Is it harder to defend a title than to win for the first time? For some people perhaps not. However, for me returning to Horst for the European Duathlon championships as defending champion certainly added an element of pressure which I hadn’t experienced previously. I like being the underdog, not the target!
One of my worries at the end of last season was whether or not I would be able to cope with the pressure to repeat what I achieved in 2012, not just in terms of performance but also in terms of keeping racing fun. I think this weekend was a big step forward for me. I’m obviously delighted to have won, but I’m equally as delighted that I kept my head and enjoyed the racing as much as I have previously.
My coach Chris had given me some useful, no nonsense, advice in the week running up to the race. Perhaps most poignant ‘you’ll be 5 minutes faster if you’re smiling.’ My taper hadn’t been great. I’d dug myself a bit of a hole after a big training camp in Majorca without proper recovery and was definitely only just on the right side of overtired. I certainly don’t think I’ve ever arrived at a race venue as exhausted as I was on Thursday night. Luckily a couple of nights of good sleep sorted me out and come race day I felt pretty good and ready to go.
In terms of the race, I knew there were some quick runners and I hoped they would set a fast pace for the first run to break the field up a bit. Unfortunately I ended up setting the pace after the first 2 (of 6) laps and though the pack had whittled down to 3 I wasn’t brave enough to really attack the first run on my own. I very rarely bike after running so have never really worked out how hard I can run without ruining my bike legs, and thought I’d look a right idiot if I ran off the front and then couldn’t pedal.
Anyhow, I’d given myself a bit of a gap to Eva Nystrom, who is a superb biker – so that gave me a bit of time to play with. I knew she’d work hard to catch me as soon as possible on the bike, but my plan was simply to stay with her when she did, and if possible come into T2 with or even just ahead of her. We had some fun on the bike trying to get away from each other, though it was actually pretty hard with so many age groupers on the narrow twisty lanes, and ended up coming into T2 in tandem.
So the race came down to the final run.
On paper, I guess I’m the better runner. But Eva is one tough competitor and I knew she was not just going to give me the race! So it was an exciting start to the second run and it was only on the final lap that I realised I was going to win the race. Eva pushed me all the way – I think we’re so evenly matched that we bring out the best in each other when we race. I bike better because of her and she runs better because of me. It’s the best kind of rivalry and I always enjoy our battles. It turns out we’re going to have a few rematches this season, the first of which is in Mallorca in 3 weeks.
So, all in all I couldn’t have asked for a better start to 2013 and I feel as though a big weight has been lifted off my shoulders. I can cope with pressure and I can still enjoy racing despite a bit of pressure. Whoop!
It was great to see the juniors, especially George Schweinning, have such good races.
Oli Mott had a phenomenal day to finish 5th in a very strong male race. I really appreciated all the cheers and shouts while I was racing from the hundreds of other Brits out there racing and supporting – thank-you. Brits abroad did UK multi-sport proud.
I’m hugely grateful to all my sponsors, particularly Chain Reaction cycles, for giving me top of the range equipment to race with. It makes a huge difference! It was the first time I’d raced with my blinged up Vitus, Lightweight disc wheels and Kask Bambino helmet. Fast and they look awesome too!