A Big Day Out – 2018 ITU World Duathlon Championship Report

Buckle up for a long post! Another year, another World Championship start, and another boatload of lessons learned for future races. I think it’s important to go through the details of such a fascinating race. As a duathlete, it’s an adventure to navigate the season and get enough experience with the skills your need to be successful at the World Championship level…especially in North America. I’ve attempted to race every draft legal race that I could get my hands on, but it’s been a pain-staking process. Here’s a quick recap:

WTS Edmonton 2016

Canadian Sprint Duathlon Championships 2016

  1. WTS Edmonton Sprint (2016) – first run strung out, caught leader on bike, work together in two-man breakaway, outrun by Alexandre Lavigne for the win.
  2. Esprit Montreal Sprint (2016) – solo run/bike breakaway, caught on last lap, spent ~1/2 lap in lead breakaway, winning move made out of T2.
  3. ITU World Championships (Penticton 2017) – planned to race AG but selected for Elite race, dropped early on first run, missed group on bike, limped home solo.
  4. Duathlon de Boucherville Sprint (2017) – led solo wire-to-wire, won by 2:30 as chase was focused on provincial title coming from within group of 4.
  5. Overdrive Sprint (2017) – tried to lead solo wire-to-wire, caught by Garrick Loewen on last lap, made crucial transition mistake and was outrun.
  6. USAT Duathlon Championships Sprint (2018) – front pack run, led out of T1, breakaway caught, crucial positioning mistake on last lap and was not able to close gap to podium.

As you may or may not be able to tell from above, of the 6 draft legal races I’ve done, I’ve spent significant time in a group larger than 2 (including myself) in exactly *1* of them. Luckily, I get to do a significant amount of my training with the Edmonton Triathlon Academy under the watchful eye of Kevin Clark, and only this year have I become more confident in my ability to stay at the front of a group controlling the pace. We do a lot of race simulation work on tight technical courses, so going into my first European race I was hoping I could avoid some of the “crucial positioning mistakes” that plagued me in the past.

Odense

Denmark is wicked beautiful

Coming out of my first World Championships in Penticton, where mostly I was just happy to be there, I learned 3 key lessons that shaped my World Championship race in Denmark:

  1. Don’t underestimate the stress of the pre-race dance (briefings, nit-picky rules, etc.)
    I managed the pre-race relatively well this year. I flew in to Odense early (June 30) and took advantage of a homestay generously offered by Odense Triathlon Klub member Bjarne Johansen. Bjarne and his family made it really easy to adjust to the time zone, culture and available food options. Bike familiarization went smooth, so did the briefing and sign on, and I entered the race chute calm and collected…a stark contrast to my state in Penticton!
  2. If you can’t comfortably run 30:XX, going out with the leaders is a recipe for a bad time
    This year, I made two conscious decisions at the line that demonstrate my commitment to a sane start: I chose a spot in the second row behind a Belgian I know likes to start steady, and I swapped spots with the top ranked U23 (Matt Smith) to move back to the 3rd row. After the horn, I went right to the back and followed the searing pace of the leaders out from a safe distance, running my own race. Final score – 30:25 for ~9km
  3. Once you mount your bike, don’t settle…especially if the plan is to ride your heart out to a certain point and see how the groups shook out
    The last two years I’ve had a plan to put my head down and ride the first half lap as hard as I could and see how the race shook out. Both years, I rode up to the first rider on the road and settled in while a rider with a top bike split blew past from behind. This is a good segue into my lessons learned from 2018…
Pre-race

Pre-race (Photo: Lise Christiane Myltoft)

LESSON 1 – Do your research, but trust your instincts
On the last lap of the first run, I made my first decision. In Penticton I rode up to my target on the bike only to find him not 100% and unable to help. In the process, I lost the wheel of Yannick Wolthuizen, who I didn’t know anything about pre-race but would go on to bridge to the chase pack. With this in mind, I pulled up on world #1 Søren Bystrup (DEN) during the last lap.

Søren is a Powerman specialist who had a good chance of riding himself back into the race. I thought I could link up with him into T1 and up to a chase group. However, my experience in Penticton led me to pass him and attempt unsuccessfully to bridge to the next group. I exited T1 in between groups, with Søren and two super strong Dutch riders somewhere behind me.

Odense T1 Exit

Photo and Edit: Spencer Summerfield

LESSON 2 – Trust the process, trust the plan
Coming into the race, I had planned to put my head down and ride my own race until the first right-hander onto the bridge, and if one of the solo riders sprinkled up the road was strong enough to help me then chalk it up as a bonus. Instead, I rode up to the first rider on the road and chose to sit in and work with him. He was able to take 1 turn before eventually dropping out. I was left to forge on solo, bleeding precious time to the group forming up the road.

Odense Bike Course 1

Head down (Photo: Spencer Summerfield)

LESSON 3 – Sometimes, the race makes your decisions for you
Shortly after that, Bystrup and the two strong Dutch riders that I had left behind in T1 came flying past and urged us to hop on. I turned off my brain, put in a huge effort to get on, settled for a second and switched back on, watched another gap open and was blown out the back. It happened in seconds. That group rode up to the main chase with some of the fastest bike splits in the race, while I was left to stave off elimination 5 minutes down the road.

These three decision points crossed a span of ~10 minutes of my 1:47 race time, and completely defined it. The group went up the road while my calves cramped up behind my knees from the effort of trying to get on their wheels. The cramps worked themselves out by the end of the first lap, but all my allies had gone by then. Would I have been able to ride up to the chase pack with them without being blown out the back? Maybe not, but I would have given myself a chance.

Odense Bike Course 2

Working hard (Photo: Spencer Summerfield)

THE REST OF THE WAY
The rest of the race was actually quite thrilling. Relieved of my cramps, I found I had some great legs on the bike. Knowing that my day could end if I didn’t use what I had left, I buried my head and rode myself up to Niall Cornyn (IRL) and Vincent Onyango (KEN). I was the strongest in our trio, so I started taking 40-60 second pulls to theirs of ~10-15 seconds, while dropping them out of the corners. my work dragged us up to the Ciprian Balenescu (ROU) and Christian Stounberg (DEN) right around the time we saw the lead moto coming the other direction leading out the eventual podium of Andreas Schilling (DEN), Yohan Le Berre (FRA) and Mark Buckingham (GBR).

I sat in for a bit of recovery, then we went back to work with our races hanging in the balance. We lost Vincent out of the two right-handers going onto the bridge, and then watched him get pulled off the course before the turnaround. That spurred on a desperate race to the lap turnaround before we suffered a similar fate. We made it with about 150m to spare. The group didn’t seem interested in riding anymore, so I tried a fruitless attack before settling in for the last run.

Odense Run Course

Last bit (Photo: Carolynne Simons)

I charged out of the underground transition and started to gap the group I was with. I steadily increased the pace over the first two miles before tying up and slowing in the final mile. I was caught by my Irish compatriot and ran with him until he turned the screws as we re-entered Kongen’s Have for the final time. Final score – 39th place (1:47:31)…click for more!

Am I happy about the result? Not really. If I was, then I should probably start thinking about moving on. Am I pleased with my progression to this point, and the fact that not only did I attack the bike course but was also the engine room of my bike pack? Absolutely. Did I learn a ton and have a week that I’ll never forget? Definitely. Special thanks to my parents and AG Team Canada for the oodles of support throughout the week and on the course, and to my host Bjarne and his family, for ensuring that I was able to navigate a new country smoothly and successfully.

With Bjarne

Bjarne…what a legend!

Until next time…keep Du’ing it!

Beauty

What a beauty. (Photo: Matt Smith)

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