Balmoral Tri Club at the World Cross Triathlon – November 2016

The World Cross Triathlon is the ITU’s version of off-road triathlon along the same lines as the X-terra brand of racing with a 1500m swim, a 30k or thereabouts mountain bike and a 10k trail run. The 2016 incarnation was to be held at Lake Crackenback in the Snowy Mountains, NSW. The first time it has visited the Southern Hemisphere. Balmoral Triathlon Club was represented by myself (Michael Taylor) racing for Australia, Alan Burton racing for Ireland, Vince Lauwerier racing for France and Mathias Kienholz racing for Switzerland. I’d qualified at the Australian Championships (at the same venue in February), Mathias on his X-terra Australia result, Alan  (the Irish team captain and flag bearer) on the basis of his X-terra World Championship qualification (or possibly his Chinese adventure racing, or possibly his Escape to Alcatraz result, or possibly his Bilpin trail run, or maybe his Coastal Classic run..) and Vince for previous representation of France at ITU events and for generally just being very fast. Lee Brett was on hand as a support crew for all of us representing New Zealand. We also very usefully had Michelle Chen (a former age group representative) on board as the Australian or was it BTC Team Doctor.
The course at Lake Crackenback is challenging but loads of fun. The swim is 2 tight laps in fresh, reedy cool water at altitude. On race day it was a manageable 16 degrees. The bike course is 2 x 15.5k loops around the resort taking in a purpose built rock garden and then linking onto the Thredbo river track with lots of little ups and downs and tight turns on shale, mud, rock and dirt. For a seasoned mountain biker it would have been straightforward but for most triathletes, used to riding a TT in a straight line it was plenty technical enough. The run was 3 x 3.3k laps including balance beams, mud, dunes, metal grates, rocks, a suspension bridge, river wading and what I can only call “tunnel crouching”. The geography made it a great course to spectate as you could move a few metres and see athletes multiple occasions on each lap.    
The organisers split up the racing so that the women raced Friday, the men on Saturday morning, the elites on Saturday afternoon and the teams and para athletes on Sunday. The pro contingent included Flora Duffy (ITU and x-terra world champion), Charlotte McShane, Courtney Atkinson, Ben Allen, Braden Currie and eventual Spanish winner Ruben Ruzafa. I had a little battle in the age group ranks with Olympian and former World ITU Long Course Champion, Rob Barrel (although Rob was 3 age groups up).  
The Balmoral boys (and Lee) met up on Thursday to register and ride a lap of the course. I soon realised that I would unlikely get close to any of them on the bike course on race day. They all had great looking bikes and skills to match. My filthy 2010 Merida alloy full suspension wasn’t going to quite cut it and with the grime on the chainset I was too embarrassed to take it to the mechanic. The BTC boys flew around the corners, up the climbs and over the rocks. 

Thursday night saw the parade of nations in Jindabyne followed by speeches from the mayor and an ITU delegate and renditions of Men at Work, Icehouse and Banjo Patterson by the local schools plus a horse display by the riding club. All loads of fun and something you don’t get at your typical race. 
On Friday we rode another lap in the morning and a few of the more technical sections, swam a lap around the lake, checked a few of the obstacles on the run course and I spent a couple of hours cleaning my bike. We racked bikes on Friday evening and did the usual pre race stuff back at the house. The whole vibe was relaxed and the weather was perfect.
The race itself was  memorable and the 8am start (in order for the air temperature to rise to make the swim legal) was very civilised. It was a wave beach start with around 40 athletes per wave with a really tight first 50m then a sharp left hand turn. When I raced the qualifier it was as rough as a mass start ironman swim but the international crowd (albeit mostly Aussie) was better behaved this time around. At 750m you got out and ran up the beach to do the whole thing again. I finished in just under 25 minutes, which was good news. I’d raced down in Husky a few weeks prior and registered a personal worst 29 minutes (although it have been 1900m). Onto the bike and I soon felt a little out of my depth. In most triathlons I ride better than I swim so am generally overtaking people. In the first lap alone I would have been passed by 30 to 40 riders. I knew that the standard would be high but this was a little dispiriting. I’d qualified 17th into the Australian team and by definition at a World Champs you’d expect the standard to be high but every time you get overtaken you lose a bit of momentum. The second lap was a little more comforting. I started to enjoy myself and I came into T2 in good spirits and pleased to have stayed upright the whole way around and if I’m honest I hadn’t been good enough to ride hard the whole way around. Running off a mountain bike is very hard as the position really loads up your quads – especially when the first 800m are straight up a muddy hill. I knew what to expect though and looking at my splits post race my 3 laps were within about 20 seconds of each other and I picked up places the whole way through. The support on course was brilliant with big gatherings around the river running sections and tunnel crouch/waddle. My only blemish was losing out in a sprint finish to a Kiwi but finishing 23rd rather than 22nd is something I can live with. 

I’d expected to see the boys at some stage during the race but it turned out they were always out of sight – they were always in front. 

I was really happy with my race. I normally think I could have gone quicker but I also could have broken my neck. If I’d properly practiced on the mountain bike this year I would have done better but you can’t do everything. I can’t really talk for the others but Vince had a tough day with a big crash on the bike followed by some other prangs damaging his calf and a finger. He still ran really well but not as well as he probably expected (still top 10). Alan came in with a chest infection and a calf strain so would have finished higher up on another day but put in a really strong performance to be first Irish home. Mathias for a relative rookie put a great race together and did his country and club proud.