If I was going to commit more time to triathlon training in 2017 I wanted to use my fitness to really RACE. Toe to toe. Gun to tape. Sprinting for the line. With guys like me.
I wanted a multi-step challenge with the potential to fail. I've never raced an AG Worlds before but the dates lined up. Thanks to Stuart for being my travelling buddy.
The original plan was to qualify for both the draft legal sprint and the standard distance. In Mexico in 2016 the sprint was on the Thursday and the standard on Sunday.
At the end of May we made a quick trip by car from Strasbourg to Dorney. We stayed with my parents just 5km from the race venue at the Eton College Rowing Centre.
Near the front after the swim, I worked with Mark Whittaker on the bike. He was stronger than me but also much more skillful through the corners. Something to work on!
To stay injury free I 'd decided not to run much this year. Mark ran off and Neil Collins passed me at about the 2km point. I just held on for 3rd. See pain face above.
For Deva in Chester we flew from Basel to Manchester and rented a car. The race was one of the slickest run events I've ever done. Scenic, safe, friendly and hassle free.
I swam steadily at the front of the wave and used my roller training to keep a high cadence on rough roads. I gave everything I had left on the run. A surprising age-group win!
When the programme for Rotterdam came out I learned that both races would be on Sunday. I hesitated at the €350 entry fee but finally decided to enter the draft-legal sprint.
I got the train up on Friday and met Stuart at the Novotel, about 5km from the race start. We rode the course on Saturday morning. It poured with rain and I got two punctures.
The Facebook group was ranting about the bike course. It was definitely twisty and narrow but I believe a lot of triathlons in the Netherlands are run on bike paths like these.
I'd been setting up tight circuits at home with traffic cones. I still need to improve my braking and trajectories but luckily I do have a turn of speed to make up for small errors.
We also had grandstand tickets for the WTS race on Saturday. Duffy is a role model for bike handling and after living in France for 15 years, Vincent Luis was a welcome winner.
In the holding pen I was nervous. In July we had moved from Strasbourg to Munich. I hadn't found a club to swim with and knew I'd be lacking an extra gear to close gaps.
100m in I looked left and right and was near the front. After the first buoy I settled into the line. Out in about 15th, I made up a few places in the super-long T1.
Climbing the Erasmus Bridge I saw the lead motorbike and a group of 4 getting away. Then a German and a Belgian about 50m back followed by my group of about 10.
In the twisty bits immediately after the bridge 2 GB athletes, Neil Collins and Simon Hoppe, pushed through the tight group and set off to catch the Belgian and German.
I hesitated before deciding to chase, knowing I had one shot to join them. Take a risk to play for the top 10 or accept a position inside the top 20 or even lower?
I took off flat-out in pursuit for the next 3km. The gap was closing slowly. The Dutch guy with me said he couldn't work. So a few corners and sprints later I was alone.
I caught Neil and Simon at about the 6km point. I took a minute to recover and then we worked really well together. We caught the German and Belgian with 5km left.
A rush of excitement through the crowds and a great dismount allowed me to lead the group into T2. The group of 4 was about a minute ahead and we were 5th through 9th.
On the run I did what I could. My legs were pretty spent. Neil and the Belgian ran off. I pulled ahead of Simon and the German. It was still probably my best run of the year.
In the last KM I was passed by Simon Crook, 4th at Dorney in May, and a Mexican athlete. They had come into T2 in a third group about 30 seconds down on us.
The weekend was everything I'd hoped for. Close racing. A good result. 9th. Riding as a team during the race and feeling part of a greater collective at other times.
I've automatically qualified for the race next year in the Gold Coast but I won't be going. I'll definitely go back to Dorney in 2018 to try and qualify for Lausanne in 2019.