It has taken me 3 days to be able to sit down and write this after the race on the weekend. I do not want this to be a woe-me sob story but honestly I have never felt so disappointed after a race before......ever. I was emotionally gutted and since the weekend (actually from the point of the race with 2km to go on the bike) have just felt hollow and upset...alternating with wanting to spit fire. The World Long Distance champs on the weekend was important to me and an event that not only had I looked forward to all season but had put myself in a position of being a genuine shot at the title. Now I feel let down - not only for myself but also my sponsors, my family and friends and supporters who have also invested their support in me. So what happened? That is both a simple question and a not so simple one.......I excited the water in 2nd and stayed in this position for the entire ride - Jodie (who had an awesome race) was well up the road ahead and there was a group of girls a few minutes behind. With 2-3km left of the ride I was starting to mentally gear up for the run when an official came past yelling out my number and gave me a blocking penalty. ?????? At this point the course was 3.5 lanes of highway. On the far left hand side of the road was a long string of age groupers (it was a 4 loop course) and I was sitting out on the right hand side of the same left hand lane continually passing at a significantly higher speed. To my right then was another 2.5 lanes of road, empty. I totally understand the blocking rule however cannot understand how this scenario can be construed as blocking. If you are continually making forward progress well within the time frame given to do so and are overtaken a line of athletes spaced at the legal distance with no one behind trying to overtake you how is that blocking?? Further to that, this was a World Championship and a situation where I was clearly gaining no assistance from my position AND the blocking call was made relevant to the position of Age Group athletes whom I was overtaking. So I got to serve a penalty for supposedly influencing the outcome - or impeding - the Age Group race?? Yes - it was an Age Group World Championship too, but I expect technical officials to be capable in their appointed job and read the dynamics of the race. Plus I would have thought that anyone would find room within 2.5 lanes of free highway to overtake should they have been riding faster. The point was raised pre-race with officials about the logistics of a four lap course for a World Championship event and the effect that this could have on the elite womens race. Not only this, but I actually emailed the organisers months back raising concerns over how they were going to run the two races on that course (trying to be part of the solution, which I think as a professional athlete I need to be). I heard back along the lines of all was under control. Ummmm...no it wasn't. Yep, not a lot of thought had gone into it and there were clearly options that could have been implemented to allow a fair and enjoyable race for all athletes involved. Primarily the professional race could have been started in front of the community sprint event well before the age group start and within the allotted road closures and we could have had a clean course all day - and the Age Group race would not have to have had pro men bombing past them either.
My penalty saw me given 5 minutes in the tent. 5 minutes and your race is basically over. Maybe I should have been able to, but I must admit I could not properly pull myself together emotionally to have a decent run - both my head and my heart were not totally in it - it is quite different when you get off the bike and are running for the podium to when you get off having sat beside the road, knowing you should not be there, and are suddenly just running to finish the race.
After I crossed the line I sought out the head referee to try and get an understanding of why I had been penalised. So why was I given a penalty? The official who gave it could not be found to explain whatever he claimed to see .....I was also told that there is absolutely no avenue for an athlete to appeal or protest in any capacity. So there was nothing to be done. In all honesty at that stage there is no point trying to do anything - you can't just take 5 minutes off the finish time it doesn't work that way. I have people since tell me that I should not have stopped at all - just kept riding, run and finish the race and take up the dispute afterwards considering the supposed "offence" had in their opinion no influence on the professional race - that is of course totally against any rules and grounds for disqualification but in hindsight would that have been a better option??? At least I would have been able to race my race and see where that put me. If I am going to have a bad race then I want it to be of my own doing not at the direction of someone else. It did not occur to me at all though not to follow the directions and rules during the race.
Either way the outcome was hugely disappointing and has cost me dearly. I am not talking simply about the prize money or prestige or personal goals attached to that one race but the effects are far further reaching. Emotionally it has stung and left me feeling drained and flat, financially too it has hurt - lets face it the business of being a professional athlete is getting results and when representing sponsors that is certainly not the wanted result and yes it will affect me going forward.
But truly this is not a pity party and while I have had some time to wallow I have also been fired up and plan to use this anger to my advantage in training and racing. I had thought about not writing about the race at all and just trying to forget about it but I wanted to tell honestly what happened - both the 'call' but more importantly the story since then. Time now then to pick myself up and move on.
Thank you though to all the support I had during the race from both athletes and spectators. Sorry if I did not have much of a smile on my face!
As a closing thought, supposedly this was a World Championship and yet I think that title was disrespected by the organisation through lack of planning - for both Professional and Age Group athletes.
So I decided about 2 hours ago to race Noosa this weekend - best way to forget about a race is to race again and what better race than the biggest in the southern hemisphere and possibly the most fun race in the world?