Yokohama

“Just follow the process and the outcome will take care of itself”

One of my main objectives for the year is to develop my racing strategy throughout the season to take advantage of my swim-bike strength. Every race is a chance to practice executing the processes, learning, and bagging the odd result when things work out, with the goal of having it down pat by the world champs in order to execute there. Being the dynamic beast it is, there are many processes involved in any race strategy for ITU racing – it’s so much more than just swimming, biking, and running as fast as you can!

Yokohama has characteristically been a race that has come together on the bike, however with a number of strong swim-bikers in the field I knew the pace would be on in the front end of the race and was confident that I’d be able to find enough motivated girls to keep the field split. A small change to the course this year making it more technically challenging, and then the forecast of 100% chance of rain, meant things were looking very much in favour of the race being blown apart.

I went into the race ranked #5 so again had the luxury of choice of spots on the start pontoon.

Diving into Tokyo Bay. Photo Delly Carr/ITU

I had a great start and was almost immediately in clear water where I stayed until the first buoy. A number of stronger swimmers, namely Flora Duffy, Lucy Hall, Jess Learmonth and Sophie Coldwell were doing their first WTS of the season so were ranked in the middle of the field, and had formed a group to my left. I merged into the group around the first buoy, and slotted in to about 10th. I hung in without much difficulty until just before we reached the buoys on the second lap.

Out of practice watching for gaps opening in the swim, I noticed a girl who had started to drop off the pace and slip backwards too late. Before I knew it I was on her feet rounding the buoys, unable to get around until it was too late and a gap had formed.

I tried to bridge the gap.

A tantalising 2m or so I could still see the bubbles of the feet in front but with the pace on, once the gap had opened I was unable to claw it back. Awareness is everything and the lack there of very costly!

The remaining 400m I spent trying to keep the gap to a minimum and exited the water in 10th, 20 seconds behind the lead but having spent more energy than if I had been safely tucked in the pack.

I ran out of the water, up over the bridge connecting the pontoon, and through to transition. Helmet on, mounted my bike and away I went.

I could see the lead pack just up ahead and was confident of being able to catch on. Alice Betto was with me out of T1 and we swapped turns until we got to the first corner. I feathered the breaks, not wanting to slide out in the wet and just like that she was 10 meters up the road. I chased but before I could get back on the draft we were at another corner and she was gone.

Next came Vicky Holland and I knew I had to stay with her. The initial extreme hesitation passed, and I was able to hold and work with Vicky, and then Katie Zaferes to catch the group in front. The group was getting ever closer when Non Stanford crashed going over the tiled section on the first lap, stringing the group out. We latched on, forming a pack of 10.

It was then I realised the absence of Flora Duffy from the group. I wasn’t surprised, given we were able to catch on. Time splits as we went past transition informed us that she, along with Sophie Coldwell were 30+ seconds up the road.

At this point, I’d love to be able to say I worked well with the other girls in the pack, putting time into the groups behind, and holding, or even gaining on Flora and Sophie up ahead.

I was struggling though. Struggling to relax in the wet conditions, to corner efficiently, and to recover from the effort I had to put in after every corner not to get dropped. It was an unusual position to be in – I’m used to being the one dictating the pace, especially around corners, but thanks to another dry summer back home, it would seem I have forgotten how to ride in the rain!

Thankful for the girls in my pack who were doing the work, I hung in there and tried to better my position and cornering as the race wore on. During the latter stages of the bike I was feeling a bit more confident, and feeling guilty for not contributing much to the group, started pulling some more turns on the front.

With 2 laps to go Katie Zaferes and Jess Learmonth crashed, again on the tiled section, and we lost some of our fire-power. The paced slowed and they got back on, but at the same time, we lost some of our advantage over the large group behind.

Heading through the tiled section on the final lap I was over cautious which allowed Katie Zaferes and Alice Betto to open a slight gap on the rest of the pack heading back towards T2. In an overzealous attempt to minimise any advantage they had onto the run I bowled towards the dismount line waiting as late as possible to slow down and dismount only to discover my rims were too wet and my breaks didn’t work. The result is best described by this picture, and yes, my bum and my ego both still hurt.

The most spectacular part of my race. Photo Etienne Van Rensburg

Needless to say, my haste had the opposite to desired effect and I was last from my pack out of T2.

Onto the run, I was in trouble from the word go. The damage had been done on the bike and all I could do was keep my head up, try and relax, concentrate on my cadence and not think about how far I still had left to run. I remained hopeful that even though the other girls from my pack were running away from me I might still hold off the chasers from behind. Ashleigh Gentle and Non Stanford were running like charging bulls however and passed me around the halfway point on the run. On the final lap, I was passed by 4 more, but reeled in a few faders from my own pack to finish in 16th.

With another seriously impressive race by Flora Duffy to win by almost 2 minutes followed by Katie Zaferes who recovered from her crash and Kirsten Kasper who I took down in T2, I was naturally left questioning myself. After a very solid block of training since the Gold Coast, how could I be so outclassed? Had my performance in Abu Dhabi, and even Gold Coast been a fluke?

No. But I had been unable to nail the processes under trying conditions and it came at a cost.

My power profile from the bike – every spike hurts your run so the aim on the bike is to minimise this by washing off as little speed as possible around corners, and maintaining a good position within the pack.

I am left wanting more but have learned many a valuable lesson. I would rather discover in race 3 that my wet weather skills need some work rather than at the Grand Final where it matters the most.

16th is certainly not to be sneezed at, and I am very pleased albeit surprised to still be sitting at #5, but it is the execution not the result that brings the satisfaction.

See you all in Leeds, ready to ride in the rain.

Gillian


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