What images spring to mind when you think of the Czech Republic? My first image was a fair haired Czech smoking and drinking a large beer! Thankfully, my second image was a talented Czech athlete that I’d met at the 2006 World Duahtlon Champs in Newfoundland and which sparked me to look into the Xterra Czech race further. Soon enough I’d found out that the Czech Republic was in fact one of the first countries to host an Xterra and that it was a race not to be missed.
The race was to be held (for the first time) in Spindleruv Mlyn, a stunning ski town 2 hours north of Prague. I drove there from my training base in Switzerland with fellow competitor, and also hot favourite to win the European Tour, Renata Bucher. Most of the driving was on the frighteningly fast autobahn’s of Germany but the 1000km drive still took around 12 hours door to door with the add on of a hotel night stop to keep the legs fresh for race day.
Race morning was unusually relaxed. There was no need for a silly o’clock start like most road triathlons and instead we set off at a civilized hour of noon. Unfortunately the same couldn’t be said of the weather. Despite having had beautiful sunshine in the days leading up to the race, the heavens opened in the early hours of race morning. The rain came down with such incredible force it stung your eyes. The last time I’d seen rain like that, it was on the 4th day of La Ruta, an epic mountain bike stage race in the tropics of Costa Rica!
The swim began in a damned lake which had been chilled by the mountain streams above so it wasn’t warm in there either. Possibly the reason why they’d cut it to a 1000m swim, split as 2 laps with a brief run up the bank. It was a frantic start as the gun suddenly fired and (for those of us that were ready) caused us to leap into action and sprint to the first buoy. Ex-ITU racer, Marion Lorblanchet was the first woman out the water and I followed soon after. Renata Bucher clearly struggled in the mania and was nowhere to be seen (hence winning the snorkel booby prize at the presentation!).
We were onto the bike after a quick scramble up a muddy slope. In the sunshine of the bike recce, the course seemed relatively straightforward. But in the rain that ensued on race day, it became one of the most thrilling Xterra bike courses ever. The mud was out of this world and river crossings went from just a trickle on the first lap to a raging torrent on the second. I loved it and made the 2nd fastest women’s bike split.
By T2, Renata had taken over the lead with Marion and I following soon after coming in a few seconds apart. The run started relatively flat, crossing a river before making a steep ascent then descent back to T2 to loop around again for another 2 laps. Marion was quick to find her running legs and pulled away from me on lap 1. I had a second wind on lap 2 but it wasn’t enough to reel Marion back in. I finished 3rd on the podium, plastered in mud and smiling from ear to ear to achieve my best result of my career so far!
The Xterra boss, Kahuna Dave, could barely believe his eyes when he saw me finish. I’d come a long way since Saipan when we’d met in my first race as a pro. But I knew I’d worked hard, very hard, in each and every discipline to make the leap from lawyer/age-grouper to professional triathlete. I’m still not there yet but step by step, I will get there and day by day, I remain confident and more determined than ever to fulfil my dream of being the best athlete I can be.