Those of you who know my background or have read my book ReCycled will know I’ve had a liver transplant 20 years ago and, as a result, I get to represent Great Britain at the European and World Transplant Games. The 7th edition of the European Transplant and Dialysis Games continue this week in Zagreb, Croatia although the GB team and I have now returned for our own domestic games this coming weekend.
With me for this Croatian cycling adventure was Ottilie Quince, the current double world road and time trial champion, Melissa Slaney, another squad rider from the last world games in Sweden in 2011 and John Leveson, a new and untried rider in the 50-60 age category. Otts and Mel are known entities, both fierce competitors who over the last couple of years have made that tough transition from being athletes (football and show-jumping respectively) firstly to being fit people who own bikes and then to fully fledged racing cyclists. This has not happened by accident but by hard work and dedication, travelling to racing and training events all over the country. The instantly likeable John Leveson came with a track record of respectable 10 mile TT times and successful domestic transplant racing performances but was untried (until last Sunday) internationally.
We were racing at Jarun Park, a stone’s throw from our temporary home at Zagreb University, with the women’s 6.3km TT going off first in the building heat at 9.00. A measured ride from Otti secured the win just 6 seconds ahead of Ulrika Svantesson, a slight but important margin over the Swede. Mel’s time was enough to grab her 3rd place and a hard won bronze medal – well deserved after her determined training and racing this season and her first podium appearance in transplant cycling domestically or internationally.
If that wasn’t close enough, the men’s race was decided by even slimmer margins. John’s time was enough to secure him 7th place in his age category, a creditable first effort at this level and a real marker for what he needs to do over winter.
In my ‘come on Daddy’ 40-50 age category, packed with Italian riders, the early times came in with the excellent Stefano Caredda recording 9mins 45 seconds, his college Iose Bastia 9.41 and, would you believe it, me taking the race by a single second with 9.40. Never has the race been this close before. Just off the podium was Walter Uccheddu, another new Italian rider with ….
As the heat rose to 35 degs, the women’s road race got underway with Swedish rider attacking the pack and getting a gap that only Otti was strong enough to bridge. Mel was riding strongly off the front with Otti making a real attempt at slowing the pace down to give Mel a chance in the sprint. Although ultimately unsuccessful it was exactly the right tactic and showed a real team spirit in risking her own chance of success to help her team mate. Otti went on to take the sprint from Svantesson with Mel rapidly closing the gap and coming in 3rd. Great results from both riders making Otti the reigning World and European champion in both road race and time trial disciplines.
With the temperature rising to 41 deg, John repeated his 7th place in the road race, missing the vital break (there are a lot of experienced racing heads in that category) but picking up experience and acquitting himself well as part of the GB team – a smile never being far from his mouth. We also now know the mild mannered Leveson will go shoulder to shoulder with riders when necessary to hold his place in the bunch! Top work fella!
The flat circuit was always going to be a bit of challenge, making it easier for riders to hang on and not allow a break to go but, in my race, we did manage to get a break of four riders after a couple of digs from Yours Truly. A quick examination of the composition of the break told me I was in big trouble and at something of a disadvantage with my 3 break away colleges being Caredda, Bastia and Uccheddu , the 3 Italian riders who had pushed me so closely in the time trial. Oh dear...:) Inevitably the attacks came and it was my job to chase them down. Iose and Steffano did the attacking with Walter sitting in – I honestly thought he was tired. I managed to keep the break together until 300m from the line, dropping onto the front slowing it down as much as I dared taking everybody over to the barriers so when the sprint came they could only come up one side. Iose came off my wheel first and I followed him. Perfect tactics (for him) he drew me away from the barrier opening a gap and allowing Walter to go through on the inside to take the win. In fairness, I was pretty tired from chasing the attacks down but, even without this, Iose would probably have beaten me in the sprint in any event.
I was happy with 3rd place under the circumstances. It was great quality racing and the Italian team worked me over good a proper (quite rightly, I would expect my riders to do the same thing) but they didn’t get everything their own way. A nice incentive for Durban next year at the World Games.
I’d raced with Stefano a few times before. He is a gentleman (as indeed are all of the Italian riders) and I like the way he races. He sacrificed his own chances for his team mates in the road race and I gave him my GB jersey in the evening at the medal presentation (picture above). All in all, it was a fantastic trip – the racing was well organised and of very high quality - we met up with some old friends and made some new ones and, hopefully in the process, persuaded a few people to have a think about signing the Organ Donor Register.
A few brief reflections if you’ll allow me the time in this over long post.
1. During the heat of competition it’s easy to forget all the riders have all gone through the transplant or dialysis process and have to balance their racing and training with their respective treatments. It’s not always easy, but being able to ride a bike in any capacity is a priceless gift.
2. I burst with pride every time I have the privilege of leading the GB Tx cycling team. I am in awe of their efforts and dedication but don’t tell then this because it will ruin my reputation :)
3. Zagreb is a great city. Funky, friendly and very (very) reasonably priced. Go there if you can. Oh, we had the best ice creams ever as well.
4. The GB Tx team needs support for our next major international competition (the World Transplant Games in Durban 2013) and the training that goes towards it – please send bikes, high quality componentary, kit and money…
And finally, please, Sign Up and Save Lives…