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Eliot Smales at the Karlovy Vary European Cup Triathlon

This weekend my travels took me on my first visit to the Czech Republic and the Karlovy Vary European Cup triathlon. The start list again proved to be of a high standard for a European Cup race so I was slightly nervous of about my performance when I arrived in the stunning spa town on Thursday afternoon. The town is famed for two things: its annual film festival and the many natural springs dotted around the town, producing water up to 72 degrees C. Locals and tourists alike walked around the town with special mugs from which they drank water from different springs.

Onto the race and I had a long wait: Sunday afternoon 4pm was my start time and not one I was used to. I checked out the course on Friday, discovering what is known as 'Heartbreak hill' and watched a bit of the age group racing on the Saturday evening. Killing a whole day up until a race is something I have never had to do and I found it hard judging when to eat and what to do prior. In hindsight a little jog in the morning may not of gone a miss. As start time approached I did my usual warm up of a jog and some strides and a small swim warm up. Athletes are announced one at a time and jog to their starting positions which is where the nerves started to kick in, as one of only two Brits in the race I was up against a lot of foreign competition, with some strong Russians and Ukrainians in the race.

As the hooter sounded I, and everyone else around me, dove right as we were slightly off straight to the first buoy at 200m. After around ten strokes I had a feeling it may not be my day. My arms felt weak and my legs felt heavy. I took a beating at the first buoy and only half got into my stroke on the 3rd lap of 3. After swimming under the pontoon each lap there was a scramble up a steep bank and a sprinting dive back into the water for the next.

I had a slow first transition and jumped on my N2A with a pack of around 9 other athletes in my sights. My feet were into my shoes quickly as I knew the 5k ride to town had a couple of short climbs in it. I worked hard to start with and passed a couple of guys who were struggling, eventually catching the group at the top of a sharp climb where again the bike felt great as I stomped on the pedals. Unfortunately my legs disagreed. As soon as I got onto the wheels I was chasing, I sat down and I was gone, nothing left.

I slowly drifted off the back and arrived in town for 7 laps of pain with one of the athletes I had previously passed. We worked well together and reeled in a group of 3 athletes on the 4th lap which shortly after dropped one of them too. I was empty and the hill was taking its toll, on the 6th lap we were given a time gap to the lead athlete behind us, 1 minute. A solo break from an Italian athlete had come unexpectedly with a large gap on the front bunch.Having already lapped out a fair few athletes behind, our group did not want to follow the same fate. For the next lap we worked as hard as possible managing to arrive at our last lap safely.

After dismount came a cyclocross-style barefoot run with the bike down two flights of concrete stairs to the bike rack and into my trainers. After the hectic bike I had forgot to take my gel so stuffed it into my tri suit. The run began with another two flights of concrete steps and I soon found that the legs I didn't have on the bike had not miraculously appeared for my run. My 10k shortly became survival as I sipped half of my gel. I tried to run tall and strong for the remainder of the race and finished in 35th place. 54 athletes started the race and I was the final one to finish, showing just how many people had been lapped out or couldn't hack the hill.

This was a disappointing race for me after spending 3 weeks in the form of my life over all 3 disciplines, but that's racing. I'll put it down as experience and a race that I definitely have unfinished business with.

For the future, it's onto some non-drafting racing on the Exocet speed machine next weekend over in France at the Chateau du Chantilly Castle series race where hopefully my legs will not desert me. After that it's a week off before going over to Romania for my last European cup race of the season.

20 August 2014

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