Big fish 'n little fish in Ayia Napa
A sea swim in April? Eurghhh, not really my cup of tea. Switch the UK for Cyprus, throw in calm seas, blue skies, sunshine and catching up with friends... now you've got me! And after racing through Magaluf in 2014, it only seemed fair to see what the clubbing hotspot of Cyprus had to offer to the non-clubbing triathlete. So I duly signed up to the Ayia Napa triathlon to kick off my 2016 season.
It was my first visit to Ayia Napa and standing looking out to sea on race morning, with no tourists around, the setting couldn't have been more stunning. The Sunrise was up there with the best I've seen.
With the race being in Cyprus, I thought there would be some quick RAF and Army triathletes racing, but I genuinely laughed out loud at coach Rob Wilby when he had asked me the week before if any "ITU hotshots" would be there? Why would the ITU athletes be doing an Olympic distance event in Cyprus in April I thought?
I did think it a little odd that dozens of athletes were getting off a coach in the car park when we arrived. The number of TYR rucksacks on show was also a little strange. But registration gave it away when I found myself surrounded by athletes and coaches in official looking tracksuits.
As it turns out, competing in the Ayia Napa triathlon is the perfect way to finish a training camp for the Russian and Ukrainian national squads!
As I was racking my road bike I looked at the rather expensive carbon machine racked next to mine. Rubber bands on the shoes. And a full-on serious race-face to finish the look. This was going to be fast!
Despite the competitive field, there was a really relaxed atmosphere before the race. This was Cyprus after all and it was a race of extremes - pro triathletes mixing it up with first timers on mountain bikes. Within seconds of the hooter going off, the elites had already dolphin dived their way towards the first buoy while others were nervously getting into the sea.
As everyone started together, sprint and olympic, the first lap was really congested. I took a fair few hits and was getting really frustrated until I did a few harder kicks and pulled away. And as soon as the field had spread out, I enjoyed the swim and incredible visibility of the water at Nissi beach.
Lap two was a more lonely affair and there was nobody around me, but I came out of the water feeling really good and ready for the bike.
The bike course consisted of 6 laps. It was fairly boring, but easy to put a decent effort in, as you just had to turn around a cone at either end of the loop. I found the blatant drafting depressing, and the draft busters out on the course seemed able to do very little to stop it...This is a screen shot from the Nireas Triathlon 2016 official promotional video:
I could feel myself struggling to concentrate during the penultimate lap and my pace dropped slightly, but I pulled myself together on the final lap and thought about the run ahead. I managed a quick transition and was out onto the run course.
It was an energy-sapping run as the temperature had risen and I was miles behind the elites with noone around me to run with. I felt I was in no-man's land. There was also little support out on the course...Ayia Napa is actually pretty dead at 11am on a Sunday morning in early April! I regretted my decision not to wear socks from about the 7km mark, but stuck with it and kept staring at the guy in a white top about 25 metres up the road. I didn't quite have enough in the tank to get back to him but I imagined he was in my age group at IM UK... Oh the mental games are fun! It helped me stick to 7min mile pace and I closed in on him a bit before the finish line.
Overall I was really happy with the race. The official race results would suggest I absolutely smashed the bike in a super-human sort of way (48mins???) before crashing out on the run as I'm down as a D? whatever that means. But I know I finished and felt good across all three disciplines. And finishing a race under blue skies in April is quite frankly amazing, regardless of the result.
As I was heading back into the transition area to collect my bike after the race, I saw Polyanskiy on the back of a tri suit. So I asked him if he was the ITU Igor Polyankskiy... the one that you might have seen Jonny Brownlee bossing about on the bike at last year's ITU Gold Coast Race. Indeed it was. He had just finished second behind his brother in the Sprint race and was heading straight to Australia for this year's race. I wished him luck... Just not too much!
Thanks to Nireas triathlon, what a beautiful race! And some nice pics too :) And cheers Rob Wilby for getting me back into some sort of triathlon shape after some solid running months at the end of last year. I think it'll be a fun few months ahead.