The ITU World Multisport Championships 2017 https://penticton2017.com are drawing to a close and although I’m already back in the UK I can’t wait to visit the amazing people of Penticton, British Columbia, Canada.
As Captain of the GB Sprint Duathlon Team I have so many wonderful memories of the Teams success, group rides, social events and friendships built-in such a remarkable location in the World that I can’t wait to share them with you all.
So where best to start than the journey out to Vancouver. No in actual fact it begins weeks before the trip began. When I was chosen as Team Captain I knew the role would entail organising a venue or two for post race drinks for the Team and families and supporters before the Medal ceremonies. So I had already formed a friendship with a member of the local Penticton community and all round top dollar guy, Mr Gary Haupt, you’ll hear more about him throughout this blog.
So I arrive at Gatwick on Tuesday 15th August ready for a 10 hour 10 min flight to Vancouver, an 8 hour layover and a further 55 minute flight to Penticton. It was always going to be a long day travelling as I cannot sleep on an airplane usually. I eventually arrive at very tiny Penticton Airport minus my luggage but at least I had my bike box, several other athletes arriving earlier in the day had their bikes left at Vancouver such was the small aircraft for the Penticton airport that the cargo space was limited and the planes could only carry a limited amount of cases for the 30 people on board. At the Airport on disembarking I bumped into Daniella McGuigan and the following day met up with Simon Ward and Lucy Williams. As we were all travelling separately we ended forming our own little group for lunches and dinner.
En route we flew over Iceland, Greenland and Northern Canada before turning South to Vancouver. Some of the views were breathtaking as the picture shows along with totem poles inside the airport Terminal.
The following morning I headed out for breakfast while the luggage was delivered to my room, then headed down to see Derek as pre-arranged at Bad Tattoo Brewery (Recommended by Gary Haupt) which was to be the venue for our Team Celebration post race and before the Medal Ceremony which I knew we would be a success. I had arranged to do a few group rides of the bike course with the Team and headed back to the room to assemble the bike, just one small issue in that part of the seat post clamp was missing, although I still to this day don’t know how it became separated and my main focus was to get this fixed as I didn’t want to let the team down, I always prefer to ride the route first before leading a group so that I know the fast descents, sharp corners and loose gravel before taking others along, as Team Skipper you have a duty of care, or at least I do. If your going to do a job, do it properly, don’t do it half cocked and ill prepared. ( I always remember a training Sargeant quoting the 6 P’s. Proper Preparation and Planning prevents to Piss Poor Performance.) Unfortunately I missed the first ride but jumped in the improvised Team car with Vade and followed the Team round at the back to ensure they were all fine. I had dropped the Propel off at Freedom Bikes on Main Street to see if they could replace the parts, thankfully they removed one from a sale model and slotted in place just before 2:50pm ready for me to lead the 3pm ride. Thanks to Bret Wilkes for the mobile selfie round the course.
The course was very technical, some steep climbs and lung busting hills in the heat a turn around point where you could claw a few places back if you braked late but were willing to lead the group off the front, up a small climb and some very fast descending towards the end of Lap 1 and into transition. You need to race hard and smart on courses like this. It was after all the World Championships so you need to be on top of your game and focused to get a good result. For me top 20 would have been okay but secretly I wanted to get as close to the Top 10 as possible.
The following day we met for Team Manager’s Briefings and Team Photos before we gathered for the Parade of Nations. (Daniella, Simon, Myself and Lucy, Followed by Team Managers Marc and Mike with myself in the middle.) The Weather was pretty good for the whole trip with temperatures around 30c most days, the smoke from wildfires lingered in some parts but thankfully nothing covering Penticton.
Bikes racked and kit hanging up ready for the morning and Race Day soon approached and with a 6:30am race start the Jet Lag effect meant I had little sleep anyway so I was up bright and early, dressed, fed and focused even managing to listen to some tunes and focus on the task ahead. No usual butterflies, but because I hadn’t had to rush around early morning and get to the race venue I was looking forward to putting the hours, weeks and months of training all into this one race.
We gathered into our start pens where I looked across at the rest of the guys (the Women had a separate start) and I walked across to Nick Sasha and told him I wanted to see him on that podium. It had very little influence on Nick’s performance but I knew the Athlete that he is and knew he could be top. He knew too. The 40-44 age group is very tough to qualify in and this was summed up by the fact that we eventually took Gold, Silver and Bronze for GB with Nick on the top step.
The race unfolded
So the start line looms, we move forward and ….. we’re off. Into a 5km run, a quick sharp left then right turn around the block and then off along lakeshore Drive to the turn around point near Salty’s Restaurant. A two lap run means you can check back at the turnaround and see where everyone else is positioned. It set a steady pace not wanting to go too hard and save the legs for the bike hills, I hit the second turn around point and then the straight run through the grandstand finish to transition.
Number belt turned around (Not wanting to get a penalty ), helmet on, shoes off and the long run out of transition to the mount line and we’re away. Feet into the Mavic bike shoes (thanks to Stophe at Contour Cycles ) first time, up to the roundabout, right hander, left hander, left hander again, a small climb then right up the steep hill. Time to dig deep, keep turning those legs over and reach the top, there’s time to recover at the top. The climb levelled out briefly before another small gain then the right turn down to the turnaround point and back on yourself. This gives you a second chance to see who is just in front or behind on the bike.
Next comes a long slow climb before a right hander, this is where I choose to sip my drink at the back of the group allowing me to recover then power along the back section through the vineyards, the two fast corners and then the fast downhill into the turn for Lap 2. 44mph downhill seemed like a crazy speed but there was more to offer, tucked in sitting back of the front bars there was a little wobble as the road surface was a little uneven with cracks. I decided that was fast enough, there was no way I was crashing out here.
At the beginning of the right hand climb on Lap 2 I could feel my calves tighten but never the less pushed the power through the pedals. It hurt but if it didn’t I was pushing myself hard enough. At the long uphill drag there was a group of athletes around 8 or 9 strong working togther so I decided to get my head down, work up to the back of the group and latch on to save some energy. We turned right down towards the turnaround and I pushed through a little harder alongside the middle of the group. I could see the cone approaching as the others began to slow, I braked late committed to a tighter turn and forced them a little wider, I turned left up the inside and began to power away. I knew if I took a turn on the front and pushed the pace, they would have to come through allowing me a chance to drink at the back of the group before once again making a final push through the vineyard section, the fast bends and the descent into T2.
As we came off the main round, there was a marshall directing us through the junction and down the fast straight. At this point the group including Americans and Canadians were around 60 yards infront. As we took the turn I noticed a male walking along the side of the road with a mobile phone to his ear. When you’re on the bike racing you’re really focused on your surroundings, every tiny detail matters, every second you dissect information and react.
I looked up in front and the group moved to the right hand side of the road to open up the left hand bend on the imposing corner.
I saw a right hand go up in the air and then a rider leaning to the left just fall sideways, down he went, hard, very hard, he hit the deck and slid sideways on to the gravel side of the road. This was the far end of the bike course, I knew there were no marshalls for another 1km from my sightings on the first lap. I immediately stopped to see how he was.
When I got off the bike instinct kicked in. I could see his name was Oliver on his USA Trisuit. I didn’t know him or where he was from, nor his family, nor who was with him. He wasn’t a competitor, nor an athlete at this point. He was a human being who needed help. It didn’t matter what position I was in, nor the result of the race. His feet were still clipped into his shoes. his legs straddled the bike, he was laying on his back, his head turned to the left, his eyes were open but glazed and thick blood was pouring from a wound under his helmet at the back of his head. At first I thought he had gone and by that I mean fatally injured. I thought he may had broken his neck when he hit the tarmac.
My first reaction was to reach for my phone in my back pocket, but then this wasn’t a Sunday Club ride, this was the World Championships. Several riders came flying past, unaware of how seriously injured he was. As I supported his head and neck I began to feel for a pulse, realising that as the blood continued to pump his heart must be working. To my relief I found his carotid pulse and at this point another cyclist stopped and I sent him back to the Marshall to call for help and also to get the guys attention who was walking along the road on the mobile phone.
At this point ‘Oliver’ began to regain consciousness and I was then joined by another GB Athlete David Robinson who had his trainers stuck down his TriSuit. (This was not the time to ask why). Most situations call for you to put the person in the recovery position, but has he was now conscious and breathing I was more concerned with any damage to his neck and head and top of his spine, he was with us and any further movement could have been detrimental. Several athletes then slowed down to offer help, but there was no point to them affecting their own races and the last thing I wanted was another crash close by. After around 4 or 5 minutes an ITU Official (Duncan Hough) on the course motorbike arrived and was able to radio for the on course medic. At this point the USA athlete began to try to sit up and resist help and become agitated, which is common with any serious head injury. We managed to move the bike out-of-the-way and as we held his helmet and neck he sat up. Seeing the damage to his jersey I then thought his shoulder and collarbone were probably broken too.
He had been completely out cold and didn’t know what had happened, he was very confused and becoming more and more agitated as we waited for medics. My right hamstring was beginning to cramp up from my position on the floor. within 2 to 3 minutes the on course Medic arrived on the back of a Harley Davidson trike, there was a Keystone Cops moment where the trike flying down the road, braked on to the grass verge and I looked up at Duncan and I’m sure we both thought the bike was going to veer off into the side fence. Thankfully he stopped in time but the medic struggled to swing his legs over the seat and I thought he would fall over.
Clearly we needed an ambulance and this was called for. As I looked down to the floor we could clearly see the pool of thick blood that had congealed on the tarmac, my left hand and my right knee were covered. I decided to leave him with the Medic and in the care of ITU and David and I got back on the bikes. I had to stretch the cramp out of my right leg and it took a minute or so and I looked at across and David and knew we had a race to finish. I dropped down a gear, upped the cadence and powered on as if nothing had happened.
Would I do the same again…. Yes absolutely !! It’s human nature to help one another and we have to evaluate the situation in front of us, If we can help and we have skill sets that will benefit. I’d like to think that someone would do the same for me if it was required.
I eventually hit T2 and ran through with the bike shoes on, the fast downhill and roundabout before the dismount line meant taking the feet out was too risky as you’d probably clip the curb or shred your feet on the tarmac. I racked the bike, helmet off, run shoes on and away on the final 2.5km. I actually felt rather good but this was probably due to the 8 minute or so recovery on my legs. As I ran out off T2 I heard someone say ” He must have crashed” probably referring to the mass of blood on my right leg. I hit the straight on Lakeshore Drive and took the sports drink and then poured a cup of water onto my hands to wash off the blood from my fingers. I continued up the road to the turn around point, round the cone and then just a 1km straight to the finish line and the grandstand and blue carpet.
As I approached the line and the clock I didn’t really register the time or position but was still thinking about Mr Oliver and how he was, whether they had got him to Hospital, had he suffered a fractured skull, would his injuries have any long-suffering effects. So much so that I didn’t even raise my arms aloft and celebrate the World Champs. In fact I think I put my hands to my head in a sigh of relief, knowing that in draft racing it could happen to anyone of us. All it takes is a moments lapse of concentration from you or another athlete, a touch of wheels, a dropped drinks bottle, even a rattle snake in the road and yes there were some seen.
I was presented with my medal round my neck and handed a Red and White ‘Canada 150’ towel which became redder and redder as I wiped away down my right leg. I soon switched back to Captain mode and wanted to make sure everyone crossed the finish line and welcome them home. Some of us have been on emotional journeys to get to the World Championships, For some it had been a journey over a few years, some had family to watch them, others had family at home, one had recently lost her father and carried a picture round with her and I wanted to ensure someone was there for her at the finish.
With all the Team home and tears and handshakes complete, I eventually collected the bike, saddled up and rode back to the team hotel for some much-needed recovery by the pool.
At the Poolside I began to reflect back on my race and wondered how my supporters would feel. All the time spent training, time away from family the support they had shown me, the faith that Contour Cycles, RaceCrate and Royal Mail Sports Foundation have shown me, proudly wearing their logos on my GB suit and I forgot to get that all important finish line photo.
After a brief Powernap I changed ready for the Post race party down at Bad Tattoo Brewery and the pending Medal Ceremony. In all the GB Team picked up 6 Gold, 9 Silver and 5 Bronze in the Sprint race. At the Opening ceremony on Friday night I bumped into an Aussie athlete who was carrying a blow up Skippy the Kangaroo around. Tony Williams and his partner Zoe were staying with Gary Haupt at his AirB&B, so I had invited them along with Gary to the party. Gary couldn’t make it but had earlier in the week told me there was a Wedding taking place whilst the Champs were on. Tony then asked me if I was going to the Wedding on Monday which I said yes too, and the proceeded to tell me it was his. I wasn’t sure if it was the Beer talking or just an Aussie joke.
Needless to say Saturday night was a blast celebrating with the Team and the Juniors and U23’s who also took to the podium. Sunday was kind of skipped and Monday was the Standard Distance race followed by the Solar Eclipse and the Wedding. You couldn’t write this in a book, it was such a surreal experience and memories of this trip will last a lifetime.
Once Monday came many of the Sprint Team began to depart for their Holidays travelling to Banff, Whistler or the drive back to Vancouver. I volunteered in Transition for the Standard Race, watched or rather felt the 10 degree drop in temperature as the Moon passed the Sun around 10.20am for the Eclipse. I then headed back to change for the Wedding which was held in Gary’s back garden. It was a brilliant close-knit affair, with a singer from across the road, an amazing array of home cooked food from Gary and Sharon and the happy couple Tony and Zoe, also there was Tony’s friend Chris a fellow Aussie who was also compete in the Cross Tri, together with his son Alec who was to become the Junior World Champion. It was a perfect day in a perfect location with perfect weather and company, oh and a few tinnies.
On Tuesday I had to head out early on the bike as I was stepping in for Marc and Mike who were racing the Cross Tri on Wednesday, so I had to attend the Manager’s Briefing. I wanted to hit the KVR Trail around Lake Skaha but couldn’t find a MTB in my size so decided to try on the Propel, carefully very carefully, If I encountered a Bear on the trail there was no way I was going to outrun it on the race bike.
It was such a beautiful ride along the trail as the pictures in the slide show will tell you. Watching the Cross Tri on Wednesday gave me an idea for next season too, with Cross Duathlon and Cross Tri becoming ever more popular maybe this is something else I could consider. Of course It would mean another bike, but we will cross that bridge when we come to it. The afternoon was spent Kayaking around the top end of Lake Okanagan ( which incidentally is 84 miles long – Yes 84 miles) , Lake Okanagan while two of the ladies took to paddle boards, I know my centre of gravity is a little off so wanted to power the arms and give them a work out.
Thursday was my final day in Penticton and I was invited to the lovely Sharon and Gary’s house for Waffles for Breakfast with Tony and Zoe before they headed off on their Married adventure. The hospitality they have shown has been nothing short of outstanding. We have shared beers at The Cannery, enjoyed each others company at Bad Tattoo for Dinner one evening and been invited into their home.
Even walking down the street people have wished me well and ‘Hope you enjoy your visit here’ everywhere I go. The People of Penticton are so warm and friendly and I very much hope to return one day with the family and explore more that this region and the people have to offer. I know that I have made great friends here and also now in Australia and I know we will keep in touch. Especially now that they all have Dave’s contact details. (Don’t worry I’ll explain about ‘Dave’ later…….if you really ask…. and really want to know ).
The journey out of Penticton on a twin-engine propeller plane was always going to be special so I made sure I got a window seat to record the take off and also coming into Vancouver. I was amazed at their sheer volume of timber rafts on the Vancouver River from the logging exploits further upstream, this can only be appreciated from the air so take a look at the slide show and video at the bottom.
Team GB you have been awesome once again and I look forward to seeing you all at qualifiers and major champs in future. Canada there is so much more to explore but like your people and your food, you have been awesome.
USA Athlete Francis Oliver left Hospital a few days later with 5 stitches to the back of his head and a broken collarbone. I wish him well and a good recovery.
Oh and by the way I’m still 24th in the World and there’s always next year !