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Hywel Davies Wins Zell AM 70.3 Ironman

I came back into triathlon in May with a “fun” jaunt around the Outlaw half course. I then got a free entry to the Liverpool National Olympic distance champs, and took away a silver medal. Then with the ending of my teaching career, had a few weeks downtime and contemplated what to do next.

It then dawned on me that last year, I had entered the Zell Am See 70.3 Triathlon the day before the World Champs race and we had strategically planned a holiday in Austria. A week in Kitzbuhel, a few days in the Lech valley then a few days in Zell. This was a much needed holiday, with Julie and meeting up with friends so yes, I had 2 bikes in the car and a wetsuit, but there were always going to be hills to ride.

Having holidayed in the French Alps twice and using the time to do some serious bike mileage, Austria, with its unpredictable weather was a bit different. A bit of cycling, lots of swimming, eating out and most importantly, enjoying lots of local culture, food and beer.

A week in Kitzbuhel was a bit of a mixed bag. Some great long rides, stupidly steep climbs and pant soiling descents, but lots of variety. Not really training, but more experience as many of the scenic rides were shared with Julie. The swimming was something else. Having a clear, 21 degree lake to yourself every morning was almost addictive and I really looked forward to my daily 4k swim. Running was an add on, but the trails were awesome. Pace went out of the window due to terrain, gradient, fatigue and effects of local beer. I managed a few century rides and drove to Zell Am See to ride the bike course with Jules. A steady route but had a blast up the climb in 37 mins just to see how the final 2k would pan out. It was not a climb to worry about.

Kitzbuhel is stunning and a very good place to train. I may well be back one day once I lose 20kg and increase my quad girth by 5 inches. Those roads are STEEP.

Then onwards to the Lech valley and a small village called Holzgau. No swimming but some fantastic trail running and one of the best mountain passes I’ve ever cycled. So good, I did it twice. The Hahntennjoch pass is simply stunning. Everything you could want from a climb and a descent in both directions. You need to do it more times to end the scenery distraction and concentrate on effort but even climbing at 300w for over an hour was enough to take a lot in. The descending was just another world to France.

Pack up and off the Kaprun for an admin fest. To be fair, the organisation from Ironman and Zell was impressive, however it was still level 10 faffage. The problem for me was that 4 miles away was the start of the Glosslockner pass, the highest road in Austria. 17 miles long and up to 2571m. I was never going to take a World Champs spot in the race if I got one, my running has taken a back seat. I have done a load of cycling up some awesome climbs and my swimming had improved in a week, but had now had a week off. Was I in a position to really smash my best ever race performance? Probably not so the decision was easy….and WOW I made the right choice.

What followed was one of the greatest cycling experiences I’ve ever had. Stunning weather, a steady 300w or 4.5w/kg ascent, a coffee then a descent from the gods. A perfect ride if it was not for a few cars in the way. Not the best taper, especially when celebrated with a few local beers but it may have been a once in a lifetime experience.

Onto the race:

Bike: Planet X Exocet with Xentis Wheels, and a late bodged job fitted power meter, thanks to Rachel at Cyclepowermeters.com for sending out an adaptor to fit the power meter to my TT bike. Having done Alp D’Huez on this bike, I know I could climb and descent on it. Sorry there are no pics of the bike in transition.

Fuel: ½ Jar of Whole Earth Peanut butter and one banana

Sleep: Not a lot, having to get up at 4am

Swim:

Left side start, bouys on the left, left turns. I was actually looking forward to this but as soon as the gun went off, I forgot everything I worked on and my stroke was rubbish. It took a few hundred metres to settle, get over a mini hyperventilation panic but then found a rhythm. Found some feet negotiated the turns and then tried to make a move. Swimming beside another green hat guy, I lengthened the stroke, upped the rate, started kicking harder and…….nothing….stayed exactly the same distance from him. I slowed the rate, relaxed, stopped kicking and…..stayed the same pace. I always wonder whether I should have swum faster or harder so this was good validation. I’m not there yet with swimming but made some good improvements and wanted to be around 28 mins.

I exited the water on 28.30, then faffed with wetsuit, socks, shoes, steamed up glasses and got going on the bike.

Bike:

Plan…keep power around 280 to the climb, 300-320 up the climb, then hammer with whats left.

Reality….Power monitor which was reading on the way to transition, was reading at bike check, was now no longer reading anything. Maybe got condensation overnight but I’ve ridden enough without one to know when I’m going too hard. I forgot to actually start the thing too but within the first mile, rode over a little wooden bridge and hit the front wheel hard on something. The tri bars dropped. After the worrying “crack” noise, I knew what was to follow. Bars that would move up or down on command. No problem…as long as the road was not bumpy, which in Austria they are rarely bumpy.

Within 5 miles I was cursing the climb up to Glosslockner. 10 years ago I could have got away with it but I just felt it there. No zip in the legs. Probably a good thing. Tapping along the main road for the first 10 miles I was passing loads of the previous wave with ease, but never felt that I was riding that well. I expected to be averaging about 28mph but was sat around 25-26. No headwind, no excuse.

The climb comes and I take a lap time to have something to gauge the effort. I was passing riders like they were trackstanding and had already counted 5 green numbers from my wave. Not knowing where I came out of the swim (8th out of water, 6th out of t1) I was not aware of my position in the field but just kept ploughing on. Strava tells me I have the KOM for the first part of the climb. Strange as I was not consciously pushing it. Having to overtake people riding 3 abreast and crossing the white line, I attracted interest from a motorcycle marshal with a big moustache. No point arguing though, I was guilty. We got to the steep bit and I checked my time, 2 mins faster than last week on my road bike so maybe I was not that tired. I pushed on up the steep bit, still in the big ring and passing people even faster.

Over the top and start descending. I took it easy. Very easy. It was only about 1km of hairpins but on the TT bike having ridden the road bike all week, the feel was different. I crossed white lines but got down safely then pushed on.

The only nutrition on the bike was a bottle of water. It was enough. Avoided the feed stations and kept ploughing on not seeing a soul for the next 15 miles. People ahead from the previous wave (10 min headstart) very few in number. Everything was going well. A small out and back mile at 43 miles was good to see if there were any greens ahead. None. At least not in the 8 mins it took to make the turn around, so either I was way down or was leading.

Everything was good until the short 35mph downhill to a wooden road bridge which was so bumpy that it would rattle your ancestor’s teeth let alone your own. That’s where the bars dropped, I lost control and nearly ended it. I held on though and feared the worst. Puncture…check. Wheels still round….check, bars pulled back up….check.

Run:

I have to admit, coming into T2, I had hoped to be about 10 mins faster but when I wheeled the bike into racking, it was empty. Only my bike from my wave which confirmed the lead. Best of all, no one was going to catch me on the run. They would need to run faster than the pros. A much better t2 and then out through the first 2km under 6 min mile pace, through the town and onwards around the lake. I managed to pick off more previous wave runners and eventually saw the lead bike and runner coming the other way, albeit about 20 mins ahead. By the time I made the turn, I had counted 10 people, all from wave 1.

I took a split time to the next green runner in my AG and it was 7 mins from the turn, so a 14 min lead…I backed off the pace. It was getting hot, around 30 degrees. I started using sponges and soon got wet feet but now really started enjoying it. The Austrians and Germans could say HYWEL perfectly. The british and American supporters fudged it up every time. Kilometers ticked by, just a parkrun to go, just a run to the gym to go, just 12 mins, just 4 mins then having resisted the many opportunities to jump in the lake, I hit the finish and believe it or not, completed my first ever 70.3 finish. I got the tape, the dancing and most importantly, the WELL DONE.

Looking at the results from the next day, it’s always going to be a chance to compare. Could I have done a faster race and won the world champs? Probably not…it was won in 4.16 compared to my 4.27. However, with bigger groups and later start, the swim and bike may have been faster, but the run slower in the heat. I did not race flat out, I did not prepare for the race properly but I had great fun and showed some good swimming improvement. Maybe a podium would have been realistic this year.

2 September 2015