I’m often asked what I like most about racing, and one of the many reasons is the opportunity I have to meet new and interesting people wherever I go. Case in point: I was recently in Ireland for the Ironman 70.3 Dun Laoghaire Triathlon. In the U.S., the bike portions of 70.3 races tend to be fairly benign, with the courses typically non-technical, fast, and flat. If I get the chance to preview a race course, great, but if not, I shrug it off and figure it out during the race, as the courses are generally well marked, and volunteers steer you in the right direction. However, Europe is a different matter altogether, as they love hard bike courses, and the harder they are, the more popular they are.
When I arrived in Dublin, I learned that the organizers had set the goal of making the bike segment the hardest in Europe. Just hearing that sent a chill down my spine, as it wasn’t my first race in Europe, and I had already been exposed to some brutal courses (Heidelberg, I’m looking at you). The more I asked around, the worse it got: there were parts, alongside cliffs, where if you went off the course, you weren’t coming back. A course preview of the 70.3 Dun Laoghaire was absolutely essential.
How, though? I was there with a few other American pros…Elliot Bach, Ryan Irwin, and AJ Baucco. We tried to rent a car, but there were none available (not that we were qualified to drive on the left side of the road anyway). We called taxi services, but the price for a 60-mile tour was way beyond our meager budgets. We didn’t want to burn our tapers by riding the course on bikes 24 hours before the race, but we were stumped. Someone even went so far as to suggest we just knock on some doors and ask for a ride, as if that made any sense. Except after he said it, he walked out the door. Surely he’s kidding, right?
Nope. About 10 minutes later, he returned with the crazy news that he had just gone across the street and knocked on the door. When a woman answered, he explained to her that we were four guys from the U.S., there to participate in a sport she’d never heard of, somehow did it for a living, and would she mind taking us on a 60-mile drive so we could look at the bike course? Without hesitation, she said her husband would be home in an hour and would be happy to do it. We weren’t entirely sure what would happen, but sure enough, about an hour later, Gav came over, we all piled into his car, and off we went!
Gav was an avid mountain biker, a gregarious guy, and his Irish eyes were smiling. We drove all over that beautiful countryside with him, eyeballing the roads, getting to know Gav and his wife Sinead, and making a new friend. Naturally, the tour ended at a local pub, where we had the pleasure of a pint with Gav, and our friendship was sealed. We bumped into Gav a few more times over the weekend. He lived across the street, of course, and he even drove by as we were wrapping up the race. And of course, we said goodbye when we headed off to France for the Ironman 70.3 Vichy.
Now, to put this course in perspective, the average bike time for a top cyclist in a U.S. 70.3 is about 2:02. The fastest cyclist in 70.3 Dun Laoghaire came in at 2:30, and he was a professional cyclist. The course had 6,000 feet of elevation gain on roads about the width of a car. The descents would make your eyes water, your knuckles white, and your bowels loose. The switchbacks were as sharp as I have ever seen, and at the end of the race, we learned that two male pros had crashed on the course and were unable to finish. Fortunately, neither of them were us. We had Gav. — Chris Schroeder