammed in several hours in Venice on our final day thanks to the direct 90-minute train journey from Peschiera.
Sometimes my lack of Italian was annoying as I had no idea what was being said at the race briefing and was not sure what was being said about me when cycling amongst the Italians on the cycle. However, rather than request they add a briefing in English going forwards, I think they should leave it as it is. It added to the adventure of competing abroad and I really enjoyed being one of the few international athletes taking part. Why there were so few non-Italians taking part is beyond me. Whether competing in just the Sprint, the Olympic or tackling both distances, it is well worth the trip. I really hope that there are a few more GBR athletes in attendance in 2017 and I will certainly be looking to be there myself.
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