2nd - 10" Behind winner Ben Allen
An 11:30am start in Zittua, Germany allowed for a good sleep and a slow start to the morning. Went for my trusty breakfast of rice, sweet potato, avocado and eggs a tried and tested formulae for optimal sustainable energy supplies throughout the day. Temperatures were expected to be in the mid 30s and with a long race ahead nutrition and hydration would be the key to success. After a messy race in the Czech Republic just 6 days prior I was highly motivated and determined to have a solid race before heading home to prepare for the ITU Cross Triathlon World Championships in September.
A slightly delayed start allowed for temperatures to creep a little higher before the gun set us off. As expected the strong swimmers in the field went out hard and strung it out quickly, the pace was well above my pay grade and I settled into 6th position concentrating on efficient powerful strokes making sure I limited any losses to the key men up front. After Ben Allen's win the previous weekend in the Czech Republic he was certainly the man to beat and exciting the water I got a split of one minute down on Ben, a manageable deficit.
The bike course in Germany is really where the race is won or lost. It is 36km of testing mountain bike riding, just what I like. The course starts with a 12km climb to the highest point of the day, best you find your legs early or you will be out of contention quickly. To my relief the body responded well and I got down to the job at hand of riding across a one minute gap to the boys up front. The French cycling power house Francois Carloni joined me and together we bridged the gap, ticking off one rider at a time. Carloni showed some really impressive bike handling skills and rode a climb I previously thought was unridable gaping me in the process. I scrambled to find a flatter part of the climb to remount and limit the losses. Due to the steep slow climb everyone was now insight of each other battling tooth and nail to crest the climb first. The German athlete Jens Roth no doubt inspired by home crowds had used his potent swim to take an early lead and crested the climb in the lead. The decent was loose and rocky allowing the more competent MTB riders to take advantage, I played it safe to avoid puncturing and used the time to catch my breath and prepare for the next effort. Once the terrain flattened out I closed the small gap to Ben and Francois. The three of us quickly took the lead and Jens dropped in behind us. The four of us worked well together and kept a steady pace up front. On the final steep climb of the day I pushed hard and Jens popped off the back but Ben and Francois were up to the challenge and stayed on my wheel. Francois lead us down the final decent and from hear we all knew it was coming down to a running race.
A sloppy transition saw me lose a few seconds to both Ben and Francois but I stayed composed and reeled them back in once I found my stride. After a kilometre or so I closed the gap to Ben and ran up alongside him, tried a small surge but he was having none of it and quickly regained the lead to control the pace. I was happy to just sit and watch his body language for awhile to see if I could find a chink in this seemingly impenetrable armour. At around the half way mark I began testing him again putting in multiple surges but each time he was up to the challenge. Its not often that Xterra races are this close and although I was suffering it was the most enjoyable race I have ever been involved in, its very seldom two athletes are so evenly matched and stride for stride we crept closer to the finish line. With around a kilometre to go I put in one last effort to try and avoid a sprint finish but the seasoned aussie was having non of it and crawled his way back to the front. That effort cost me dearly and soon I felt like I was on the back foot with Ben cranking up the pace. He saw my struggle and dug deep on the final little rise before the line, I went digging but came up empty handed, my body had reached its limit and had nothing left to give. All I could do was watch in agony as Ben raised his hands took the tape and then collapse in a heap myself tumbling over the line seconds after. It was truly epic and something I will treasure for years to come and although I did not win the race I couldn't think of a better man to lose to. Many lessons learnt and I will most definitely be back stronger and smarter next time.
Thanks for helping me find my limits Ben
A special mention to the spaniard in 3rd, Roger Serrano who wrapped up the European Series Title for 2015 well done sir.
A final massive thank you must go out to De Wet and Barry from SQUIRT Lubricants in SA who were kind enough to host us during our stay in Germany.