I rounded out my 2019 season by racing the Challenge Paguera-Mallorca Middle Distance Triathlon. Set in the small tourist town of Paguera, it is a popular and competitive end-of-season European race. It has a reputation of being friendly and well organised, as you would expect from a Challenge Family event. I arrived with high hopes of a new PB despite the heat and bumpy bike course. Alas, it wasn’t to be.
To start with (apart from the hotel we booked being closed! – Expedia sorted that) all went well. The town welcomes the triathletes, there are a range of events on the Thursday/Friday including Zumba, a kids race, a ladies 5k race as well as organised entertainment of a traditional fire/firework display and concert in the square.
Registration was painless; the briefing was focused and the pasta party actually had good choice! There was a single transition just off the beach, where we had to rack our bikes and leave transition bags on Friday evening – though you could get to both before the race.
The swim is 1900m out-and-back in the sea. At the briefing, the concern was going to be the impact of potential wind. It was very windy. Because of the sandbars, this means there can be a swell; the photo of pros going in doesn’t really do the size of the waves justice.
I would say it was the roughest swim I have ever done where the distance wasn’t reduced (and I’ve been racing for 16 years). So, in this rough sea I struggled with spotting and the rolling waves. However, finishing the swim in 35 minutes meant I was only 5 minutes down on my plan when I got out.
The bike course is 2 laps, it climbs two hills during the first 15km and then is largely downhill rolling until the last 4km where there is another lump to go over. On the 2nd hill the road is narrow, with bikes going both ways, meaning the descent is quite technical.
This started well, my heart was pounding a bit after the swim so I paced my way over the first hill to get myself back in control and then was enjoying the ascent of the second. As I was nearing the top, another triathlete lost control coming down and ploughed into me and the lady behind, damaging my gear levers, cracking the carbon on my rear wheel, and my helmet had a flat side to it from my head hitting the road.
I lost a couple of minutes but got going, gingerly at first, but then had a fantastic adrenaline rush! This soon wore off and I started to feel like my ribs and upper arm were bruised. Also, I realised that I’d lost my spare water bottle and it was nearly 20 miles to the aid station and I only had about a quarter of a bottle left!
This required all of my mental strength to focus, shut out the distractions, re-organise my race plan and keep going. The rolling roads of the lap’s second half enabled me to get back to it and by the time I’d caught up on eating and drinking after the aid station I was in a place to push on a bit. Thankfully, the second lap was incident-free. I made it round in 2 hours 55 minutes (another 5 minutes down on plan).
As I started to put on my running shoes in transition, I knew that my ribs weren’t in a good way. The run is four laps up and down the high street with excursions onto adjoining roads. It’s not hilly but does rise and fall a bit. I dug in and steadily paced my way around as it was now in the high 20s degrees Celsius.
I made sure I walked the aid stations to eat and drink. Although my pace dropped in the second half, relatively this was less than others, meaning that I was overtaking people on the run (something of a rarity for me!) I crossed the line with in 1 hour 50 minutes, guess what, another 5 minutes behind plan.
Overall, I finished in 5 hours 29 minutes (the plan was 5 hours 15 minutes, which would have been a PB). I managed to finish 19th out of 87 in the men's 50-54 age group. In overall terms I was a bit disappointed.
A few weeks on, my ribs are still tender, my bike wheel is back with Hed and I'm researching which aero helmet to buy! However, with some reflection, it was my second fastest middle distance time and there are a number of positive elements about my performance which will help build towards next season.
Finally, a thought to the family of the competitor who died during the swim.
About the author: Stephen Vaughan is a triathlete and Sundried ambassador.