World Age Group Triathlon Championships 2017 in Rotterdam Report

By Jon Ford-Dunn

It’s that time of year again when I have to find some excuse for not helping at the Truro Half Marathon. This time my absence is due to participating as a member of the GB team in the World Triathlon Championships in Rotterdam. So it comes to pass that last Thursday finds our dog being placed in protective care at the local kennels, and us, the “ever suffering” Brenda and I packing the final pieces in preparation for our flight that evening from Exeter Airport.

It’s been a particularly difficult event to plan for, as for the last month we’ve been inundated with changes to race times, changes to rules, and a video of the bike course that’s produced attacks of the vapours for some. I’ve produced four sheets of A4 instructions to try and make sense of it all. Social media only seems to highlight the frailties of some of the athletes, with the amount of whingeing and whining going on.

I’m looking forward to it, I’ve viewed the bike course video several times, and also discover that it has been proved by hosting both the Dutch National Championships and their World Championship Qualifying races last year. Some of those athletes have used Garmin Connect, so I can see what times and what power/speeds they have been producing. It does seem doable. Having said that, there is really no way that an event of this stature should be allowed on this type of course. It is too narrow (mainly bike paths), the surface varies from tarmac, block paving, brick paving and cobbles, there are horrendous speed humps, and very tight corners with no run off. Compared with the 2013 World Championships held in London, where the capital’s famous roads were closed for the occasion, and I can remember racing down The Mall, having swept past Buck House, the Houses of Parliament and Tower Hill, it doesn’t measure up at all.

I’m quietly confident, I’ve had a good taper, Perranporth Triathlon went well, my power output tests are good and swim times are fast.

I bend down to put the last of my bike bits into the bike box, and it all changes, my back goes! My back (like so many other peoples) is my body’s big weakness. I’ve tried all sorts of exercises to stabilize it, but to no avail. Unfortunately the fitter I become the more vulnerable my back becomes as some muscles tend to dominate and generate uneven stresses. Even the rotation during swimming; the most unlikely exercise to exacerbate it causes problems.

I call for Brenda and say something along the lines of; “Oh drat, I can’t bend down”. She has to finish the packing.

I reckon from previous experience that as there are three days before the race, my back should unlock enough for me to a least get to the start line, and then adrenaline should take over. Head in the sand attitude has stood me in good stead in the past!

We arrive at Exeter airport in a rainstorm, whilst we are waiting for it to pass I notice a car near us making intricate manoeuvres to park. Anne Maskell (late of this club) has arrived. Shortly after one of Exeter Airports Spitfires flies off into the gloom.

My next concern is whether my bike will be transported. Flybe don’t allow pre booking of bike boxes, so will only transport if there’s room. I go to the bag drop, and am given the impression they’ve never seen a bike box before. Then they need to open it, as their large item scanner has broken down. They then proceed to “wand the bike” just in case it’s a drug mule. Anyway it gets loaded. Anne doesn’t have this worry as she’s gone for the door to door gold plated bike transportation option.

We land at Schiphol Airport, where I’m left as “Billy No Mates”; all the luggage apart from my bike has whirled it’s way round the carousel, all other passengers are long gone. I decide to investigate, and find it leaning against a pillar about 100 metres away, it probably was first item off!

Brenda, Anne and I are then driven for about an hour to our hotels. Anne is in the Team GB hotel, we are in the Team USA hotel. They are adjoining and interlinked hotels.

Next morning we awaken, draw the curtains, and gaze out onto a wet,cold, grey, windy Rotterdam. Our room is billed as Panorama Waterfront with King Bed, so we look straight out onto the R Meuse and the Erasmus bridge over which the bike component of the race will come. It is evident that Rotterdam is a very cycle orientated city, The cycle paths in front of the hotel are crowded with people on the Dutch ubiquitous sit up and beg style bikes, mums taking their kids to school, several with one in front and one behind, plus holding an umbrella with one hand. No one is wearing a crash helmet, and the paths are shared with motor scooters and mopeds, also whose riders have no crash helmets.

Hordes of triathletes are recceing the bike route, and getting soaked in the process.

We meet up with Anne, who has discovered with great excitement that as a single women the hotel has provided to buy in the rooms mini bar, an item called Fifty Shades of Grey, which consists of two chrome balls joined with a flexible link apparently for intimate insertion. Wow! All we get as a couple is a package labelled “Love Kit” for 4.5 Euro. I’m rather affronted, it’s just one condom. Great play was made in the daily papers during the 2012 London Olympic games over how many millions of free condoms were provided for each athlete, and I just get one which I have to pay for! (After the event Anne is seen walking through the hotel lobby with a strange gait. She is emphatic this is down to the effects of the race).

I’m still far from able to bend right down, Brenda helps me assemble my bike, then we walk over to the Registration tent, where we are given all the necessities for the race, and our freebies. The freebies are a real joke, they are one cheap IQ reducer, a tiny fridge magnet, a soft sachet of water, race tattoo remover, muscle rub, discount vouchers for restaurants, a free transport ticket and a ride on Spidol (river cruise). No event tee!! I’ve done over 150 triathlons, and a tee is for me the best thing, every time you wear it it brings back memories.

The para triathlon is on today, and we go and watch some of it, mainly the visually impaired athletes. There is a vast range of visual disability on display, as a tandem comes in the guide (that’s the one on the front!) hops off. The difference is very apparent, some who must be blind, or nearly so, get off the back and just stand there. After parking the tandem the guide has to show them where their gear is, wait while they put it on, and then attached to a cord guide them on the run. At the other end of the spectrum, the guides are struggling to keep up!

We take advantage of the very good river boat trip. On the way back to the hotel, we catch a look at the Junior Women World Championships.

The hotel boasts a Spa, which I want to use to give my back some hot/cold treatment. As Brenda and I enter there is a notice that states no clothes must be worn. We walk past some treatment rooms which have floor to ceiling clear glass windows. One is occupied by a women laying on a treatment table, Brenda reckons it’s a man (how many men do you know who would pay the GDP of a small country to have a few pebbles balanced on their bare arse?). Coming past some time later the issue is not resolved because the treatment has moved on with the person being covered with a thick layer of foam; a bit like if you’ve put too much washing up liquid in the sink. For those who really want to know (all of you I bet), the piercings, and shavings as shown on that depressing programme Naked Attraction (yes, that programme that no one’s ever seen, which is depressing for what a poor state the youngsters bodies are in) are not represented here!

Saturday dawns, and there is a team meeting, where we are bought up to date with changes in times, rules, clothing issues etc. I take advantage of a break in the appalling weather to take my assembled bike out for a shakedown ride. Just after lunch is the Elite men’s race, the weather is even worse, so we decide to watch it from our room, and what we can’t see, on the television. During the elite bike segment I decide to visit the spa again, as with people watching the tri. hopefully it won’t be busy, as well as hot/cold I want to do some stretching, which I’m not sure will go down too well in the sauna! I time it right and work out on a 5 mins in sauna, 3 mins under cold shower schedule.

The race itself is unique for me as it’s held in three distinct locations. There isn’t one area, which you return to for each discipline as is normal, but two transitions and a swim start which are far away from one another. Not got the right kit in the right area, and your race is over! We have to take our bikes to T1 which is located on the other side of the river to T2 at a designated time on Saturday. They are left here open to the elements overnight. I return to the hotel and then do a short 25 minute jog interspersed with a couple of flat out sprints. My back although very sore doesn’t seem to be an issue.

Sunday morning dawns (well 5 am) and it’s not raining, in fact a whole canopy of stars are shining, and the winds dropped. I now have a tight schedule to go to T2 to place my running gear at my numbered station. We have been told that me must only leave our running shoes here, and certainly nothing to mark our patch, officials true to their word are going down all the lines of shoes removing any items that will not be used. Quite a shock for some people when they arrive back here. From here I have to catch a ferry to T1 to check my bike and lay out the equipment I need. Then its a long walk to the swim start, and the place to book in all the clothing etc. that isn’t used, but is needed at the finish. It seems pretty simple as I write it, but it gave me a certain amount of mental anguish in reality.

The sun is now out, and it’s not as cold as predicted (the water is 18 C and the air 11.8 C). The whole event is running 15 minutes late, so I’ve got a two hour wait before my start. I meet up with Anne to discus what to wear, the previous two days have been so cold and wet, that a concession has been made to allow the wearing of thermal vests beneath the tri suit. She reckons we’ll overheat, but I do feel the cold, so I’ve put on a small impervious bib that covers just my chest. I go for a 20 min warm up run, and check that I can bend down far enough to get my cycling shoes on. All is good. Half an hour before the start we are checked into a holding pen, and the announcer introduces us. With one minute to go we are called to the floating pontoon, enter the water, place one hand on the pontoon, the starter shouts “marks” and instantly the starting klaxon sounds. I’ve placed myself right in the middle of the start, hoping I get plenty of drafting. The 79 athletes representing 20 countries who’ve made it to the start thrash the water to a foam. These are the World Championships, you’ve got to commit! I breathe only to my right, and can see that I’m in the lead, when at about 100m I look forward to spot the white building I’m aiming for I realise the faster swimmers are ahead to my left, so I try and latch on to their feet. By now I’ve settled into a rhythm, however 1500m at race pace is still pretty arduous. The swim exit is up a series of steel steps, then a steep ramp.

It is now about a 500m run to T1 along a blue carpet, which is a bit of a swizz as it runs out after about 300m. Find my bike pretty seamlessly, but it’s here the fun begins: we have to deposit our wetsuit in the bag provided, I’ve never had to practice this, but reckon I’ve cracked it having folded the bag back on itself. I rip off my wetsuit and stuff it in the bag grab the closing cords, jerk, and I’m left with a closed bag with the wetsuit outside! End up just grabbing it and stuffing in as best I can. Now have to run with the bike to the mount line about 200m, it’s a bit bouncy and I watch my gel flask detach itself from the bike frame and fly over my right shoulder. I really need it, so have to go back for it (Anne had her fluid dispenser disintegrate here, which even with her powers of resuscitation is not repairable so has to do the whole bike without hydration—pretty hardcore). Now the bike course as I mentioned has been much maligned, and I’m sure in the wet would pose many problems, but it’s dry, the sun’s shining, and with a bit of care is survivable. The Olympic distance which is 40km, consists of 2 laps. There are quite a few cyclists from previous waves on the circuit on their second lap as we start our first. We have to cross four bridges, which are the only bits of architecture that rise above the pan flat course. My heart rate is good, my back is sore, and my neck aches. There is a bit of excitement at the end of the lap, because the small bridge we cross on the way out is not wide enough to accept two-way traffic, the organisers have placed a temporary bridge alongside (which wasn’t able to be ridden prior to the race), it stands about 1 metre above the cycle path, so a very short ramp has been provided at either end. Hitting the ramp at nearly 20mph launches you skywards, you’ve just got control back when you’re launched of the other end straight towards the crowd barriers, where not surprisingly a large crowd had gathered to watch the fun. Funnily enough you don’t hit it so fast the second time!

It’s at the start of the second lap that I realise that things aren’t going that well, cyclists, that I know are not normally as quick as me are going past. There’s nothing I can do as I’m on my limit. No dramas occur during the second lap, and I head for T2. This involves yet another long run with the bike to where I’ve placed my shoes. Out onto the run, which is mainly on gravel covered paths in a small park. The run consists of two laps of a 5km course running up and down the park. In one place the 400m long up path runs parallel with the down path, with only 10m separating them, and no barriers. Very tempting to save nearly 800m by hopping across!!

Running in the park is quite nice, it’s pleasantly cool, and not too many people are overtaking, I know I’m not running very fast but there’s nothing I can do about it,so it’s a relief when I hit the finishing circuit. I near the finish just as the commentator starts getting all excited about the arrival of a new World Champion, I know it’s not me! It’s a guy in the 80-84 class (started 45 minutes before me) pretty inspirational stuff.

This is where the organisers are very lucky with the weather, there’s nowhere to go after the finish, no showers, not much choice of food, and no shelter. We have to wait ages before our wetsuits arrive at the pick-up point, anyone with a plane to catch would be struggling. We go back to the hotel to disassemble the bike and wait for Anne to arrive.

I’m very disappointed as to how things have gone, although I got as much out of my body as I could on the day. Unfortunately at this level any weakness will find you out, there are no second chances. Writing this a few days after, I know that two years ago when I could barely move through injury I would have been more than pleased just to qualify.

Anne on the other hand arrives very happy, and so she should be, she’s had a cracking race, as can be seen below:

Results: 1500m Swim: 40km Bike: 10km Run

Women 50-54

Anne Maskell


10th 2:25:32 26:53 05:07 1:08:28 02:29 42:38

Men 60-64

Jon Ford-Dunn


21st 2:27:23 26:27 05:43 1:08:03 02:18 44:53

Comments are closed.