In their black wetsuits and pink swim caps, the girls of Team 33Shake had swiftly vanished into the swimming pack as they leapt into the water before the start klaxon. There was no doubt they were ready for what was to come, but it would be an enormous challenge. While most competitors had a good few races under their belt, the 33Shake girls were seriously in at the deep end, taking it on as their first event.
“If we knew we could finish it wouldn’t be a proper challenge,” Giovanna had said over dinner the night before – exactly the mindset they needed to tackle this one head on.
Sisters in arms
In the swim, they played it steadily, remembering the old adage that "you can’t win a triathlon in the swim". Comfortably near the back of the pack, Anya was out of the water first, soon followed by Giovanna and Erica. The excitable race emcee had worked out these two were sisters racing together for the first time and revved the crowd up as they passed, which was a nice touch.
A quick hit of energy gel in transition as they changed and they were away on the bikes. Never fans of huge amounts of carbs, all had trained brilliantly to maximise their fat-burning abilities in the months before the race, and so grazed occasionally on nutrition, rather than pouring the stuff down endlessly and wrecking comfort and efficiency as too many novices do.
Following behind at a safe distance in the team van to avoid any danger of the team being penalised for illegal assistance, it was a delight to watch them all steadily spinning on the flat, comfortably at ease on the racing bikes that had been so alien to them just a few months earlier.
Alpe d'Huez looms
Then the slopes of Alpe d’Huez arose before them, and one by one they began the monstrous ascent. Faces grimacing and sweat pouring (a cracking summer’s day, the temperature was topping 30 degrees beneath a scorching sun), they ground their way up its imposing, twisting flanks.
But halfway up, a distraught Giovanna was all in. “My legs just can’t do it,” she said as she officially pulled out and we loaded the bike into the van. She was understandably gutted but with no reason – this was always going to be a huge ask, and she had gone to her very limits and beyond already.
Anya and Erica, now riding together kept gritting out the metres as the summit towered above them, pausing only to douse their heads in the blissfully cold waterfalls at the roadside to keep cool in the fierce heat.
Leapfrogging them in the van, Giovanna and I hit the summit in time to see them cresting the final rise in Alpe d’Huez itself as they hared into the bike park with just the run to go. Barring injury mishaps, a finish was now a formality.
The finish line
But the style of that finish was something no one could have predicted. Having come out of the swim together, the same excitable mc who had rallied the crowd for Giovanna and Erica out of the swim saw Anya and Erica coming in with their matching tops and assumed it was the same pairing again.
“The sisters are coming!” he yelled over the mike as he began mustering as many supporters as possible to the finish. Explaining to him that while all three were racing together he was seeing a different pairing to the swim exit was simply beyond my French abilities and besides, the excitable throng now massing the finish was just too cool and so I let the minor confusion slide.
Which meant that while they may have been well down the field, Erica and Anya crossed the line and were mobbed as if they’d won the event outright. It was a beautiful sight.
As far as I was concerned they had won though. All three of them. They’d taken on the mighty Alpe d’Huez with everything they had and to top it off two of them had bagged finisher’s shirts. Proof positive that anything’s possible if you put your mind to it.
“I want one of those shirts next year,” said Giovanna amid an emotional finish line reunion.
“Well could always come back,” said Erica between gulps of water as Anya nodded her agreement.
Happy days indeed. If you’re racing Alpe d’Huez next year, look out for them.
Team 33Shake is naturally fuelled to perfection by 33Shake, 100% natural superfood sports nutrition (www.33shake.com), with additional big thanks to Specialized bikes for the Dolces (www.specialized.co.uk), Polar for the RCX5 GPS watches (www.polar.com), and Evans Cycles (www.evanscycles.com) for the 2XU wetsuits
Exclusive to 220 Triathlon readers, 10% off 33Shake’s all-new Chia Energy Gel with code 220GEL33SHAKE, and 20% off all superfood shakes with code 22033SHAKE.