Guest Article: Darren Dunne reports from the Cagliari ITU World Cup

Darren Dunne Cagliari 1

Thanks to triathlete Darren Dunne for sending us in the following race report from the 2018 Cagliari ITU World Cup race, which took place last weekend in Italy. Darren will be travelling Europe racing for the next few months and will be keeping us updated on his travels and races.

Myself and Con Doherty flew out to Italy together on Wednesday morning. Con was his usual relaxed self while I was a bit keener on getting to the airport with plenty of time to spare. In this case I should have trusted Con as we were in no panic in the end. First up was the short trip over to London before flying from Heathrow to Cagliari, Sardinia.

We bumped into TI Technical Official Karl Vekins as we waited for our bags in Italy which was a nice surprise. It was cool to have what felt like home support over the weekend. ITU organised the transfers so we found our way to the Air B+B without any hassle. It was a really neat little third story loft up one of the side streets near the town centre. Good job Con.

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the race

The race course looped around the town centre a few times, and as it’s such a busy town they couldn’t close the roads until race day which meant there was no official course recce. We decided to head out and have a look at the course ourselves and one thing I learned quick enough is that Italian drivers are lunatics. Road safety didn’t seem to be much of a priority to them! Few sketchy moments but I suppose nothing out of the ordinary these days.

Race briefing was a nice relaxed affair Thursday evening and the swim recce was simple enough, out for 325m, across for 100, back for 325. The run course was the same as the bike with a shorter out and back section so it was all pretty close together.

Our race kicked off at half two so after the bike recce at 9 we just chilled for the morning. I actually got pretty nervous which is pretty unusual for me. We headed down to the athletes lounge at 12 and once I saw all the other lads my nerves settled. I’ve raced a lot of these guys over the years so I knew what to expect. The water temperature was 23 degrees so no chance of using my new Zone 3 Vanquish but swimming in saltwater usually makes you more buoyant anyway so I wasn’t too worried about it.

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a strong swim

I felt pretty solid during my swim warm up and for the first time all day I was actually looking forward to the race. A quick Hi-5 with Con and then we went off into the line-up. I was 2nd last onto the pontoon so just went into the first spot I could find which was bang in the middle. With the first buoy being so far out I didn’t worry too much about it. The announcer called sixty seconds to go, which was then followed by Alex Yee who was beside me shouting “Hey look, a dolphin!”. Less than a minute to go before a World Cup and everyone looking up to see a random dolphin, not a moment I’ll forget. It's weird how relaxed everyone was at the start. At European Cup level you get a lot of guys who might never get the chance to race an ITU event again so things are more edgy. At World Cup level, it seemed like everyone who was there knew what they were doing and were experienced triathletes. Everyone had a job to do and just went about it.

I nailed my swim start, the photos show I was one of the first to hit the water and I got clean water for the first 50 meters which has never happened me before. I hopped on to one of the Danish guys' hip and had a look around. I could see no one had really broken away and it was all still together. From then on, I just settled into the pack and swam as efficiently as possible. It was the first time I got out of the water with a heart rate of anything less than max which let me pass a few guys on the run into transition. There were a couple of guys ranked together that I usually get out of the water with and they hadn’t reached their bikes as I was running past them so I knew I had put down a good swim. I could have done with being five or six seconds ahead in the water for comfort but a lot of the guys around me made front pack so for the first time in my career my swim put me in front pack.

Here’s where I made a mess of things. The bike course is technical for the first 500m, then goes up a 10% climb for 800m. I was too slow getting through the technical bit because I spent a fraction too long getting my feet strapped in before the climb. Every time I move up a level of racing it gets less forgiving with mistakes. I probably lost no more than two seconds before the bottom of the hill, but it meant I just missed front pack. I could see them for the next 8k where I was still five seconds off. I made a call when I was so close that I would just keep rolling with the group I was in on the flat technical part and hope we bridged up on the hill. It ended up being a bad call as we ended up losing a minute to front pack over the next 3 laps. Hindsight says I should have smashed the flat bit and tried to hang on up the hill. Experience at these races is invaluable and it’s a decision I will make differently next time I’m in that situation. It was a cool experience passing Dimitry Polansky around one of the corners like he was crawling though.

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Into T2, shoes on and out the gap. The run goes straight up the hill for two 2.5k laps. I knew I was struggling from the off because I was simply smashed after the bike. Running up a hill that steep after such a hard bike is something you can’t replicate in Ireland. It was a different kind of suffering to normal. Running through fatigue instead of running through lactic. I ended up running a few meters behind Con the whole way around and just hanging on really. We both ran 16:37, which would put you on the podium in virtually every domestic race, whereas it left us with the 37th quickest run splits of the day. A pretty humbling statistic.

Overall, I’m pretty happy with the swim, and I think there’s still room to improve with it. My bike/run let me down a bit but I know with a bit more time as the season goes on they will come back around. For now, I’m on a flight to Amsterdam before heading to Belgium tomorrow where I will base myself for the next month. I head to the Netherlands again on Friday for an ETU Cup before back to Belgium for another World Cup. Hopefully then two more European Cups before flying home for National Champs in the start of July! It’s a packed month but I need to get my ITU ranking up so I’m looking forward to it. I managed to get some Olympic Qualification points over the weekend, and although its only pennies in a world of millions it’s nice to be on the list. Something to build on.

You can follow Darren through his Social Media on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.