Last weekend I joined Jo Spindler and the IronCouple at Challenge Henley on Thames. After my crash in Copenhagen I wished I could have been able to race but no chance at all – still hanging around not being able to move properly. So I decided to watch the race from the side. And I promise you – it was harder than any other race in my life.
I got up at 4 in the morning and went to the start with Jo and Egoitz Zalakain (another Pro staying with us). I felt the same like in any other race: I was nervous and needed a loo a few times. Then the starting gun was fired and everything was gone. From that moment on it was exciting and sometimes really boring to wait and wait and wait (therefore I took some animal pics;-)…then suddenly Stephen came 1st out of water with a 5mins lead! Wow…. Bella had a good swim but another girl took her changing bag. Then I waited again: but no Jo wanted to come – it lasted 16mins!
After the swim I had to walk 3ks to the bike course. I sat down at the turn around and was waiting again. Meanwhile all the Age Groupers were passing me and it was a nightmare! The few marshals weren’t able to lead the traffic and a few times it happened that cars blocked the traffic circle and the cyclists had to do a really hard break down!!! Although it was intended that the course is closed for cars – I was going mad and the nightmare from Copenhagen came up again. But nothing helped – I had to give up and understand that the marshals weren’t capable enough!
After a while I realized that the turn around marked in the map is no turn around… I went up the street and after a few corners I saw a lonely marshal standing on it = that was the turn around! Wow – no people there, even the signs were a joke. A few cyclists were already coming and missed the silent standing marshal with the flag and crossed arms! I was shouting but almost every athlete realized it too late! Then after a long time Bella and Jo were passing me – they both looked good but the gaps towards the leaders were too big.
This turn around was a disaster – the athletes were missing it and then it was so narrow to turn that a few people got of their bikes and carried it around the pins while all others had to stop and wait for them! A few others athletes were crashed while they weren’t able to handle their bike, others crashed into the crowd and so on… Then the first athletes were on their last lap and had to leave it but there was no space for them because of the growing crowd. It lasted a long time till the street was free and the athletes got through. Once it was open all athletes were going this way but they were only on their 1st lap – so the crowd – except the silent marshal!!! - was screaming and the cyclists had to get back on the course and were really surprised what is going on.
And the best thing of all: no marshals on the course: everybody was drafting! Only a few of the athletes were on their own – have never seen such an unfair race! If the 1st person stopped paddling the drafting one crashed!
Finally on the run course: Stepehen was still leading (he was one of the 4 Pros who didn’t draft!) Jo was in 9th position after the bike and very far behind the others because of his bad swim and the very good drafting skills of the other cyclists. It was an exciting marathon: Stephen had a perfect day and was leading till the end! Jo was catching up a few places and on the last lap he had the fastest split time but it was only the 6th place with a marathon in 2:45! Stephen luckily won, Bella became 2nd in the women field – Gina made a great race – Jo 6th and our companion Egoitz became 8th! All the waiting time on the course was a horror to me. I was sprinting next to them when they passing me at the aid station – running over bridges and join them for a while to tell how everything is going. This part I liked most. During all that time I ate nothing (was nervous and had no real time) and didn’t go to the loo;-) I had a few ups and downs because of this unfair but thrilling race. And when you stand by the side you always think that you would do it better! But you know that it is not that easy. All in all it was a good experience to me but I’m not sure if I do it again… a love racing more than standing at the side! Next time you see me on the course!