I don’t usually write race reports anymore, but this is one I want to get down in writing as I’ll always remember it. The European Aquabike Championships have been a long time coming. I qualified back in 2019, but the race was cancelled in 2020 and 2021 due to Covid. Finally, I had the chance to represent Great Britain in Bilbao on 24th September 2022.
I traveled to Bilbao with my husband and best supporter/bike mechanic/photographer Glen. Our hotel was very conveniently near to the start/finish line. It was the first time I’d traveled abroad with my bike, but everything went smoothly. I test rode my bike on Friday morning then we headed over to registration to collect my race pack and have the team photo.
I was taking part in the middle-distance Aquabike race, which is essentially a half-ironman without the run. It’s a 1900m swim followed by an 82.5km bike. Our race started at 3:20pm, so there was a lot of waiting around on Saturday.
I must admit the event was quite badly organised. There was a lot of confusion about the details which made it stressful to plan ahead. The race briefing was online and left a lot of unanswered questions, then Q&A session was cancelled at the last minute.
The weather was really bad leading up to the race with heavy rain. Whilst I wasn’t particularly nervous, I was worried about the rain making the bike course slippery.
The swim started with a jump (or dive) off the pontoon into the river. We were lined up in our age groups and gradually called forward to the swim start. I had the nicest group of girls in my age group- we all wished each other good luck as we waited to start.
The first thing I noticed was how murky and salty the river water was- it tasted so bad! We had to swim straight down the river, turn at the buoy and come back. It was a straightforward course to follow, but my goggles filled up with water and I couldn’t see a thing! The turn buoys were green which made them really difficult to spot against the green river water.
It was like being in a washing machine throughout the entire swim. I was constantly being knocked and kicked- I couldn’t seem to find any clear space around me in the water. My watch got caught at some point and paused so I only recorded part of the swim.
The swim course was good for spectators, they could get a good view from the riverbank and bridges.
The swim exit was unlike anything I had ever seen before- we had to haul ourselves out onto the pontoon like beached whales! There wasn’t a ramp or slope which we could swim onto like normal. I took a deep breath and pulled myself up and out of the water- luckily I managed to do it first time without falling back into the river! A few people were really struggling, but everyone helped each other which was great to see.
I’d expected 40 minutes for the swim and finished in 39:26, so pretty spot on!
Transition was long- we had to run 800m from the swim exit to the bike out! We collected our drawstring bag from the rack, put on our bike kit and placed our wetsuit, goggles and swim hat back into the bag. I was surprised to see a fully naked woman wandering around transition- they are usually so strict on the no-nudity policy!
I found my bike easily as I had a good location next to a shipping container. Running out of transition on slippery tiles in cleats was a bit treacherous.
After leaving transition, we rode over a wooden bridge and out onto the road via a tiled area. I took it very easy as I knew the rainfall had made the surfaces slippery. Several people came off their bikes here, so unfortunately their races were over before they’d even started.
The course was completely closed to traffic and there were lots of marshalls directing us at every roundabout. It’s always strange on a closed-road course to see the traffic lights changing to red and not having to stop!
The route took us through the city along the riverbank, past the Guggenheim Museum. There was a short climb out of the city after about 3 miles, then back onto flat, fast roads. After about 14 miles, the long, gradual climb up to Aretxabalgane started. I really enjoy these steady ascents and found myself overtaking a lot of other athletes, which was a real confidence boost considering I was worried I wouldn’t be a strong enough cyclist.
Descending is where I’m not so confident! Again I was worried about slipping on the wet roads, so I took the descents easy and several of the athletes I’d just overtaken caught me again. The middle section of the course was fairly undulating, then the last main climb was up to Unbe Mendatea, but again I didn’t find it particularly challenging.
I tried to take in my surroundings- the mountains were really lush and green. The trees smelled amazing which was one benefit of the rain! The course had been cut slightly shorter to avoid a festival in one of the villages, although the villages we did ride through were very quiet.
My trisuit started chaffing the inside of my leg which became very uncomfortable for the last 20 miles. I tried to ignore it and focus on eating and drinking- shoving Haribo in my mouth took my mind off of it!
Soon it was back into the city through a more industrial area. I started recognising the main landmarks of Bilbao and once I saw our hotel I knew I was nearly there. Back down a slope to the dismount line and my race was finished.
I expected around 3 hours for the bike and finished in 2:59:51, so again spot on!
I have to say the finish of the Aquabike race was a real anti-climax. Our time stopped at the dismount line, so we could rack our bike and make our way over to the finish line at our leisure. I did run across the line, but there was no photographer or spectators, so it felt a bit flat to finish without any fanfare.
I gave back my timing chip, collected my medal, found Glen and burst into tears. It was so emotional to have successfully finished my first (and last) European Championships!
I was delighted with my result- I felt like I’d given it my best effort and most importantly finished safely. My total time was 3:46:46, and I came 9th in my age group and 4th Brit in my age group.