French Duathlon Grand Prix

Danielle Stewart; TORQ’s very talented duathlete, has been racing a number of French Grand Prix’s recently. These races have some of the most competitive international fields in duathlon racing. She has been racing very strongly and is improving at every race, as she hones her race-craft for the short draft based formats. This is her perspective on travelling to France to race the best in the World…

French Duathlon Grand Prix – Still Duathlon: The Second Round of the French Duathlon Grand Prix took place in a small but picturesque village called Still. This was to be my first race in the series so I was a little nervous since the French Grand Prix comprises some of the most competitive and high quality duathlon racing in the world. Until this race, I was unaware that most of the races would be sprint duathlons, which is half the distance I am used to and therefore a lot faster! This, combined with a draft-legal format on the bike, again to which I am unaccustomed to from age group racing, made for an exciting race!

Still Duathlon was even more unusual in that the format was a run/bike/run/bike/run (2,4 km / 12,8 km / 2,5 km / 12,8 km / 2,9 km)! After a lot of travelling by car (11 hours), we arrived at the pre-race pasta party in time to sample what was left. It didn’t take long before we were off to bed for some much needed sleep.

On race day, the gun went and I was shocked at how quickly the girls were at full speed. I wasn’t aggressive enough at the start of the race and found myself stuck behind a lot of girls throughout what was to be a very narrow run course. First lesson learned!

I followed the lead group in to transition and thought I was pretty quick to pass through, only to find most of the other girls kept their trainers on for the bike and used toe-clips to ensure even quicker transitions (there were 4 in total after all!), and managed to open a gap away from me. Second lesson learned! I had to make a decision about whether to try to time-trial my way up to the lead pack or to wait for the following pack and work together. I decided to do the latter since there was a fellow team member in the group behind that I could work with. It turned out I was one of the stronger cyclists in the group so I was doing far too much work. Third lesson learned! It also meant the next run couldn’t be as fast as I would have liked as I wouldn’t have caught the girls ahead and didn’t want to be on my own for the second bike. The second bike lap was a bit quicker but the hills started to take their toll on the group. On to the final run and I was able to run a bit harder to the finish to finish ahead of the girls in my group. I finished in 15th place.

Overall I was pleased with the race and gained a massive insight in to what it is like to compete at elite level in duathlon. I learnt a lot and hopefully will improve in the next round of the French Duathlon Grand Prix.

Danielle Stewart running 2012

French Duathlon Grand Prix – Gray Duathlon: The Third Round of the French Duathlon Grand Prix took place in the small town of Gray, near Dijon. This was to be my second attempt at a French Grand Prix race and I was hoping for a much improved race. I learnt a lot from my first race so I decided to focus on one key thing to work on in this race and that was to ensure that I was up with a group on the first run.

After a lot of travelling once again, but this time made up of a combination of car, train and minibus, we arrived in time to recce the bike and run course on the evening before. There was one steep climb on the bike course in town with some particularly technical sections but the run was pretty flat with around 1.5km off-road. I am not the most confident bike handler so that was going to prove the most difficult part of the race for me.

It was clear right from the start that the standard of the race was going to be much higher than the last race since Katie Hewison and Sandra Levenez (World no.1 and 2) were at the front looking very lean and mean! There were some of the best girls in the world once again ready to show what form they were in. Oddly enough, I was less nervous than I expected to be.

The gun went and I was determined to get a good start. I pushed to make sure I was as close to the front as possible. I found myself in a group of girls and didn’t see that Katie and Sandra had started to make a break away from the group until it was too late. I worked my way to the front of the group to push the pace on a little. I knew I wouldn’t keep up with the two lead girls but I thought at least we could minimise the damage. I have been suffering with a long-term nerve problem in my back, glute and hamstring, which was in the background throughout the run but showed itself on the off-road section of the course where I had to drop back a little. Once back on the road I started to make up time again and close the gap. I finished the run with a 17:08 run split – happy with that!

After an average transition I was in a group of girls on the bike and we quickly got to work. Normally I am strong on the climbs but found that my lack of bike training over the winter was showing. I had to work hard to keep up with the other girls. I found that my lack of confidence on the fast, technical sections was costing me time as I was thrown off the back on every sharp corner and I was having to time-trial my way back on to the group on the one flat, windy section along the river. Not the most efficient way to ride!

The bike section was over quickly and I soon found myself in T2 putting my trainers back on. Unfortunately the work on the bike had taken its toll and both calf muscles cramped as I went to run, leading to some very embarrassing stop-start hobbling for the first 1km of the second run! Eventually the cramp subsided and I got to work at chasing the girls ahead. I felt strong again and was gaining but the course wasn’t quite long enough to make up lost time. I finished in a respectable 14th position in a tight field of strong athletes. I was very pleased and achieved my goal of keeping with a lead group on the first run! Once again, I will be taking away some very useful learning points when it comes to elite racing!

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