By Nicky Jenkins
PART DEUX – THE CYCLE (LE CYCLE) - CASTLE SERIES GAUNTLET (MIDDLE DISTANCE/HALF IRON TRIATHLON)
So there I am, feeling all proud of myself for accomplishing the awful swim, pretty relaxed, am owner of beautiful orange bike. I have remembered all my belongings required from transition to the cycle. I have eaten.
I am awesome endurance triathlete. Bravo.
Push my little beauty under the last inflatable gateway on the way OUT, past the “Mount” marking, leg over, confident cyclist will soon be on her way… Once she has attached her shoe on the clip. Mmmmmm. Nope. Shoe does not want to attach to clip. Remain calm. There are only a “few” people watching and they’re mostly foreign. [Stupid English woman]. Pedal goes round, try again. Nope not happening. OK, I’ll just go, we’ll worry about attachment of the feet to the pedals at a later stage. About to set off, quick look behind and a guy comes careering behind me, tries to go in the narrow gap around me (I’m at the side of the path out of the way), wobbling all over the place, ends up riding straight towards the little chains at 6″ high between some miniscule wooden posts. Stay on, stay on.. He’s off, he’s back on, he looks seriously embarrassed. He’s on, he’s OK, he goes, cycling furiously along the bumpy, dirt track as fast as he can. A wry smile to myself (I am not the only unsteady imbecile) and the foot is clipped in. Hallelujah!! I set off, steady pedalling, hit a bump in the track, ouch – my arse!!, and then that awful noise as you start to turn the pedals and there is nothing happening… Bollocks… the bloody chain has come off. ‘Thankfully’, I still have free foot, so pull over, steadily plant the spare leg, and lean down to (calmly) put the chain back on. OK. The bike still works (malheureusement), so on we go.
I was really not sure what to expect from the French roads. I had been a little reassured when I actually got round to reading the competitor information (2 days before travelling) and realised that contrary to my anxious beliefs, the bike route was actually in a clockwise direction – cycle on the right-hand side, always turning right – ah, that would make sense [Stupid English woman] – Click here for cycle route.
Still a little hesitant, we get onto the main roads off the dirt track and I a hit a nice gear to get the legs turning. Not long before we encounter the first junction and I start to slow down. “Allez, allez, allez“. [Come on! Lets go! Chop Chop! Nice Work!] The marshals have these little round reversible red/green hand-held signs (think table tennis bat) and they are stopping all the traffic. Cool. After the next couple of junctions and a roundabout I realise that this is a supremely well organised part of the event. The gendarmerie are out in force, there are marshals everywhere (even at the tiniest of side junctions), and we have right of passage – ALL THE TIME. This is awesome!! I settle into the bike, hydrate, the clouds are clearing and it won’t be long before the sun pops its head out and starts to dry everything out, including me.
The roads are quite wet in places, “doucement, doucement” at the sharp corners and the only “downhill” (there are no real hills in this part of France), along with lots of sign language to indicate the dampening of speed – softly, slowly. There is vast open road, fields for miles, quaint little French houses in the distance. I try to concentrate and occupy myself by working out my speed. Averaging 10mins per 5km, just keep the legs rolling. It’s a flat route, and unlike my pre-race catastrophic visions, it’s hardly bustling with cyclists like the Tour De France. I switch off and daydream for a while (typical Jenkins). I am reliving some emotional moments that have been a big part of my long journey to Half Iron and I get a little lump in the throat, and a tear in my eye. I decide, that as we’re now friends, I need to give my bike a name. I call her “Maya”, after Maya Angelou, one of my favourite authors (love the poem, Still I Rise – click here for beautiful, inspirational written art). I feel a tad emotional. We are growing together, learning to love one another… And then the strangest thing happens. I spy another cyclist ahead. I am catching this cyclist, approaching fast. I am going to have to overtake!!! How exciting!!. I check behind, I pull over a little and I go past. Pretty speedy there Jenkins. Another lump forms in my throat and I have a little tear. A nod to the gods. The Universe is pretty awesome at times.
Whenever I have done triathlons in the past I’ve always been pretty quick out of the water, especially at Sprint distance. However, I then normally get passed by every other triathlete on the cycle – because I’ve always been a little slow. This was like the other way round – and it was a man too!! OK – so it was just the one….
Feeling a little chuffed, it isn’t long before I find some more Gauntlet competitors to overtake and I’m loving it! Me? – loving the cycling, and overtaking people and stuff!? Awesome.
The elite Olympic distance triathletes start to come flying past, you can hear the beautiful whirring of the expensive bikes a while before they’re about to overtake. I’m OK with that (being overtaken by professional athletes) as they only have half the distance to go too, slackers. There are quite a few GB Tri suits come whizzing by and I’m unsure if it’s common practice to shout encouragement or not and/or if I will just scare them by doing so. I decide to remain quiet.
First 45km lap goes pretty quick – just one more of those then Jenkins. Negotiating the first stages of the loop a little better second time around, I am feeling pretty good about my bike. Then I hit a real straight long bit of road and I realise I still have a long way to go. I start talking to myself.. eat a little, drink a little, check my speed. I start to pass some of the slower Olympic distance triathletes who seemed to be struggling – a mountain bike or two out on the course. Sing a little. Drink a bit more. The sun is now kicking out some heat and I am squinting. I remember my sunglasses from my back pocket and as I shift in my seat to retrieve them, I realise my bottom has become a little numb. I can live with a little (big, wide) numb bottom though, as this is the longest/furthest I’ve cycled since I did Pedal for Parkinsons (when I was in excruciating pain from about 30miles on). Got myself a proper bike fit from Paul Smith at Cyclometrics a week before the event – and not a twinge the whole way round the 90km (the man is a legend, and what he doesn’t know about cycling Bio-mechanics is not worth knowing).
The mental game kicks in…. 30km sign again (means I’ve done 75km), Just 15km to go…. 10km… 5km… bring me home Maya. “Allez, allez, allez, Bravo.” We turn back onto the bumpy, dirt track and I have to slow right down as my arse is in agony bouncing around. It seems to go on forever but eventually I spy the dismount ahead. I casually drop my left foot out the clip ( I just did that without any fuss AT ALL) and stop a little way before the line. Withinshaw is waiting there with a big grin on his face, shouting lots of nice things at me. I try to run the bike into transition but it takes a while to straighten up and get the legs working. Shuffling.
90km = 3hrs 27 minutes on the bike. Must be a PB…
Phase 2, successfully complete. Feeling awesome.