My First European Cup Win in Bratislava

What now? Me winning a European Cup? Are you sure? Well, apparently I did… It still hasn’t sunken in at all in any way, but my god I had fun out there today!

With my Bachelor Exams looming back in Oxford in no less than 15 days, I spent quite a while thinking about whether it’d be sensible/worth it to travel to Bratislava – and after a few weeks of no, I probably won’t go, I then decided to, well, just go for it! It would be a nice little break from revision and if I did reasonably well it would also give me some more motivation to get through the last few weeks of train – revise – sleep 24/7. Because of Uni, I also couldn’t attend the race briefing on Friday night and didn’t turn up to Bratislava until Saturday.

Saturday afternoon was a bit stressful with bike course familiarisation right after arrival, then registration, getting some food and finally arriving at the hotel – but as I had hoped the change of scenery was actually quite nice and head-clearing. After dinner I then spent some time running around the tiny hotel room practising taking the wetsuit off and putting my (new) helmet on – haven’t really done either this season yet (and it seems like it paid off today with my T1 possibly saving me my spot in the first bike pack).

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This morning I woke up from the rain beating against the window – well this was going to be a fun race :P. And after all the pre-race madness was over and done with, it actually almost stopped raining! Because I had missed the race briefing I lined up as one of the last girls – but to be honest that just took away all the unnecessary choice of where to stand and having to think about where to line up ;).

The swim went surprisingly well… I wasn’t left too far behind and still went to the front of a big pack just before T1 – and had one of the quickest T1s of the day! After T1, I was with three other girls and Cassandra Beaugrand and Gaia Peron were about 20s ahead of us – but I could see them, so off I went! Within half a lap, I had caught them and it took me until then to realise that there were actually only six of us in our little bike pack! And I didn’t dare to believe that I had made it in the first bike pack, but the lead motorbike was right in front of us. So lead pack was the only reasonable explanation!

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I spent most of the first bike lap at the front – and when I realised that the main pack wasn’t actually that far off at the end of lap 1, I tried to get our group a bit more organised – and some of them did a pretty good job at it (first time I’ve ever been in a small front pack that worked together) and we managed to increase the gap to the main pack. At that point, I knew that we would carry at least some lead into T2 – and so we did, all of about 60s! So top 10 was definitely on the cards!

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Then we started running… after a few hundred meters I was at the front, running alone. I knew Cassandra Beaugrand was of a very similar running standard as me, but she hadn’t had a great transition. So I decided to let her catch me and run with her (because I always find it’s easier to catch people than to be the one trying to run away). One 2.5k lap later, we were running side by side, every now and then someone would test the water and speed up a little – just to slow back down. I must admit, I wasn’t feeling too amazing – I had a bit of a stitch and despite my legs feeling ok, my stomach didn’t enjoy the running as much. But after those 2.5k I knew, that if I just keep running, I will end up on the podium! Me podium? I decided not to think about it and just focussed on running instead. With about 1km to go, there was a bit of a sharp turning on the course. I went around it in front of Cassandra Beaugrand and for some reason decided to just pick up the pace – I didn’t dare to turn around for a while, but could hear her footsteps and breathing getting slightly more distant. And then with 400m to go I turned around, saw I had this and ran for my life ;)

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There it was – the banner waiting for me (and before I crossed the line that banner seemed a bit of an issue… I hadn’t prepared for that! I had never even lifted a banner before! What if I’m just a complete failure at lifting a banner? – the normal thoughts that cross your mind before winning a European cup - but I somehow just about managed to lift it almost properly ;) what a race – what a day – what an experience!

A few interviews and many congratulations later I put warm clothes on and headed to Doping control. Sitting in a room, drinking water and hoping to be able to pee soon kind of killed the mood a little I must admit ;) but I spent most of the time on facebook/twitter receiving “well done”s from everywhere. Thank you for all those messages/comments! And thank you to everyone who supports and believes in me – in one way or another. It’s times like today that remind me that I am not doing this on my own but that there are people supporting me every step of the way.

Now I’m on the plane home – at 11pm on a Sunday night. With a bike box full of Erdinger beer glasses, beer, wet stuff and a very heavy trophy in my bag. And tomorrow I’ll be back in Oxford behind my desk (or running/swimming/cycling around Oxford) revising for my exams – that just makes this weekend seem even more like a dream! So next stop exams, followed by Kitzbühel European Championships the day after my final finals exam ;) – as you do.

© Sophia Saller 2016. All rights reserved. Impressum