Harry Wiltshire describes crashing on the bike descent at Ironman Nice
British long-course athlete says his hopes for Kona qualification took a blow at Ironman Nice last weekend after he hit an unexpected speed bump on the bike leg and crashed, hard
The aim for the season is to qualify as a professional athlete to race the World Ironman Championships in Kona Hawaii. The most common question that I am asked if I tell someone that I am a triathlete is, "Have you been to Kona?" The answer is currently no and this season is about fixing that.
Fifty pro men get to start in Kona. To qualify you must score points in up to five ironman races in the 12 months preceeding Hawaii. Very roughly two wins, five fifth place finishes or something in between should be enough to get you on the start line. The top 40 are taken at the end of July and the last ten have a further month to fight it out before the August 25th deadline.
I have a fifth place finish from Ironman Wales last year and had planned to bag some early season points in New Zealand and Australia in March. I got my pacing wrong in New Zealand and finished way out of the point then backed up two weeks later with a 12th against a very strong field at the Asia Pacific champs in Melbourne. All very well, but not enough to get me to Kona.
I then took myself to Brazil where I finished fourth to get things back on track. The plan was to wrap up qualification with Ironman Nice and Ironman Bolton to make the top 40 and qualify in the first batch. Nice did not work out that way.
The Nice field was very strong containing three athletes who should all be in the top ten at the World Champs. The course winds up for 100km into the steep hills above the town before dropping back down to the coast.
I got into a group of three at the front of the race and we put a couple of minutes into the chasers. I led out of the water and stayed with the top French cyclist for the first 25km until we started climbing. I settled into my own rhythm and reached the top of the climb in seventh. The weather had set in and a race that had promised to be a 35ºC pressure cooker became cold and wet with our group grasping handlebars tightly to control the shaking as we dropped at 40-60kph in our skimpy one-piece Lycra outfits.
There were a couple of wobbles and skids as rubber lost traction with the wet and slippery asphalt, but I felt like I was descending well and decided to push on sticking with a quick German as he passed me around the switchback turns. With 40km to the finish of the bike I was still in seventh and holding the gap to the Kamakazi Ponytailed Figure dropping like a stone in front of me.
Speed bump = ski ramp
We passed into a small town on a steep gradient at around 50kph, I didn't see an approaching speed bump and tucked into position on the aerobars. I then (unintentionally) used the bump as a ski ramp and landed someway further down the road using my head and back as brakes. Unfortunately neither the bike nor my legs were going to let me continue so it was a trip in an ambulance to the bottom of the mountain and a long wait for the broom wagon.
I am very lucky to be supported by the insurance company Triathlonguard. You don't go into a race expecting to go down and I know I have a tendency not to think about the risks.
More worryingly, French acrobatics is a significant blow to my Kona plans. I am unlikely to get into the top 40 by the end of July, so it looks like the long game and trying two races before the August deadline. I am not sure how much damage the crash has done; I'm perfecting my ministry of funny walks today. Currently a slow and unbalanced shuffle followed at irregular intervals by a collapse of the hips that somewhat resembles an Elvis dance move. It will be a few days before the swelling goes down enough to see what damage has been done, then I can see if Ironman Bolton is a possibility.
Crashing is an occupational hazard and it doesn't help anything to get upset about it. A few inches the other way and I could easily have braked with my face or cracked my pelvis, so I'm very lucky. It just means Kona qualification will be a slightly longer test of endurance. There were over 150 crashes on the descent yesterday and I saw people with far more serious injuries than me. I wish anyone who did come down a very speedy recovery.
(Main image: Getty Images)
Check out our photo gallery from this year's Ironman Nice here