Stockton Duathlon Festival 2019 – Sprint Distance incorporating ITU World Sprint Duathlon Championships 2020 Qualifying
Draft-legal racing. For a man with the bike-handling skills of a toddler, these words send shivers down the spine. They make you question everything you thought you knew about cycling. Reverting to a roadie, having to think about tactics, and not allowing the mind to drift off to zen-dom.
Much like many of us on the starting line, this was the first time I’d gone draft legal. There was plenty of time to panic about bluffing through this race as Stockton-on-Tees is a long way away. Wikipedia informs me that “Stockton is known to be the home of the fossilised remains of the most northerly hippopotamus ever discovered on Earth”. Historic.
After further reading about how hippos would beat humans in triathlons (thanks Reddit, although T1 and T2 would surely be problematic?), I switched focus to the race itself and how it was likely to pan out. It would be a flat course, a technical course on both run and bike, and the sprint race would have around 400 people in it. Should you run hard and mix it up with the leaders? Should you hold back and rely on drafting drag you through the field?
Questions quite swiftly erased upon the realisation that I would a) never trouble the leaders anyway and b) I have the bike handling skills of a toddler.
The event itself was a very well-run endeavour. An event village had been constructed with marquees and triathlon-related stalls, and with engineering works ongoing in the town the organisers did a fantastic job in ensuring a limited transition area would be functional for the three races on that day. It seemed that for a short while the weather wanted to pay homage to the organisers so Mrs B – who again didn’t drive – threw me her coat to enjoy the quite glorious sunshine. Wishing I could also enjoy these rare moments of sun in the North East I toddled off to transition to set up the bike and took my bag to the bag drop – secure and always manned.
An extended warm-up was undertaken as my Achilles issues continue to plague me, before donning the incredible Sundried men's aero skinsuit (simply, WOW) and feeling like I belonged on the start line. That was until during the race briefing, the Mayor of Stockton and another medallioned wight (in the most literary sense) decided to burrow into us for a photo opportunity. Some welcomed this political intervention but I considered it incredibly discourteous and rude to distract athletes from listening to course instructions. And until this Mayor approves the erection of a hippo statue on Stockton High Street, they will continue to incur my wrath.
The sun disappeared shortly before the race began, and it became very chilly with a cutting northerly wind. The first run passed by without incident. What was interesting was seeing certain groups of people running together, obviously preparing to cycle together. I briefly felt like a loner before I saw transition loom and, with trepidation, hopped onto the bike to try and avoid any issues.
The bike leg was very interesting. Blessed with technology we know how hard we are pushing, how fast we are travelling, and how far we have moved. But nothing can prepare you for the power of drafting. Watching my power drop and speed increase after finding a small group, I confused my simple mind. I then tried to increase power and speed to leave the group in my wake but couldn’t shake them off. Collaboration therefore was key. Working in the group was actually very rewarding as we picked off other groups and individual riders. But you always wonder if you were travelling quickly enough – after all, we were trying to qualify for Team GB!
T2 came and went, and relief set in. Drafting was actually quite fun and I learned more during those 20km than years racing on the TT bike and non drafting races.
The final run has always been a strength of mine (as it takes me a whole race to warm up properly – thanks body) and being relaxed and relieved helped the final 2.5km pass quickly. No sprint finish required and not much opportunity to as a final hairpin 50m from the finish line threw most people’s anticipation of a home straight.
As ever, a paler-than-usual looking Mrs B welcomed me on the finish line with an angry glare – I had submitted her to a 4am start, cold temperatures and a lot of standing up. It was ‘that’ look only a husband knows. Out of the fight and flight responses, flight seems to win every time with me. So instead of engaging with her I stealthily weaved through a crowd of people to pick up my results. 2nd automatic qualifying spot for the Worlds in the bag! Excitement and bravado overcame me as I announced this achievement to my shivering wife.
“My coat is in your bag”.
The walk to bag drop seemed longer and more painful than the race itself.
About the author: Matt Baldock is a Team GB Age Group triathlete and Sundried ambassador.