Monday, October 14, 2013

Working Honeymoon

The Valley Harvest 50km Ultramarathon last weekend was possibly one, if not the, hardest thing I've ever done.  Mea culpa, I went into it underprepared; not through any sense of slack-ass but because I missed some crucial weekends of training by doing other stuff. Officiating mainly.  Having said that, as hard as the Ultra was (really, really fecking hard), I wouldn't have traded the officiating experiences I had this summer for 15 seconds a kilometer less and a framed print.

I've worked national events, Continental Cups and even a couple of world Cups but never a WTS event. Back in September I was lucky enough to skip straight to the big dog and work not just a WTS event but the Grand Final.

The icing on the cake, what made it more special was it was in London, my adoptive (if not actual) home town back in Blighty. It was also somewhat of a honeymoon for la belle and myself. Our wedding date back in May was chosen as it didn't conflict with either our racing schedule or that of our guests. It almost seemed natural that our honeymoon, such as it was, would be combined with an officiating grip. Edmonton just didn't do it for us (sorry Edmonton), accommodations in Magog definately weren't honeymoon quality and St Andrews was just too brief a trip. Besides, there's something about London. Samuel Johnson was right, when you're tired of London, etc etc..... 

So, here in a but of a nutshell is a kinda diary

Tuesday September 10: we actually got to the UK on Saturday 7th and went staight to Leeds to see my mother and step-father. Actually I'm not from Leeds either, rather from a small village to the norrh of Leeds, Horsforth, long since subsumed into the Leeds-Bradford conurbation. Horsforth also just happens to be where the Brownlees are from, more of them later, but for now, here's Ali's gold postbox in Horsforth. 

After a couple of days at home, including the obligatory "John couldn't make the wedding but we have a bottle of champagne here: shall we open it?" we got the train from Leeds on Tuesday morning, pulled into KGX bang on time and went straight to race-site in Hyde Park with our suitcases. Given that our hotel was only a 15 minute walk from race site and 5 minutes from Hyde Park's Queen Gate, we didn't really leave Hyde Park for the next five days! As soon as we walked into the race village we met Janice Turner, the Canada Games TD and the BTF's Bob Newton, who we worked with in at World Dus three years ago.  Two minutes later we bumped into John Petrides. In short, seven minutes in and we were already among friends.

We went straight to the TO's meeting, chaired by Thanos Nikopolous, arguably the highest triathlon official in the world. Asides maybe, from Gergly Markus, who was the team leader instead. Anyway, Thanos used the meeting to set the tone for the week and introduce the sector chiefs. We also had a paratriathlon seminar. It was the same one we had in Edmonton, but repetition is good, especially for something this new. The sector chiefs weren't the only ones introduced, it seemed to me Thanos referred to me by name three or four times during the meeting as I had apparently been tapped as "the" bike-check guy. No pressure then! 

I met my boss for the week, NZ's Ross Cahill. Also in the team was Janice and Yan Therrien. Along with Melissa, also a Kiwi, TZ was a very Canada/Kiwi affair.

After the meeting we checked in to our hotel, the ABBA on Queensgate.

Apparently we got an upgrade to an executive room, which is funny because we've only stayed in an ABBA once before, in Gijon (at World Dus 2011) and headed out to east london for a curry on Brick Lane. 

Wednesday September 11. The only race scheduled for the Wednesday was the Aquathlon.  There wasn't a lot for a bike-check guy to do during the aquathlon! Bike check guy however isn't an official ITU job designation, I was technically billed as Assistant TZ (bike check)  although to be honest I could have just as easily been Assistant Registration as that's where most of the actual bike checking took place. Registration was where la belle was stationed with the USA's Joyce Donaldson and her sector chief, Mike Masters, who I think I was Prince William's helicopter mechanic. So instead of bike check at the aquathlon. I worked transition. It was fun, I'd never really worked an aquathlon before, just a small AG one here in NS with 20 people or something. Not the same. The Aquathlon helped us all get into the groove of things as there were age-group, para and elite races all compressed into one afternoon. 

Thursday September 12. This was our big day, with the Junior men and Junior Women followed by the U23 Men and U23 women. We were at race site at 05:30, which meant getting up at 04:30 which for those still struggling with jet-lag was a little like getting up at midnight!  Janice, Yan and I checked in the Junior women, went and worked TZ to get them out of T1 before returning to Registration to check the Junior men while the junior women finished up, then go work TZ and get the Junior men out of T1. Repeat for the U23s. You get the picture for the day.  With big, multi-race events you don't get to see the whole race, you'll only get to see your small, two-metre square of blue carpet.  For instance, I was asked a few times about the bike or run routes and I just didn't know; still don't!

I was lucky being tasked to be in-between bike-check and TZ proper. At least I got so see some racing.    La belle was pure Registration for four days and barely saw a pedal turned in anger all week.  

Our work wasn't done after the U23 as the Canadian/Kiwi bike check team segued straight into the Tri1 paratriathlon check; hand-bikes and racing chairs. This was somewhat new to most of us but I was lucky enough to have had some exposure to it in Edmonton. Fortunately Thanos was there to get us trained up and super-comfortable with it.

Then, after the Tri1 were finished the Elites turned up. Most of them rode down and they racked in the same place we were checking the hand-bikes so we ended up pulling security on the elite bikes and one very crappy fixie (which I hope belonged to a coach) while they were being briefed.

I couldn't really leave anyway as la belle was registration and checking them all in.  Everyone was on a road bike except the Brownlees, who rolled down on Boardman MTB's.  One of the Yorkshire BTF guys said "you going to race that then are you" to which Ali replied with a smile "well, I've got to make in interesting 'aven't I?" 

All in all, we got off race-site at 19:00. Long day. 

Friday September 13: This was one of three consecutive mental days with age-grouper and elite racing.  One of the nice ways the event was arranged was with the TOs. They were very proud about having a team of 80 TOs. We were split up, with some doing primarily age-group and others Elites. This meant that we didn't all have to pull 0-dark thirty starts every day. So whereas la belle, Ross, Yan, Janice and a whole bunch of us were all up stupid early on Thursday, half of the TOs team were having a relative lie-in.  Conversely, on Friday, we were able to get the lie-in while the age-group Sprint kicked off at the crack of sparrows.

Friday was the paratriathlon. Although as a team we checked all the bikes, the TZ was split into two, with the Tri1, Tri2 and Tri5 (in other words all the lower-leg impairments) in the Elite TZ and the Tri3, Tri4 and Tri6 in age-group transition.

Elite bike-check was fun; aero-carbon, deep-dish wheels, Dura-Ace, Red and Record but ultimately a bit samey at times: "Oh look, another Scott Foil with Zipp 404s and Di2".  The Para's bike were a weird and wonderful mix: each individuals' bike was customised to his or her individual disability,

The tandems, for instance, were pretty easy to check as there were no modifications.  Anyway, I could look at tandems all day, even if I can't ride one with la belle. There's nothing worse than a back-seat driver on a tandem. I mean, all the rear gunner needs to do is pedal, but that's a different story.

The Janice/Andrew bike-check tandem was assigned to Tri4 bike-check. Tri4 is upper-limb impairment.  Whereas I have a whole ton of respect for all the para-athletes, I have a special admiration for the Tri4s. Just wait until you've seen an athlete take a corner, full gas, on the bars with only one arm.  It's something that eludes many age-groupers!

For the Tri4s, we got to use the "approved modifications" book, an ITU booklet which as the name suggests contains approved modifications to paratriathletes' bikes. My book, which was just a print-out of the pdf, got hammered as it (naturally) rained as we were working outside in a small, tented-off field, and I wasn't wearing a rain-coat!  Not that a rain-coat would have helped my paperwork!

La belle might disagree, but it seemed to me that the bikes for the lower-limb impairments mostly  followed the same pattern, as a rule standard bikes.  The para-specific stuff for a Tri2 or Tri5 was, in the main, having a prosthetic limb of some description; be it a traditional endoskeleton-type or a Blade-runner like carbon leaf, that clipped into the pedal.  The Tri4s however were all somewhat unique, with each bike more closely reflecting the individuals disability.  From a bike-geek's point-of-view, pure nerdy heaven, Where do I sign up to do more?  Checking Tri4 bikes was a little like doing a bike-assesment when booking a bike in for work at Cyclesmith; check the brakes, check the gears, check the wheels. Certainly, that skill-set was very useful.  The level of ingenuity in the Tri4 bikes was amazing, and I saw Di2 used in ways  I'm sure Shimano had not dreamed of. I don't think I saw Campy's EPS on any of the bikes.  If this is because it's inherently less adaptable than Di2 or it just reflects the relative newness of EPS I don't know. Time will tell.

We had to turn a couple of bikes away for dangerous modifications (not only not in the book but frankly dangerous) but fortunately both athletes were able to get their bikes fixed to our satisfaction before their starts. One guy made the pontoon by the skin of his teeth; it's quite the story.

He turned up with only one working brake. Having only one arm he had disconnected the front brake as he couldn't use it.  The easy fix was a cable-splitter. Most Tri4s had one fitted. He didn't.  Unfortunately, the on-site mechanics didn't have a cable splitter and his start was in a hour. There's a moral here about checking in early I'm sure.  Anyway, the on-site mechanics from a a well-known on-line bike shop weren't able to fix it so bike ended up with the Specialized techs at the Spec booth at 13:30 hrs. Did I mention his start was 14:10?  Unfortunately for me, I didn't have a radio so I was literally running the 400 m between check-in and the Spec tent and then the additional 400m to AG TZ, where he would eventually be racked, and begging air-time from whomever I could find with a radio! At 13:45 it looked like the Spec Techs had fixed it by drilling a hole into his existing MTB brake-lever and running a cable from that to the previously superfluous front brake. As they drilled and hemmed and hawed, the guys team manager was hopping from foot to foot outside the Spec tent with his athletes TZ box (running shoes, bike shoes, helmet etc). At 13:50 I went to see the team manager and told him the repair was done and could he kindly get his athlete onto the pontoon now as it would be a pity if he missed his start after all this work.  The manager threw the TZ box at me and exited stage left. I grabbed the box and the bike and exited stage right.  I must have looked quite the sight, running through the Expo to AG TZ with a box under one arm and pushing his bike with the other.  Anyway, I had his stuff set up and racked by 14:05 and managed to inform the Referee that he was all was good to go.

As the guy was a Tri4 and I was working the other TZ so I didn't even know he'd started until I saw him an hour later on the run.

Knowing how Cyclesmith works, Techs are paid for off-the-clock work the clock in beer, so that night I headed out to Waitrose and bought them beer, which Lesley Buchanan, the Race Referee (and also a Canadian) wouldn't let me pay for; which I thought was a bit classy.  All in all, a job well done I think. The bike techs, always the unsung heroes (who can do a bike-race if their bike doesn't work?) did a sterling job under the radar and got their beer and, more importantly, the athlete got his race on the world's biggest triathlon stage.

Paratriathlon TZ was the only Elite TZ we, as officials, had to be physically present in, as opposed to observing from a distance. We also had three or four extra officials in there, the paratriathlon classifiers. Part of their gig is to observe the para-athletes in competition to see if they are over-representing their disability.   Appeals over classification are a big thing in para-sport. At least in triathlon we only have seven categories; imagine athletics which has dozens!  Add the handlers, and it was packed, as you can see i the official ITU video.

With handbikes, regular bikes and racing chairs flying all over the place. How we didn't lose anyone to an errant wheel I don't know. I was nearly taken out by a handbike. This thing was flying at 40kph, the whole thing barely 60cm above the ground: knee-height basically. Totally silent and painted bright orange, it was like watching the pod-race from The Phantom Menace.

Then we were all nearly taken out by a handbike which didn't stop on the Dismount line and skidded into TZ as the guy dropped both front anchors and went from 40 to 0 on wet carpet.

It occurs to me this is getting awfully long, so I"ll stop it here and to the Elite races in another post.

Thanks for hanging on there and reading.


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