Having done Aix and Bilbao back-to-back, I had two weeks to recover and cram in some training before tackling the tough Ventouxman, a race I particularly wanted to do well at.
I guess I should really know by now that when I put myself under pressure, or want things too bad, it rarely goes to plan…
I had a great swim, following the lead kayak all the way round the 2km course and coming out miles ahead of any of the other girls.
Totally pumped, I hit the bike running. I was on such a roll I didn’t even register a 90-degree bend in the country lane I was tearing along and before I knew it it there was gravel spraying everywhere as I rode straight through a mountain of small stones and into the grass beyond at 40+km/h. The guys’ faces on the motorbike and in the official race car following me were classic. Glad I made someone giggle.
Mountain-biking isn’t my forte but after some quick skidding and back-pedalling I got myself going again without puncturing or falling off. Somehow I barely lost focus through the entire episode and proceeded to crush (well, at least in my eyes) the first half of the bike course.
(Author’s note: yes, I am wearing gloves. So damn un-triathlete-like…
Reason 1: I’m a sweaty pig. Reason 2: the bike is too long for mini-me, and my hands slide off the TT bar grips when I’m sitting up off the tri bars. I wasn’t planning on climbing Mt Ventoux in an aero tuck, hence the decision to look like an idiot and stay comfortable.)
I navigated through Bédoin, dodged a campervan or two and started up Mont Ventoux. I knew the 19km climb, knew the short descent after the summit and had recced the 20km trail run after that. Should be E-A-S-Y. I had a 10-minute buffer on the competition and thought I had things under control. Silly, silly Emma. I should really know that over-confidence is soooo not my thing…
With 8km left to go on the hill I gave in and adopted the zig-zag technique to try and reduce the incline and keep the speed up. But I was gone. Never mind fumes, the tank was running on empty.
Sheer stubbornness kept me from crying as I struggled to get my front wheel ahead of the cyclotourists I had left standing earlier. Sheer pride allowed me to maintain my crucial 1-centimetre advantage and assert my superiority over 70-year-old grampa on his vintage steel Colnago.
As the last ramps finally came into view I swerved in relief and nearly took out Emma Pooley as she blew past me 1km from the summit: the rush of air nearly toppled me off my bike. Man I wish I could ride like that!
But it looked like I had finally come to the end of (the first half of) my ordeal.
I had clearly totally underestimated the hill, the altitude, my nutrition and more likely than not my abilities. I shivered and shook my way down towards T2, clambered off my bike and somehow pushed it to the rack. My run bag was nicely knotted: a puzzle my shaking fingers weren’t going to deal with quickly. I carefully lowered myself into a sitting position to deal with the strings and my body must have mistaken that for a signal that things were over, and it was OK to let everything go. To my utter mortification, my surroundings flickered and disappeared in super slo-mo, and I toppled over backwards.
Race staff and referees hurried over. I lay there feeling as if I had drunk an entire bottle of whisky, wondering how I was ever going to open my eyes, let alone get up.
Jeez, woman, it’s a race! Move!
I sat up once and went over again. Stayed sprawled on the tarmac arguing with my body for a few more minutes. Finally, somehow, pulled myself together, to my feet, and along the barrier towards the run with the whole crowd cheering me on.
I didn’t know how I was going to manage as my legs shivered and shook beneath me but all I could think of was that I didn’t want to let myself and anyone else down by pulling out.
My saving grace was a tableful of food manned by smiling volunteers as I staggered out of T2. Never mind energy gels and bananas, these guys had salami, biscuits, chocolate, crisps, fruit jellies, apples, oranges and bananas, coke, isotonic… So maybe there is someone up there.
I stuffed my face then filled a plastic cup with food and started off with my picnic in my hand: it was worth a shot.
I ate-walked-ran the first lap; run-walked-drank the second; jogged the third chatting to some guy I had apparently overtaken in Cannes when things were going a little better; ran the last feeling a whole lot more like myself.
I came in third, 20 minutes behind a flying Emma Pooley, to win some pocket-money and a ginormous box of fresh garlic.
It was clearly not the race I wanted and I was disappointed to say the least – not because I didn’t want garlic but because I knew I’d totally blown it.
But once again I kinda got away with it, completed another cool race and ticked another “I’ve done this boo boo before” box.
Sometimes I really wonder how I make it to the various locations, get my backside round the course (relatively) unscathed and manage to navigate my way back home, but I guess if it weren’t an adventure it wouldn’t be worth living. Catch you soon for a recap of Rapperswil and Deauville!