Features - 3/5/6
Winter triathlon calendar 2006-7
In December we met triathlete and firefighter Alan Taylor who, despite never having skied before, came to prepare for a 'Winter Triathlon' - a running, cycling and cross-country skiing. After only a few rollerski sessions, he headed out to Italy to take part in the 2006 International Triathlon Union (ITU) Winter Triathlon World Championships in Schilpario, Italy.
Here is his story.
Race Report ITU European Winter Triathlon Championships 04-05 March, Schilpario, Italy
By Alan Taylor
I arrived in the beautiful little village of Schilpario on the Friday and went straight to the race course for my first taste of cross country skiing on snow. The race information stated that the course was medium difficulty and slightly rolling so I was quite shocked to see the hill that the race course went up and down looked more like a black ski run!! As i'd never actually been up (or down) a hill like that on snow before it was quite daunting!!
The first day of competition on the Saturday was the elite World Cup Race with competitors from around the world - including many who had stayed in Italy after the Winter Olympics in Turin. A winter triathlon is comprised of a run of 6.9km, a mountain bike of 12km and a cross country ski of 10km (obviously all on snow). The courses should be designed so that the winner of the elite mens race takes about one and a half hours to complete, with all legs being done in around 30 minutes each. The powerhouses of the sport are much the same as in cross country skiing - the Germans, Italians and of course the Norwegians.
It was really interesting to watch the elites - they make the skiing look so smooth and easy. I had a chat with the German who won the mens race (he is also a top off-road triathlete) and he said that the bike was very hard and the ski was very very hard. Not good for confidence levels!
During Saturday night there was a very heavy snow fall. My race was scheduled for 11.00 on the Sunday morning, and before we were due to go off there was a relay race for the elites. Kit selection is obviously important in triathlon but seems to become crucial in winter triathlon - not only have you got to decide on what trainers (spikes, trail/fell or racers), suspension set up, and different waxes for the ski - but perhaps the most crucial is bike tire selection and pressure. If you get this wrong then the bike just becomes impossible to even ride in the snow. It was very daunting watching the elites on the bike course as none of them were able to cycle for more than 20 metres in one stretch and most were having to just push the bike the whole way!
There were about 180 competitors in total for the age group race (mainly Italians and Germans and of course 2 Brits!!).I made the decision that as the ski was going to be my weakest by far leg (and I had concerns that I wouldnt even be able to complete the course) that I would take the run and the bike at almost jogging levels to leave me with enough energy for the ski leg.
Due to the conditions worsening, the run leg was shortened to 2 laps and was quite undulating in the heavy snow but no major climbs. As planned, I took this very steady and came in about half way down the field. The bike leg was also shortened to 2 laps but still everybody was forced to push their bikes for about the first 3KM before you could find short stretches to cycle on. I was determined to try and cycle as much as possible but it was so slow that pushing the bike ended up being much faster! I managed to pick off a few more competitors on the bike.
The ski leg started with a tricky 180 degree sharp turn with lots of spectators to watch the fallers (of which I wasnt the only one thankfully!) before heading up the massive climb. I had seen some of the elite women stopping for a breather a few times up the climb on the Saturday so I wasnt too embarressed to have to do the same. Finally I reached the top but then was confronted with the black run downhill on very skinny skis. As I was descending I passed a Slovakian man being put onto a stretcher on the back of a skidoo so decided to slow myself right down to avoid the same! There were a few more steep climbs and descents before completing the lap and going out for one more. I tried to push the pace as much as I could on the flats but what little technique I had was falling to pieces with the fatigue and it felt as if everyone was overtaking me! Thankfully, the last 500 metres was slightly downhill before having to make another 180 degree turn to go through the finishing chute (no falls this time!). Although I was totally spent at the end, I had enjoyed the race and finished 9th - not so bad for my first attempt.
Why not take a skating rollerski course? This will prepare you for the cross-country skiing leg of a winter triathlon race. So if you can run and cycle, winter triathlon will be within your reach.
Click here for infomation on upcoming courses in London's Hyde Park and Dorney Lake near Windsor.