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  • Writer's pictureMatt Fisher

Pelotons, punctures & podiums (Race Reports for Cotswold Classic & National Relays)

It was all going so well. At 69km into the bike leg of the Cotswold Classic I was comfortably in the top ten, having ceded ground to a group of four or five who were basically riding a Team Time Trial (more of that later) but confident that I had my bike power under control and was feeling good for the run.

Then rounding a bend at the bottom of what is pretty much the only hill on the bike course, the bike end up of my Giant Trinity stepped-out. A surprise for sure, as the Trinity is usually extremely sure-footed. But again at the next turn it happened again and something just didn’t feel right. The usual ‘whoosh’ of the carbon disc had been replaced with an angry grumble and my backside was feeling more vibration than normal.

It could mean only one thing. I’d punctured. Sh*t.

Perhaps stupidly, I don’t tend to carry much in the way of spares on the bike. Largely this is due to the nature of the valve aperture on the FFWD disc wheel, which is very small and needs a compact right-angled head on a pump to get any air into tyre. As yet, I’ve not come across a CO2 canister head that will fit it. So basically when I run the disc, I have to just accept that it’s ‘all or nothing’ and if I puncture it’s game over.

So at 70km into the 88km bike, it was game over. And still 20km away from transition.

It was especially frustrating given I’d managed a sub-30 minute swim (despite a lack of pool time) and my average speed on the bike had been very good. Time to nurse the thing back to T2 at 20kph and just hope I didn’t damage the disc too badly.

At about 80km I found the neutral service bike and we had a go at getting some air into the disc, but no joy. I have to admit it really surprises me that FFWD haven’t come up with either a better design for the valve aperture or supplied some kind of extension you can carry easily on the bike.

What was perhaps most disheartening about trundling back, standing the whole way to try to put as much weight on the still-inflated front wheel as possible – was that of the maybe 200 competitors that passed me, only three or four either offered assistance or words of condolence. As someone who always tries to encourage those that I sense to be in difficulty when racing, it was a really demoralising experience.

Eventually I creeped into T2 (2hrs 38… FFS), getting a telling-off from a marshal for riding so slowly (I tried to point out my f*cking back wheel….). The British Triathlon official in T2 asked if I was giving up after only lap of the bike. This did nothing to lighten my mood as I explained I’d done both laps and had just ridden 20km standing at 20kph. His comments really didn’t help.

I was pretty fed up. I tried to tell myself that I’d just gather my thoughts in T2 and head out onto the run, using it as training.

That worked until about half-way round the first 7km lap. My head was in a dark place and I wasn’t up for the pain. I got overtaken by faster runners a couple of times, but made as many overtakes myself. But clearly I wasn’t in the running for a podium and I knew it. I couldn’t escape the thought it was futile.

So finishing the first of three laps, I threw in the towel. I handed my chip to the British Triathlon official and went off, a dark cloud over my head. I deeply regret it now. I should have finished. My own bad mood, the lack of (moral) support from fellow competitors and the idiot British Triathlon official had ruined things. But it was me that quit, and I have to live with it. In 2016 the DNF was involuntary. In 2017 it was my fault. It’s a painful memory.

Triathlon Relay Championships

Fast forward two weeks and a triathlon (or two) of a very different nature. I was due to race the Triathlon Relay Championships in 2016 but had to withdraw after being knocked-off my bike at that year’s Cotswold Classic the week before.

The National Relays are competed by teams of four, where each person of the team completes all three triathlon disciplines, but not back-to-back. Basically you relay the swim, with the last swimmer handing over to the first cyclist, the last cyclist handing over to the first runner etc. Basically it’s a sprint triathlon (500m swim, 15km bike, 5km run) that takes three or more hours!

In the morning I was racing as the old fart in a Race Hub senior men’s team (we had to race in the ‘open’ category as not everyone on the team was a BTF member) and then in the afternoon I’d be racing again as part of the Race Hub Mixed (two boys, two girls) V40 team.

I’d tried to adjust my training in the couple of weeks between Cotswold and the Relays to focus a bit more on short speed, rather than the normal 70.3-focused endurance work. But two weeks isn’t long to make the change!

With up to 200 teams competing on course, the racing lives up to its ‘organized chaos’ moniker. But as third man in both races, I had the ‘luxury’ of a slightly thinned-out field of competitors by the time I got to swim, bike and run.

The guys off first in the swim had perhaps the toughest job. Two hundred swimmers and only 500m course length meant it was pretty brutal. By the time I got to go, the field was more spread out and less ‘punchy’!

It was quite weird coming out of the swim, handing over the rubber band to our no.4 team mate and then sauntering back to our team area, knowing that my bike leg was still the best part of 45 minutes away. Great for getting a breather; bad for muscles seizing up.

Because there was so much time between the disciplines, it also meant you could focus on the kit that was right. Which for the bike leg meant a full aero skin suit (with a Nopinz aero number pocket)! My Giant Trinity was wearing some new boots, too. A set of Parcours Chrono 90mm carbon clinchers (generously loaned by Race Hub as my FFWD disc is still awaiting a new tub). I was also testing out the new Giro Aerohead TT lid.

After some energy drink and a relax, it was time to take the bike to T2 and wait for my no.2 team mate to head out on the bike course before I was allowed to rack-up. To avoid injuries for barefooted competitors in T2, the race organizers ruled that shoes would have to be by or on the bike – which meant no aero shoe covers. Ho hum. But at least the rules were the same for everyone.

After taking our rubber band from Warren, I ran to the bike, donned my helmet and ran for ‘bike out’ shouting to try to clear my way (organised chaos, remember, hundreds of people milling around in a very narrow transition area). Onto the bike course and I was in my element. The course comprised three five-kilometre laps around the boating lake at the National Water Sports Centre near Nottingham. Basically a rectangle. Great; get your head down and go!

I have to say my fellow competitors on course were great. During the race briefing the organizers had made a point of how important it was to communicate on the busy bike course. So my almost-constant shouts of ‘on your right!’ were well-heeded and only once or twice did I need to slow. Knowing that I was racing again in the afternoon, I knew I should be holding something back (being brutally honest, we were never going to win the senior mens race, but we had a chance for the mixed V40), but of course the temptation was too much and I put out power not dissimilar to a 10-mile time trial. Perhaps I just wanted to sure of posting the fasted bike split in our testosterone-rich team!

Arriving back in T2 after three laps, I quickly racked my bike and ran to the hay bales that were the handover point. Looking for Steve, who would be wearing the same black and orange skinsuit as me. A fairly distinctive design. But could I find him?! No….

“Where are you Gibbo?!” I shouted. No response. “Jump on the bales” said the marshal. So I did! “Gibbo, where the f*ck are you!?!” I might have shouted. And eventually a figure came rushing from the back of the crowd… blinkin’ nora.

As I was handed my bike (slick procedure by the T2 marshals) I wandered back to the team area, another hour or so until I had to run. Again, muscles seizing up countered the ‘luxury’ of the world’s longest transition time.

For the run, I wore my normal long-course Huub Race Hub tri suit. Again, I was torn between giving it my best effort and knowing that I had to race again in a couple of hours. So I tried to settle on a 20-minute time. Far from easy for me, but not so damaging that I shouldn’t be able to do it again with some rest.

The first kilometre felt great, but then the rest of the course basically followed the lake. Which was both a bit boring and open to the growing wind. But hey, it was only five kilometres, so suck it up, princess!

I handed over to our no.4 runner (thankfully waiting in the right place this time!) in just about 20 minutes dead, feeling like I’d worked hard but would be okay to go again.

We ended up about ninth in the open category. Not too bad given none of us are short-course specialists. In fact, two of us don’t really run or swim! It was all a bit of fun, but for me the serious racing was to come.

[need to finish this blog]

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