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August « 2009 « James Cunnama’s Blog

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Archive for August, 2009

Sunday, bloody Sunday

Tuesday, August 18th, 2009

So after Embrunman, I had 36hrs to get out of Europe. That 4-letter word (VISA) had come up again and my 90days in Europe were up on Monday.

I had changed my flight to depart from Nice rather than Vienna as Nice is only 200km from Embrun. 200km, 24hrs. No prob. I can do that on my bike… maybe I should have! So after trying and failing to find a lift with other competitors at the race, my ever-generous coach offered to drive me to Nice. Leaving on Sunday morning though would mean he would have to drive over 12 hours on Sunday to be home in time for Monday morning swimming. So we decided to drive to Nice after the awards and stay in a hotel Saturday night. On Sunday, I would head to airport and Doc would head home to Leysin. We left Embrun at about 10pm. The drive took longer than anticipated (it was now Sunday) and we got to Nice at 2h30 in the morning and set about finding a hotel.

The first hotel was full. No prob, there are plenty around here. Driving around the crazy confusing french roads trying to get to a different hotel, we were quickly losing patience. Next hotel. Full. One more. Full. And the receptionist said all hotels are full. Sigh! One more for luck (its now 4am!). I went up the elevator to reception while Doc waited in the car. I stepped out the elevator behind one other guy. He spoke first, in french, and asked for a ‘chambre’. The reply was ‘Oui’. Thank the pope! They’re not full! The receptionist turned to me. I said I need a room too. …He said ‘Sorry, this guy just got the last one.’ …OMG! FFS! You’ve got to be kidding me! I broke the news to Doc and he took it calmly. ‘Fine by me. I’ll just sleep in the car’, he said. Okay, off to the airport for me then…

Doc dropped me and all my stuff at theTrying (unsuccessfully) to pack my bike on the curb door and we said our goodbyes (and I made him promise to stop and sleep and not just drive all the way home. Not sure if it worked, but I had to try…). I was standing at the airport door at 4h30 with stuff scattered everywhere. All my race stuff still wet and my bike in one piece – it doesn’t fit in a box that way! And I still hadn’t slept since finishing the toughest IM in the world… I decided to get it done and pack my bike before sleeping as then all my stuff would be in a box and not scattered in a 5 metre radius.
I started on the task. Then disaster struck. My multi-tool Allen key set was gone. It must have fallen out my saddle-bag during the race. You can’t take a bike apart without a set of Allen keys. Period. I give up. I need sleep. I shoved it all back in the box, found a bench and lay down. I slept for 2hrs constantly interupted by annoucements about H1N1 Swine Flu. (In case you didn’t know, if you have a  fever over 38C, and flu-like symptoms you should contact your doctor. Don’t phone the emergency number unless it is an emergency. …Yeah, we heard you the first 300 times!!!!! )

I gave up and got up at 7am. Time to find a tool. I went to security. No joy. Asked a porter. He was really helpful and took me to about hree different places before he too gave up. Info lady was a bitch and no help at all. I gave up and decided to head to the other Terminal (I was at the wrong one, but wanted to pack before taking the shuttle). It took three trips to get all my stuff on the bus. The other passengers were not impressed. I don’t care. I am not in the mood. Leave me the f… alone.

I loaded my stuff on a trolley and walked into Terminal 2. If I can’t find a tool in the next 5mins I am

It all fit on one trolley... just.

It all fit on one trolley... just.

gonna scream at the top of my lungs until security comes running. They’ll find me a tool just to shut me up…  …And there he was. Some guy was taking his bike apart right there in the airport. Awesome! He was from Netherlands and had ridden to Nice from somewhere. I can’t remember where, I was too tired to concentrate, but he had a tool so for that 20mins he was my best friend in the entire world, though I didn’t even know his name!

I got my bike packed and fit almost all my stuff in the box. I had to leave my trophy and a small backpack in the airport though. Actually I decided to take it outside to discard it – I didn’t want to leave it lying somewhere and then cause a bomb-scare. As entertaining as that may have been, they would probably reveiwed their video and figured out it was me who left it there. Outside was safer the way my luck was going…

So I ate some breakfast and waited for checkin. Checkin was to open at 13h10, only 3hrs to go. I cat-napped on a chair again until I got too frustrated. I went and stood in line, planning to check-in and then get some lunch, only to be told that check-in was delayed by a little while due to the computers crashing, but should only be half an hour. Sigh. Fine. Whatever. Three hours (!) later I was checked in. The plane was delayed by 2hrs due to the slow check-in and we had to rush to board once we had checked-in. I missed lunch and spent three hours in line when I REALLY needed to be sleeping.

I got on board and found I had been given an emergency exit seat. Yes… at last some luck (Sunday was almost over!). I finally ate and tried to sleep. I suck at sleeping sitting up and hardly slept. We arrived at Dubai at 2am and I only had an hour before boarding the next flight. Sleep horizontally (badly needed after being awake for almost 36hrs straight) or stretch the legs (badly needed after doing an Ironman then sitting in a plane for 7hrs)? I opted to stretch and briskly walked the length of the airport. I began to feel better and the next flight I also had an emergency exit seat. I arrived in Jo’burg at 10h30 on Monday, with one more flight to PE to go.

When I arrived in PE at 15h00 on Monday I had done the toughest IM in the world, not slept in a bed (or much at all) for over 6ohrs, eaten only junk-food and air-line food, sat in uncomfortable aeroplane seats for over 18hrs and lugged a bike box and hand luggage (that was way too heavy) half-way around the world… I collapsed in the arms of my girlfriend and slept like a baby. Home, sweet sweet home!

Embrunman 2009

Tuesday, August 18th, 2009
My trophy for 3rd - was left at Nice airport to be dealt with by the bomb squad.. ;)

My trophy for 3rd - was left at Nice airport to be dealt with by the bomb squad.. ;)

I drove down to the race with the Bayliss’s on the Thursday (thanks guys!), registered and checked into the hotel. The next day we all sorted out our race stuff, checked in our bikes and relaxed a bit. It would be an early start the next morning so early to bed…

Up at 3am (!) , breakfast and the drive to the start. Sort out transition, wetsuit on ready myself for a long day ahead. The swim started 10mins after the ladies and we plunged into the warm lake and followed lead kayak with a small flashlight on it. I found myself in front of the 2nd pack, but soon they all fell off my feet and I was swimming solo. Oh well. It was around about the start of the second lap that race day actually dawned at last! It looked like it would be great weather, with no clouds or wind.

As I started the bike I saw Doc for the first time and he told me I was 3mins down on Stephen Bayliss and the leaders (exactly as predicted by Doc – how does he do that?!). My right achilles, which had been niggling for a couple weeks leading up to the race, was up to its tricks again and I really believed that it would not hold out for another 9hrs. Despite this I told myself to keep going until I absolutely cannot continue, whenever that may be. As the sun rose and the day slowly warmed up so did my achilles and although it didn’t stop aching, it certainly wasn’t slowing me down on the bike.

I caught a group of 4 guys at the top of the first hill, including Gilles Reboul and Patrick Bringer and decided this was where to stay, for now anyway… On the hills I let them pace, and on the flats and downhills I took the lead, my  Cervelo P3 TT bike having some advantage over all of them on their road bikes. At about 75km we caught a big group of guys cruising along the valley floor. The pace slowed as no-one wanted to work and I took advantage by sitting up and eating and drinking. After a chat to Stephen (he was in this group and told me there were 4-5 guys ahead a few minutes)  I decided to take a turn in front while still on the flats to keep the Frenchies happy (they hate guys who just sit in and I plan to race many more races in France in the future). I got down in my Oval TT bars and got into an easy rythym…

All the cameras were around me and when I looked behind I knew why… I had dropped the entire group of 10+ guys… And we were still at the base of the Col de L’Izoard with 115km to go! Oops. Doc had told me of this crazy Briton in a previous Embrunman who had attacked up this mountain and then blown later on… I’m pretty sure that story was meant as a warning. Uh oh. Oh well, I’m not stopping to wait for them, so I will ride at my own pace and deal with them if they catch me up the mountain. I got the top, over an hour of climbing later, and was still way ahead of them. I paused at the top, got a drink bottle and the helpers shoved some newspaper down my chest. Very TdF like! Cool! I wondered if the newspaper was necessary, but we were at 2400m by then and it was a lot cooler up there.

It was a lot hotter at the bottom and I knew hydration was going to be critical later in the day. A few more nasty, but shorter climbs and we were back at Embrum. I saw Doc and he gave me the splits (5mins to the leaders) and told me not to think about my achilles. I pushed up the last 6km hill and passed Herve Faure who looked sore. Down the other side to T2 a mountain bike with suspension would have been ideal! It took all my concentration to stay upright on the rough road!

Into T2 and out onto the run. As I left T2 a mountain biker pulled out in front of me. What did his sign say? 3e Homme? And I thought I was in 5th… Halfway through the first lap I passed 2nd place and the achilles pain was not too bad. Doc gave me splits, and kindly reminded me that R200 000 was on the line – he actually did the conversion to Rand so there was no confusion! :) First place was over 5mins ahead and unless he blew badly I was not gonna catch him, but I might hold onto 2nd. Halfway through the final lap I was really hurting! Herve Faure was not hurting so bad and took back the place I had taken from him on the bike. I had no idea how far the next guy was behind me (and Doc wouldn’t tell me) so I kept pushing myself to the limit, determined not to lose any more Euros in the final km’s!  Turns out he was over 6mins back but Doc didn’t want me to relax and fall apart. Thanks Doc… I think.

I crossed the line in 3rd in 9h50:31 behind Marcel Zamora (9h39) and Herve Faure (9h49), my slowest IM time ever by 2mins… but given the course, I’ll take it! ;) And well done to all my teammates for their great results too!

And a BIG thank you to Doc for coming all the way down to Embrun and wearing himself out running back and forth to give us splits. The other spectators were cheering for him as he criss-crossed the course looking after all of us!

Unfortunately the race was only the beginning of what would become quite a feat of endurance… but more about that in the next blog…