The trip started inauspiciously, with a 2-connection flight pattern: Denver - Houston - Newark - Frankfurt. When travelling on airmiles to get a free ticket, they don’t give a lot of choices.. Arrived the recommended 2.5 hours early for the flight, checked in 5 minutes - never had a chance of sneaking the bike by, agent said ‘you know it’s a $90 charge for the bike ?’ as soon as he saw me. Oh well. I had a borrowed bike case which started its life travelling to the old USTS Bud Light championships in Hilton Head, plus went to Kona a couple of times, so it’s a well-tested vintage piece of equipment. Several of the latches were missing, duct tape to the rescue, but I had my doubts how the TSA would manage with repacking the bike - left it in the lap of the gods. Clearing security took 10mins, so I had two hours to kill before the flight, spent it buying a book and greasing up with a Mickey D’s breakfast. Flight to Houston was uneventful, flight to Newark started badly with announcement that Newark had thunderstorms and arrivals backed up for an hour. It got worse, spent two hours in a holding pattern above N. Carolina, watching the sunlight run around the cabin as we circled. Ran out of gas and went to Baltimore, waited some more there, finally arrived in Newark at 10:30pm. The flight took 7 hours, longer than the flight from Newark to Frankfurt. Turns out some bright spark in air traffic control decided to delay all the incoming flights so the outgoings could leave on time, the Frankfurt left right smackdab on time at 7:30pm. Gee thanks.
Queued with a hundred other disconnected disgruntled souls to get rebooked, no European flights in the mornings, so a whole day to wait. Bah. Half went to the Ramada, 50 people in line to check in at midnight. Two guys were from Performance Bike, on their way to a bike trade show in Zurich, so we talked bikes to pass the time. Instead of living large in Lausanne, I was stuck in the swamps of Jersey.
No dinner as such, two apples I’d brought in case of emergencies, lunch had been a packet of peanuts. Hm prime nutritional preparation for a world championship. Took a couple of sleeping pills and slept the sleep of the righteous, awoke at 8am while they mowed the lawn outside my window with some turbo-tractor fitted with a performance exhaust, back to sleep until 11. Actually that night’s sleep was worth the entire price of admission, hadn’t slept so well in years. Another fine egg/bacon/grease breakfast to prime the pumps, and back to the airport when the hotel kicked me out at 12. Three laps of C terminal took about 90min of walking, plus allowed me to check out all the available bars. Fine Bass ale for late lunch, with a pretentious club sandwich: slices of brie on an entire chicken breast, garnished with fragments of toast.
By this time I’d reread several chapters of the first book, so needed more material. Found a nice economical paperback, lots of words per dollar, “Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell”. It’s a splendid time, recommended for all. I’d bought new headphones for this trip, hoping that the extra noise insulation would help with sleeping on the plane: they did indeed work well. Found a peaceful spot with good light, read and listened to magnificent ecclesiastical music in detail. For an introvert with two small noisy boys, this amounts to a kind of mini-vacation.
Skipped dinner on the Frankfurt flight, aiming for sleep instead. Another sleeping pill and the headphones worked well, drowsed for six hours, arrived in Deutschland feeling not too appalling. The bike took a full hour to arrive at baggage claim, the hall was empty and echoing as I wondered where I could rent a road bike in Lausanne. Luckily it finally showed up, with a single neon-yellow golf club riding on top of it ?? Discarded the club, and headed for car rental as fast as I could lug.
I’d rented a compact, since they all appeared to be hatchbacks, which can usually take a bike box. It was more difficult getting the bike into the rental shuttle than in the car. A Corolla diesel, with the back seats down the box fitted perfectly, about 2” clearance behind the front seats, made-to-measure. Cool. Off to the A5 autobahn and southwards. Now the autobahn is mostly speed-limitless, however the traffic congestion is such that you hardly ever get to go fast. I had a self-imposed 160kmh (100mph) limit which I drove whenever possible, but still only averaged 100kmh for the 300k to Basel. Autobahn driving requires dodging between the trucks doing 80kmh and the Mercs/BMWs/Audis doing 200kmh in the fast lane, have to pay constant attention. The Schwarzenwald was a mere blur in the distance as I raced to make the 5pm registration cutoff.. After 4hrs sleep in 20 I wasn’t on top of my game, so quite relieved to hit Switzerland and a 120 limit.
The radio stations gradually went from German to French, but the music hardly changed, a horrible mix of techno and disco-powered pop. Eurgh. All I had with me for music was tapes, not much use anymore, an antediluvian technology. I’ve scarcely begun migrating the tapes to CDs, never mind mp3 - simply don’t have time for an Ipod.
Switzerland charges 40 Swiss francs for a highway permit, which you pay at the border. No-one checked my passport, but they did insist on the permit. The guard gave me ‘gruss Gott’ (traditional Bavarian greeting), so either he was flattering me or I’d successfully camouflaged my (African)Americanism with a Teutonic buzzcut and a Guten Tag.
Basel was mostly under construction, seven lanes of traffic with constantly varying numbers of lanes going in each direction. Oy. Finally broke free of all that and hit the first of a hundred tunnels. The Swiss are very keen on tunnels, their country being so lumpy. Particularly around Basel, there were masses of steep short green hills, and ‘lumpy’ seems the mot juste. Beyond Basel, from Bern to Lausanne, the traffic diminished, driving went on autopilot, and the scenery was as fine as anything in the world. Around every corner, a chocolate box cover, lakes hills and old villages in an humanised pastoral idyll. Pastoral notwithstanding, I didn’t see many cows, though every Swiss souvenir has a cow - cow t-shirts, cow bells, cow puzzles, cow Kama Sutra t-shirts (eww).
Plummeted down into Lausanne, anxiously consulting the map to hit the right exit and parking garage. It was now 4:30, not much leeway to make registration. By this time the fatigue was very much like drunkenness, the stage where the world goes impressionist on you and refuses to stay put, quite. Dashed from the Place de Navigation to the Olympic museum, found registration and the nice Swiss/French ladies took care of me, even though I was a day late for USA team registration. Thank you the volunteers, once again.
After all this I’d missed the USA team meeting and the opening parade of nations, which was annoying. Heck with racing, I was there for the partying. In fact the main competitive goal of my year was qualifying for worlds, going to worlds was really just to get the t-shirt. There was no race t-shirt, either. Hah. Also missed the preview bike ride of the course, but I’d watched the video multiple times, figured I had a fair sense of the tricksy bits.
I still didn’t know where I was going to sleep. Originally thought I could do better than the USAT travel package of $800 for 5 nights, but it turned out Lausanne was fully booked. By the time I discovered this, all the USAT rooms had sold out as well. Eventually the travel agent dug up a few more rooms, $200/night with 3 people per room, I declined. So, the battle plan was to try Camping Vidy first, just 2km from the race site, then fan out over the countryside to other campsites or a hotel in Geneva or Montreaux. Luckily Camping Vidy still had a patch of grass available which was a great relief. They didn’t have the concept of a camp-site as such, just throw the tent down anywhere room could be found. There were a number of other triathletes camped there, English, French, Swiss and German. Most of them had the country’s flag draped over the tent which was a good idea. Unfortunately I didn’t have Old Glory with me and had to pitch anonymously, a man without a country. Upon returning from the pasta party I found two surly Germans camped with their tent lines intertwined in mine: at night I could hear them scratch. Couldn’t get a civil word out of them either, gracious.
Called home - thanks to the wonders of modern profiteering, it's cheaper to call Denver from Lausanne than from Newark airport. A quick 30min walk to the pasta party, in a huge marquee just off the lakefront. Queued for an hour to get food which was tedious not to say painful on my aching legs. Talked to an Irish guy - apparently most of them qualified by sending in a check, hm. Also chatted with a S. African girl, and another colonial, NZ or Aus, wearing a Robben Island t-shirt. Robben Island is where Mandela was imprisoned. I remember going drinking at the beachfront bars in Blaauwberg with a view across the island to Cape Town and Table Mountain - one of the best views in the world, but hard to look at in the 80’s knowing even what little we did. Everything echoes, here in the cave of my skull.
By the time I’d got my chunk of lasagne, nearly everyone else had finished eating. Found a table with Neal in my AG who lives a few miles away in CO, never met him before but we had several friends in common. Steven was also there, he and I came out of T2 together at Nationals, but he ran away from me. He kindly gave me a briefing from the race meeting. I learnt there would be a mile run from the swim to the bike, and another half-mile from the bike to the run. Interesting.
Back home in the campsite, dropped like a stone into bed. The advantage of camping is that I got a wholly familiar environment to sleep in, a down bag I’ve had for 25 years, a tent that’s pitched in five countries but looks the same from the inside in all of them. The other campers were generally well-behaved, quiet at night which is all you can ask for.
The campsite has a lakefront restaurant, planned to eat breakfast there. However as for the campsites, they didn’t quite have the idea of breakfast either: cup of coffee and a cigarette seemed to be the standard. I got my coffee, went next door to the little store and found a banana, ChocoPops and a tub of yogurt instead. Out to the lakefront to find a nice rock in the sun, contemplated the lake and the scullers racing by, pleasantly warm, schools of minnows flittering about the rock shallows with an occasional black-barred perch making forays and scattering them. The monk Bernard of Clairvaux is reputed to have walked for a day around Lake Geneva/Lac Leman, and had to ask his companion afterwards what they had seen. Not having his rich interior life, I could hardly look anywhere else, those miles of calm clear water stretching to the foot of the Alps are quite enchanting.
Then, time for the Bike Surprise ! What would the TSA and baggage handlers have achieved ? Luckily the only damage was a scratch on the chainstay, self-inflicted by a wayward bladed spoke, and a complete maladjustment of the rear shifting.This didn’t make much sense, as I hadn’t touched the cables, but maybe the TSA had to make sure the adjusters really turned. Went for a short ride along the lakefront diddling with the shifters until it was right again. The carbon wheels had made it unscathed. A Swiss MTB’er in camp offered me his floor pump when he saw me battling with the frame pump, merci beaucoup.
Off to town to shop for trinkets for wife kids and the guy who lent me a bike case. Pickin’s were thin, the Olympic Museum really had nothing, only the Moscow Olympic t-shirt was even moderately interesting, while the actual souvenir shops had tacky made-in-China stuff. Found some good but expensive t-shirts at the tri expo, sprang for those, but still had kids to shop for. Bought a bag of apples and baked goods, Basel lekkerli, for snacks. These were very delicious, a tasty substitute for energy bars.
Time for bike checkin, a half-mile hike from the bridge down to the rack. Yikes. Couldn’t even see the mount line from my rack, while the dismount line in the other direction was a distant blur. The bridge ? they’d built an entire wooden two-lane pedestrian bridge over the road, carpeted in ITU blue, to bring us from the swim to the T1 run segment. The whole infrastructure was very impressive - several other new wood bridges over the roads to get the spectators around, closed roads for the entire course with bales in the corners, etcetera. We were spoilt indeed.
Lunched at a creperie just by the finish line, in the cool air and warm sun, listening to the conversations of 62 nations. At best in Switzerland there are three languages, French, German and Italian: adding in the rest of the world made eavesdropping on your luncheon neighbours quite a puzzle. I can speak Afrikaans, which gives a toehold on German, plus a smattering of French. When speaking, the problem was I kept starting in French but detouring inadvertently into a sort of fractured German/Afrikaans as the synapses sputtered indignantly under the load. In keeping with my usual motto, ‘race globally, drink locally’ I had a fine Swiss Boxer beer. I see from their website they have a 12-litre backpack “For all those who need their beer to be permanently available, keggy pack is the answer. The mobile dispense unit in the form of a backpack provides the ideal counter balance for a beer belly!”. Hm, maybe after the race, perfect tourist accessory.
After lunch vegetated in the sun in a happy beery daze (advantage of being really fit, one beer is enough), for an hour or so until swim practice opened at 2pm. The small ponderable used to occupy what I laughingly call my ‘mind’ was the question of jetlag. There was no problem on this trip with an 8-hour time change. When I’ve travelled to Frankfurt on business, it usually takes most of the week to stop feeling like death warmed over. Suspect the sunlight is what’s needed, up early and spend the day in the mild Swiss sun, reset the internal clock with minimal pain. I had no real need for swim practice, always swim 24:30 out of the water however hard I train, but wanted to dive off the specially-built jetty like a real ITU racer (wooo). It took a few dives to figure out how to keep the goggles on - clamp the biceps to the side of the head/goggles, seems to be the trick. Then a leisurely half-lap through the clear water with a few pickups, breathe left and there’s the Chateau de Lausanne, breathe right and there’s lake and mountains. It couldn’t have been better. Drip-dried while watching the ITU guys practice their loops, dashing out of the water and diving for the second lap.
Back to the campsite to relax, took Jonathan Strange out on the bikepath to find a good spot. In my experience there’s always a comfortable armchair to be found somewhere in a jumble of large rocks such as those along the lake. Indeed there was a nice mossy lounger in the shade by the water, read quietly in the dappled light until dinnertime.
The restaurant at Camping Vidy is mostly outdoors, so the cigarette smoke wasn’t a problem. The most expensive thing on the menu, as for all restaurants in Lausanne, was fish from the lake, a kind of perch. I prefer to catch my own fish, so broke the ‘consume locally’ rule. The second most expensive thing was filet de cheval, horse steak, which I didn’t feel adventurous enough for. I was sitting alone at a picnic table awaiting my pizza Neapolitan when a family joined me, speaking French. There were several empty tables so this seemed odd, but put it down to local mores. From their later conversation with the waitress I gathered they felt sorry for me sitting alone, ‘le pauvre monsieur’. The pizza was excellent, oven-baked with a crispy crust.
As I was finishing the night’s entertainment was just firing up, a one-woman-band. Guitar, mouth-organ and drum machine, what more could be needed to make the night hideous.. Not quite what I was after for race rest, put on my noise-blocking headphones and made the best of it.
Next morning, it’s showtime folks ! Packed my junk into the race backpack and hiked the thirty minutes down to le quai d’Ouchy. Several other racers were walking in to the race from the campsite, but we all moved in our little bubbles of pre-race focus. Never started a race at 1 pm before, somewhat discombobulated, but at least it wasn’t a 4pm start like some of the women had. Found a sandwich shop for a light lunch, some kind of roll mit jambon et fromage, washed down with Coke. Ate it sitting on a traffic bollard watching the WADA racers go by, just astonishing. One guy riding one-legged, can’t imagine climbing a 10% grade with only one leg: others riding one-handed, again I could barely manage the braking and turns with two functional hands.
They let us in to transition one hour before start. Waited, lying on the grass outside the transition area watching the flags waving languidly over the Beau-Rivage $400/night hotel. Spectators were on their balconies sipping wine, high above the sweaty canaille. When I’m old and rich I’m going to stay there.. wait, I’m already old, and no prospect of riches anywhere, it’s always later than you think I fear. Into transition, lots of nervous high-stepping athletes pacing down to the faraway racks. I felt more than usually blobbish, squat and hairy. Spoke to Neal after setting up, also Russell, who had beaten me by 12 sec at Nationals with a strong closing run. Neal had a pretty new Trek Madone in flame red. Someone had put up a small orange flag just two bikes down which I’d welcomed, but an ITU official came by sternly confiscating all the flags or markers.
Back to the swim staging area for wetsuit wrestling time. A precautionary hit of albuterol (salmeterol here in Europe), a few passes at yoga to calm the mind and stretch the limbs, off over the bridge to the jetty. We didn’t dive, instead sat then jumped in, one hand on the jetty until start. This was a relief as it allowed me the usual pre-race pee. Ahead of us in a semi-circle ten divers waited, submerging a few minutes before the start so the cold green water seethed with bubbles, felt like humpback whale dinner caught in a bubble cage. One frozen moment, then the turmoil. I love swimming in clear water and watching it all unfold. Below us, weeds, fishes scattering, the imperturbable earth. Usually I’m front-of-pack on the swim in my age group (AG), today I was solidly in the middle, churning away and getting churned in turn. Everyone was well behaved though, no foot grabbing or punching, so we all thrashed our way amicably out to the big yellow buoys and the turnaround. After the turn a swimmer in Italian colors, blue and white, came by me, so I jumped on his feet for a few hundred yards and rode the bubble stream of his draft. Felt slow, came out of the draft and realized my mistake as he pulled away.
Out of the water onto the carpeted exit ramp, more unaccustomed luxury, normally have to run up through rocks, sand, mud and brambles. Over the bridge, stopped to remove wetsuit, then carried it slung around the shoulders like a neoprene boa. Hammered the half-mile run on carpet since I knew I’d be slow running barefoot on the next half-mile of road, passed three here. Found the bike quite easily by the large gaps around it, but still had lots of company so figured I was having the race I expected - reasonable swim, limit the damage on the bike, then attack the run, was the plan. Out of T1 was another quarter-mile of road running with the bike, galloping down the road in bike shoes, well I needed new cleats anyway. Neal was just ahead of me which wasn’t good, usually can hold him off until a few miles out of transition.
Finally climbed aboard the bike, hauled it up into the big ring and hunkered down on the aerobars to enjoy 2km of flat before the trouble started. I’d switched to a road bike for this race but still put on the short ITU-style aerobars (old Profile Jammers) since they tested significantly faster than the drops. This did pay off, passed four guys on the flats after chasing them up and down the hills. That was the last thing that went according to plan unfortunately. Spectators on this flat stretch had noisemakers that sounded uncannily like a chain getting ready to drop off and jam, grr-clack-clack-clack, made me look down more than once. Still it was nice to have the company. There was an avenue of plane trees on one section, like riding through a green tunnel.
Up the first hill, the much-vaunted 10% grade, but it wasn’t tough at all, didn’t get lower than 34x19 at any point. Also it wasn’t long enough, long hard climbs are really the only thing I do well on a bike, these were more on the lines of a stunt climb like Old Stage hill. That plus the steep descents and sharp turns made this the worst possible bike course for me, being a cowardly descender, mediocre bike handler, and low on accelerating power. I’d hoped the hills would be steep and long, but there was just one steep pitch and nothing very long. Near the top of this hill some enthusiast had chalked on the road ‘à bloc!’ (go all out) and ‘courage’, which I took very kindly. A swift descent followed, including a short stretch of cobblestones. I could feel the bike get loose and twitchy over the cobbles, so didn’t do any braking, just loosened up myself and slithered over to the road before slamming on the brakes to negotiate a 90 degree turn. Riding in Europe on cobblestones, how cool is that ? I’m sure they included this stretch just to make the Merkuns happy, it certainly did me. Up out of the saddle to accelerate on the second flat stretch of less than a km, then a long moderate climb to the high point. They’d allocated us two lanes of a four-lane road for this climb. On the other side traffic was piled up waiting to get through, a few passengers would lean out the windows to encourage us, ‘allez allez allez!’ This too made me feel like a Real Cyclist, ahem. From the high point, a few minor undules, then a screaming left-hand turn on a narrow road between high mossy walls, a sort of medieval canyon: flicker through a traffic circle, a mild descent into a sharp turn to a short very steep drop back onto the 2km of flat. On one of the descents, all of which ended in sharp turns to kill speed, there was fresh tar laid to render a speed bump harmless: on every circuit I’d skid slightly over the fresh tar, you’d think I’d learn. Repeat. Repeat. The 50-54 group started 10min behind us, with the 18-19 starting 10min ahead, so all three agegroups were circulating on the loop, made it hard to tell where you were. There were time checks every 10km, at 13, 23, and 33k. My splits were 17:21, 17:21, 17:21 which probably doesn’t mean anything. I expected to get faster on the loop once I’d figured out the corners, but I guess cowardice (or Prudence, that delightful girl whose quiet virtues become more appealing as I grow ever older) prevailed.
Once off the loop, it was rather lonely, no-one in sight ahead or behind. This wasn’t good. Down to the lake, dismount and clip-clop a quarter mile to the now-full bike rack, oh dear. Legs were sore, but it was a relief to get running shoes on the battered feet. My body loves to run, usually all I have to do in races is turn it loose and enjoy the ride, but today wasn’t working. An Italian was running slow a hundred yards ahead but I was not catching him, sluggish and sore. Instead of an instinctive swift turnover, every stride took a small but distinct effort, a mechanical drudgery.
Under the bridge and plunge into the stream of runners, four laps of 2.5k each, 1:50 on the watch. Already I was down to a 2:30 finish time at best, about a 2:21 equivalent after correcting for the long transitions, slower than usual and a lot slower than I’d hoped. Grinding along the waterfront feeling like the end of a bad marathon, running on willpower instead of joy. The spectators were great, lots of cute tri-spouses (possibly tri-daughters, given the age group) shouting for the USA, thank you ladies. Also Tim Yount and Jeff Dyrek of USAT were working hard, they cheered for each USA runner by name - as Steven said later, it was like being back in school x-country, with the coaches yelling at you to ‘pick it up!’, ‘catch this guy!’ etc. I learnt he’d run World x-country as a junior, today he ran the second-fastest 45-9 10k in 37:39, impressive. He lapped me on my third lap. Neal was running well but looking strained, about 7 minutes ahead of me. First lap well over 11min, got disgusted and kicked it up, haha horselaugh - in John Parker’s memorable description, “(The Mystic Ultras) form and pace look exactly the same whether they’re running a marathon or a 100-meter dash. The only way you can tell they’re sprinting is the fire in their eyes.” So, flaming eyes and all, 10min for the second lap, but then could not hold on, r quad cramping and dropped to near 11 again on the third, held it there for the fourth, basically just a kind of survival shuffle at this point. A big Aussie I thought I’d left for good on the bike cruised past on the last km, despite Tim’s imprecations I couldn’t hold on to him and staggered in to the finish on 2:34. Video can be found here, not safe for dialup connections. If I look a little dejected it’s because I wuz, a flat 10k at 1000ft elevation should have been an easy 40, not a hard and unlovely 44. It’s lucky there were no hills, or I would have been walking in the world championships and I’m not sure I could have dealt with that.
Shook hands with the Aussie and posed with him for a picture by his SO (spousal equivalent), back over that bridge yet again. Another friend from Denver was waiting in the 30-34 women to begin their swim, wished her luck and gave a 10-second bike course briefing - the airlines lost her bike, so she also hadn’t pre-ridden the course. There was lots of Erdinger Alkohol-frei beer which rather missed the point I thought. Tasted much like beer, but a strange sharp vegetal sort of nose, had to breathe out while lifting the glass so as not to be surprised by the odor. Ate everything I could see, then went back for more. Lay down on the grass, ragged and weary, between a group of New Zealanders and another of South Africans. Shut my eyes, elevated the feet and breathed. The younger women were finishing by now, listened to the bokkies talking. One of the girls had been at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, hearing her accent was like a time machine, I was twenty again on a sunny beach. Another peeled off her racing top and asked Grahamstown girl, “is this see-through ?” “Well, no.. perhaps a little bit” - took all my remaining willpower to keep my head down and eyes closed instead of popping up like a meerkat.
Transition area opened, limped down to recover the bike. Kylie came flying by in T2, cheered her on, and walked slowly back through the Expo. Results were posted already, 55th out of 94 starters, though I was downgraded to 56th in the official results, not sure why. Last US finisher, guys I beat or who beat me by 2 minutes or less at Nationals were 5 to 15 minutes ahead today. Even though the goal of my competitive year was just to qualify for Worlds at Nationals, not this race itself, it was still disappointing to underperform so thoroughly. In retrospect it’s easy to see all the symptoms of overtraining in my training log, but in the thick of it had difficulties distinguishing the usual sleep problems and fatigue of aging, from the exceptional overtrained condition. Also, in thirty years of racing, I’ve never attempted to peak for two races only seven weeks apart. Tried a mini-build, 2 weeks recovery, 2 weeks easy volume, 2 weeks tempo, and a taper: the volume weeks were probably too high, should have resisted the temptation to race Boulder in there, and thrown in a lot more rest.
USAT held a post-race shindig in the ballroom of the Beau-Rivage. On the way in, there’s a picture of said ballroom with the League of Nations meeting in it, which gives one to think. Gorgeous room, dramatic spaces with chandeliers, cupids and assorted nymphs disporting themselves with rococo marmoreal exuberance all over the ceiling. It’s been a long time since I travelled single, tend to rely on my wife to be social while I tag along in a fog of inwardness, suddenly I had to remember how not to be a wallflower. Went for the bold approach, walked up to a likely-looking couple and just started talking. I think they were a little taken aback, but I went into full chatter mode and pretended to be perfectly normal. He had also come 55th in his AG (snap!), though a good deal faster than me, and similarly not happy with his race. He’s a history teacher, doesn’t look like anyone’s idea of a history teacher, more of the Marine clean clear-eyed robust appearance. I taught high school math for less than a year but wasn’t tough enough to keep the job, congratulated and thanked him for his fortitude. His wife is a med student, three years to go. She’d planned to go into family practice, but had second thoughts after finding out how much politics and administrivia a GP has to deal with - dozens of insurance companies, all of which second-guess the doctor’s treatment plan for her patients, all of which have their own paper-based billing system. It strikes me as a real problem for US healthcare that even the young idealists (only an idealist would let her spouse be a teacher) don’t want to do the necessary jobs. The party was gay, acoustics of the empty ballroom weren’t ideal though, rackety. They called up each AG in turn to be cheered, which was a nice touch I thought in my emotionally fragile state. Plenty of booze but no food to speak of, had not had time to eat dinner beforehand and was fading fast. Chatted briefly with Skip Gilbert, Neal’s wife tasked him with the US uniforms being indistinguishable from the UK ones, blue body with red stripe: so the spectators couldn’t tell who to cheer for, ‘GO.. whoever you are’. Skip promised to do better.
Outside in the equable autumn night, merriment in the air - as Neal said of the Australians, a party looking for a place to happen. I really needed to eat something but couldn’t stay awake long enough for the leisurely European-paced service in the restaurants, instead had a Mars bar and went home to my tent. Saturday, campsite entertainment tonight was a band doing ancient rock covers, Duane Eddy tremolo and all, until 12:30. Boy the new headphones got a lot of use on this trip.
Awoke having slept on it, but still couldn’t made peace with my race. On the one hand I was truly elated just to be there, getting there was the hard part and the race was supposed to be jam, not consequential: on the other, I’d blown it, was feeling shamed disgraced and dejected. I remember my physics lab partner in university (we were both hopeless nerds but I was a running geek as well) once saw a running magazine in my backpack and dissolved in helpless laughter: "what do they write about in those magazines ? Left foot, right foot, now faster ??". Absurd ? well, absurd.
A brief tourist interlude, drove over to Chateau de Chillon, mostly to find something good for the 5-year-old, who is keen on castles and knights. Would have preferred to take a boat trip on the lake, I’m a sucker for a boat ride, but that would take all day and I wanted to get back in time to see some of the elite racing. Chillon is dense with a long and blood-drenched history, though the effect is spoilt by road, arriving through McDonald’s and warehouses. Byron visited Chillon in company with Mary Shelley and John Polidori in 1816, the year without a summer, when both Frankenstein (Mary) and The Vampyre (by John, the first of the romantic Gothic vampire fantasies) were written. Byron carved his name into one of the pillars of the dungeon, went back to Geneva and wrote about it. That’s Europe for you, kick over a rock and there are a hundred human stories, most of them untold. Touring the castle, the stones do not speak, bland sunlight reflects off the water into the old rooms, geraniums glow red in the courtyards. Sat outside on the terrace and drank an espresso to cure my headache, watching swans in the lake paddle around sunflowers below the castle walls. The gift shop didn’t have much castle tat, but found a paper kit model of the castle, which in the event appears to require knowledge of advanced topology to construct.
Back to the scene of my disgrace to catch the tailend of the men’s elite race, having missed the women. At the bottom of one of the hills with a 90 degree LH turn, there was a hideous howling each time, as brake pads hit carbon fibre throughout the pack. I have to admit the ITU drafting races are exciting to watch. Went to feed the basic appetite at the Tri Cafe with a saucisse et frites, that’s banger and chips in English, sausage and fries in American. There was a disgruntled Brit in line, talked about our races, he’d been off the alcohol for two months in preparation for the race and was really looking forward to his beer. Unfortunately it was yet more alkohol-frei so I skipped it. The race looked to be won during the bike, as a lead group put over a minute into the rest of the field. They were very impressive off the bike, came by running 5min miles, it was clear the winner was going to be one of them, barring something extraordinary. Hunter was looking strong on the run and picking people off, but Tim Don and Hamish Carter were running just as fast, with a 1 minute+ lead. Andy stayed close to Hunter for 3 of the 4 laps of the run, fell off on the last one. He’s a big guy, strong running for such size.
Lead pack off the bike
Hamish and Tim duking it out
Hunter battling hard
The winning break
Strolled around the transition area goggling at the bikes. I was interested to see what wheels the pros had chosen for the course: more Ksyriums than anything else, lots of Lightweights which you don’t hear much about in the US, also quite a few Bontrager carbons. Tim Don’s Trek had Bontrager carbons with luminous pink kevlar spokes, very showy.
Found a seat in the shade on the waterfront to await the u23s race. A Lausannois and his wife were sitting near me talking in French, after I essayed a comment in Franglais they switched to English. He said the lake isn’t always as beautifully clear as it was for us, so we’d been lucky. She had a ‘marathon de lausanne’ polo shirt on, the half goes from Lausanne to Montreaux, the full returns as well. Apparently there’s a bike path all the way from Lausanne to Chillon through the vineyards, if I’d known I could have ridden there and back. The u23s were one pack on the first loop, out of the water in under 9 for the 750m: as they ran and dived for the second loop, one or more a second, they looked like so many seals or penguins, a continuous arc of black wetsuits into white spray. A lead and second pack developed on the next loop, still all but one were out of the water under 20min by my watch. Yowza.
The men’s and women’s awards were going on as the u23s raced. Given that there’s a statue of Freddy Mercury in Montreaux, and a 60th birthday celebration going on that weekend, it was inevitable that ‘We are the Champions’ would be played at the award ceremony. It occurred to me that was the first time I’ve ever heard that song where it was literally applicable, not mere bombast - these really were champions of the world.
The boat not taken
More ballasbak by the lakeside on a Sunday afternoon, then ambled back to camp and a short swim off the beach. Met one of the English campers there, who turned out to be a South African living in London. She’d expected to be top 10 in her AG, but wound up 40th. We commiserated on our races. Now she had to go back and explain to her sponsors what went wrong, at least that’s one problem I don’t have to cope with. There were kids screaming all over the beach, felt right at home.
Sunday evening promenade along the lakefront, together with a large fraction of the population of Lausanne, la jeunes filles tres chic oo-la-la, to the awards party. Sat with Steven, wife, brother Scott, and Roger from the 60-65 AG. Congratulated Steven on his 15th placing, from 12th at Nationals to 15th at Worlds, clearly did something right. In discussions later it turned out Roger trains about 3hrs/day, with 6hr days on the weekends, and is off to his 9th Kona in October. Steven reckoned on close to 3 hours a day on average. I did not mention my hours. There were souvenir bottles of wine, 3 per table, with triathlon labels, but the evaporation rate was something terrible, they didn’t last long at all. The one I tried was a Gamay/Pinot blend that seemed mostly Gamay, like a Beaujolais with a bit more backbone, rather tasty. Massive trading of uniforms was happening in the middle of the floor, there was even a Zimbabwe jacket. If I ever do this again I’ll buy a heap of USA team clothes just to trade. The Australian warmup jacket and the South African polo shirt were particularly appealing. I nearly lost the USAT t-shirt off my back to a wheeling-and-dealing South African, but given it was the only shirt I had from the race, didn’t want to trade it. The USAT team polos were a bit of a bust, said only TEAM USA in large red letters without even mentioning triathlon, world championships, or Lausanne: so I hadn’t bought any. The food was delicious, Scott and I managed to sample the beef, paella, and pasta before giving it best. With 2000 people partying hearty, it was difficult to even hear the awards. Two of the US AWAD women were at the table next to us, the winner had run the 10k faster than I did.. got to see a world championships gold medal up close.
A drunken ramble back to the campsite wondering how safe a dark 11pm path was, but after all it’s Switzerland, the worst thing was overhearing an emotional scene between two lovers in the moonlight. Quiet night at last, slept well. Tossed the soggy tent into the car and headed back for Frankfurt. Stopped in Baden-Baden for lunch at a beergarden, fine heavyweight German cuisine, veal mit spaetzle, a good few pounds of ballast to oppose the litre of beer. Took the waters in the Roman-Irish bath for a little relaxation, these are highly recommended. Baden itself is rather like Aspen, many plump sleek men and beautiful women with the sheen that only the frequent application of copious amounts of money can produce.
Stayed in a Holiday Inn Express in Morfelden, very unadventurous, but when catching flights I like to go simple. Unpacked the wet tent and draped it around the room to dry, which had the added advantage of dispersing the characteristic fragrance of drying tent, made the room perfectly homely. Took the train to Frankfurt thinking to have a lope along the banks of the Main and a little apfelwine to settle the humours. The station itself is a grand structure, full of that 19th-century optimism, but walking anywhere from there requires penetrating the red light district which was not attractive. It was getting late and dark, just bought a snack and roved around the station, pitying the heavily laden tourists arriving from the airport. In the morning the package tour bus fired up at 7:30 outside my window so I didn’t need the wakeup call, how considerate.
Off again into the bowels of the tourism industry, just another item on the conveyor belt being stamped formed and processed. Nothing left to read, watched bad movies for hours, Gandalf in The Da Vinci code which was as awful as the book, then Gandalf again in the more realistic X-men: The Last Stand, together with Captain Picard. That old wizard gets around. Back in Newark airport for yet another connection, it felt like I’d never left.