After Racine 70.3 I was left feeling a bit deflated. Though I attribute a great deal of the poor performance there to things that could have been better controlled (nutrition, pacing on bike, training leading into the race, etc.) in the back of my mind I was still left wondering if perhaps I had peaked too early in the season, and my best was behind me. I had a strong feeling that in order to race to the best of my ability at 70.3 Worlds I would need to do another race beforehand in order to prove to myself that I’m actually in good form. Wiesbaden 70.3 happened to be just enough time after Racine but before 70.3 Worlds, that I could put in two decent training blocks, and then do a taper into the race. It was also far enough away from 70.3 Worlds that I could come home and put in one more solid training block before heading to Australia. I decided to sign up for the race.
Wiesbaden 70.3 also happened to serve as the European 70.3 Championship. This meant that it would be a very competitive race. About a week after signing up for the race (and booking my flight and hotel) I found out that Wiesbaden 70.3 is regarded as one of the most challenging bike courses on the entire 70.3 circuit. Initially I thought this would be good and advantageous for me, because I thought all this meant was that the bike course was hilly, much like St. George. Indeed, it is hilly, but what makes this race so much different than any other race that I have experienced, is that the descents are not on big wide open highways, but on very narrow roads through small villages. I don’t think there is a single downhill section on the course that does not have a sharp hairpin turn or S-bend that is preceded by a sharp descent.
Being someone who grew up in perhaps the flattest place in all of Canada, where the largest hill within 100km is a reclaimed garbage dump, as well as someone who has spent a great deal of my bike hours on a stationary trainer, I was very intimidated by the course. I actually considered taking a 100% loss on the flight and hotel and not going. I not only was worried about being severely embarrassed by my European competitors, but was also worried that I would crash and suffer an injury that would cause me to miss 70.3 Worlds and/or Kona. But, sometimes you need to get out of your comfort zone, so I boarded the non-stop flight from Detroit to Frankfurt.
Immediately upon arrival Erin and I drove the bike course. With hindsight, I’m not sure this was a good idea. I couldn’t believe just how technical the bike course was. There had to have been 40 or 50 descents, most of which were very steep and at some point went around a sharp corner, or even several of them back to back. For the next three days leading into the race my only goal was to ride around and try to learn how to ride a bike on this new style of road and terrain. In that time, I got moderately comfortable with the roads, enough that I felt like I might be able to make it off the bike without dying.
I thought with 100% certainty that the race would be non-wetsuit. The days leading into the race were actually rather cool, and the race ended up being wetsuit legal. I didn’t cry when they announced this one hour before the race. The swim course was also very technical. Trace a wine glass with a perimeter of 1900m onto a lake…that is pretty close to what the swim course was. I recognized Boris Stein, the defending champion, about 1 kilometer into the swim. I knew this meant I was having a good swim. I also thought my only ticket to having a decent bike split was to shadow him on the bike and watch the lines he was taking through the corners, so I was very happy to see him. The pro women started only 2 minutes behind us, and one of the best swimmers in the sport: Jodie Swallow, was in the race. When I didn’t see her pink swim cap fly by me by 200m to go, I knew I probably had just swam my life time best swim. I was about 2:30 down to the front of the race, which had several active ITU athletes in it, so this was by far the best swim of my career.
It was a split transition, meaning the bike would be point to point. It also was organized like an Ironman race in that you had to put all of your gear in bags and then grab the bag off a rack as you are coming out of the water, and then put your gear on in a change tent. I put my helmet and race belt on, then threw my wetsuit and cap in the bag and ran back towards the swim to re-rack my bag. I couldn’t figure out what a lady was yelling at me in German as I was headed backwards, but eventually I figured out you weren’t supposed to re-rack your bag, but rather drop it with some volunteers in the opposite direction I was headed. I had a 20 second lead on Boris out of the water, but after this I was a few seconds behind out onto the bike. I immediately surged and went right to the front of the pack, of which Boris was the leader.
I knew that in order to run well I was going to have to bike as steady and as controlled as possible. I settled into about 350w at the front of the pack. On the first descent I found out that I am a very bad descender. I think Boris was a bit annoyed and came by me immediately. I didn’t dare pass him as my goal for the remainder of the race was to shadow him. Unfortunately, this plan was short lived. On the next descent I had perhaps one of the more humbling experiences in my career. It was a moderately steep descent into a fairly tight corner. Boris didn’t have to break aero position. I got out of the TT position and had to hit my breaks for fear of crashing. Boris immediately opened up a 50 meter gap. I think Bart Aernouts was a bit annoyed now and he came by me to bridge the gap to Boris. My new plan was to stay third in line and shadow them both. On the next corner they put a good 100m into me, and I took the corner in what I thought to be a fairly aggressive manner. New plan: stay in contact with them as long as possible.
At the bottom of the hills I would spike the power very hard and try and close the gap. The descents were just too close together, and despite many 400w+ intervals, the gap got so big I could not bridge it. That was the last I saw of Boris. Once out on my own, with no feedback from anyone in front as to whether the corner could be taken in the TT position, or how much you needed to brake, or what line to take, I was forced to ride the corners even more cautiously. New Plan: Ride the downs cautiously, ride the ups very hard. I knew this could potentially fry my run legs, but I had no choice. If I both rode the downs cautiously and rode the ups conservatively, I would have an embarrassingly large deficit off the bike.
Fortunately, there was about an 8 kilometer section about 30k into the course that was pretty much all uphill. I rode it hard and passed quite a few names who I knew were major contenders for the win. On that section I posted my by best 10 minute and 20 minute power I have ever posted in a 70.3: 423w and 402w respectively. I got a time update from someone and found out that Andreas Drietz was over 4 minutes up the road. I knew that was already likely too much of a deficit to catch him on the run, but I stayed positive and reminded myself that it’s not over until it’s over!
I came off the bike in fifth place with about a six minute deficit to Dreitz. Once again, I grabbed my bag off the rack and ran to the change tent. I opened my bag and was taken a back. Someone had stolen my shoes and replaced them with a different brand! Then reality kicked in and I realized I had grabbed the wrong bag. I ran back, and fortunately, my bag was there!
I’ve been doing a lot of running. I find once I start getting over the 120-130km/wk range my run really starts to come around. Due to the massive power spikes and lulls on the bike, I knew there was a high probability that my run legs were not going to feel good. I settled into a pace that felt comfortable, and constantly reminded myself to relax the shoulders. My watch beeped and I went through the first kilometer in 3:14. I knew then that I was going to have a good run. At about 3 kilometers I caught up to Patrick Lange- winner of Ironman Texas with a blistering 2:40 run off the bike. Dude can run. We ran the next kilometer side by side. My watch beeped: 3:07 for the kilometer.
For the rest of the run I just stayed focused on running to the best of my ability. I knew I was pulling back time from everyone in front of me. At about 6 kilometers I entered 3rd place. At about 14 kilometers I pulled up next to Boris. I was impressed. He was not going down without a fight. For some reason, I enjoy suffering, and a piece of me smiled when I knew I would have to run the remaining 6 kilometers hard, in order to hang onto second place.
About a quarter mile from the finish I finally got to see Andreas Drietz, just as he was about to round the corner into the finishing chute. He probably was grinning because he was about to win the European Championship, but to me the grin said “payback’s a b***h, aint it?” (as the tables were turned in Oceanside and Texas). But, in all honesty, if there was anyone I had to lose to in that race, it was him. Not only is he a great athlete, but he’s a really good guy. So much so, he consoled me at the finish line by saying, “You have North America, I have Europe, now we settle the score in Australia.” You can’t not like the guy!
All and all, I am very happy with the race. I got exactly what I came for: I am confident that I am in good form, and that I can execute a good race in Australia. Thanks for reading and following along!