Con Doherty's Swedish Silver

Con Doherty scored the best result of his career so far last weekend when he finished 2nd at the ETU European Cup race held in Malmo, Sweden.

The result is the latest in a string of great performances this season by the Mayo man in his third season racing at senior elite level.

In this first hand account, Con describes how the race unfolded and what it's like to be in the midst of an elite ITU event. 

Con-Doherty-Podium-Malmo-2017

Nerves

We lined up behind the ITU officials in the order of our race numbers, and I began to feel some nerves floating around inside my belly. It was almost 5:30PM; race time, and although I’d smashed my face into a pole and lost my debit card just a couple of hours earlier, my mind hadn’t been thrown off. I don’t like nerves, so I do my best to avoid them.

As we lined up, a British athlete, Lestyn Harrett stood behind me. I can’t remember what we began talking about, but pretty soon both of us were laughing quite hard, while the other 60+ athletes looked on, seemingly confused.

This little moment, restored my usual outlook, and any nerves that had crept in, vanished. I was number five, and when called, I walked to the far right-hand side of the pontoon where the first four guys stood in position. I tried to get the crowd going, waving my fist around in the air, yelling out “WHOOP WHOOP” and smiling up at them.

We waited while the rest of the field took to the start line. Soon enough the ITU played the sound of their infamous pumping heartbeats, then came a “take your marks..”, followed by a gunshot. We dived in.

Malmo-Europ-ean-Cup-Swim-Generic-2

Stealth

I had the choice to start next to some of the faster swimmers, and although I managed to stay on their toes longer than expected, that still wasn’t very long. In comparison to most international races, I wasn’t subjected to much physical violence at all other than a kick to the ribs. We looped around the 750m sheltered swim before exiting the water onto the Swedish quayside. I came out with a pack of athletes and managed a stealthy transition, which saw me climb seven places.

The mount line had a narrow exit that immediately turned left. Running with the bike, I went for a flying mount. However, as I was doing this, an athlete exiting the transition in front of me came down when he swerved into the railings. Given how much space I had, and how close I was behind him, I couldn’t avoid crashing into him. The bike and myself came down and I scurried to get back up.

Malmo ETU 2017 Con Doherty Bike Pack

The Bike

I jumped onto the bike again, quickly realising that the elastics holding the bike shoes in place had broken. Barely moving up a ramp that was 20m in front of transition, I fidgeted with my shoes until I got both feet in. I was now rolling along so slowly that I almost fell off again, and when I went to push the peddles, it felt like I’d been put on a fixie, trying to cycle up the side of a mountain.

To make matters worse, I realised that my left shifter had taken quite a hit when I’d come down. It had loosened and moved position. As I began pursuing, I tried pushing it back into position but this only made it looser. It got to the stage where I was so afraid to use the shifter, that for the rest of the cycle it’d be best to let my left hand remain in the security of the drops.

Con-Doherty-Malmo-2017-T2

The Chase

During the first few km’s, I chased my way back onto the main group of 30 or so athletes. There were six other guys up the road who had a 20 second lead and much of the bike was spent chasing the group up front over the four laps of 5km. Most of the group I was in wouldn’t work to pull the group back, but a few of us did, and halfway round the last lap, we finally caught them.

Coming into T2, I weaved my way up to the front and was one of the first in. Again, I made the most of the transition area and was out clear before anybody else. There’s two important reasons for doing this in draft legal races. Firstly, you reduce your chances of crashing into someone else in T2 if you come in towards the front of your group, and secondly, I find it much easier to get into the pace and rhythm that I can run when there’s no one around me to disturb it.

Con Doherty Malmo 2017 T2 2

The Surge

The run consisted of 3 laps of 1600m, and after the first lap I was still leading. As we came through the transition area, to begin the second lap, an athlete was breathing down my shoulder. He soon came around me and surged. It was none other than Belgium’s, Marten Van Riel, who had been injured and was racing for the first time since his 6th place at the Olympic Games last year.

Con Doherty Malmo 2017 Run 1

When he lifted the pace, I followed, and for the 2nd lap we were side by side. We had enough of a gap back to the rest of the field, but as we began the final lap, Van Riel dug again, and this time I knew not to follow. Over the next 600m, he opened a 30m margin which didn’t increase by much thereafter.

Con Doherty Malmo 2017 Finish Line

The Finish

For the rest of the run my focus was solely fixed on maintaining composure; making sure that my own pace didn’t slow down. Van Riel lifted the tape and took victory. As I crossed the line, I finally gave in, and with a clenched fist, let out an exhaustive roar while Portugal’s, Pedro Palma, followed a few seconds behind to take third.