Guest Article: Darren Dunne's European Adventure Continues

Antwerp ITU World Cup_Darren Dunne

Thanks to High Performance Deveolopment athlete Darren Dunne for sending in the following report on his last two races, Weert ETU European Cup and Antwerp ITU World Cup.

So, after Cagliari I flew to Amsterdam and stayed with my auntie and cousins for the night. My cousin offered to drive me over to Mechelen in Belgium, which is where I have stayed since. It worked out really well because it broke up my travel and I managed to recover pretty well after Cagliari with less travel stress.

The group here in Mechelen is really cool. Thomas Steurbaut is head coach of ‘Squadra’, a professional triathlon team modelled like a professional bike team. They have full time athletes, coaches, mechanics and physios. It’s been really eye opening seeing how they operate. The team have bike sponsors, nutrition, clothing, etc just like a bike team which is something I didn’t know existed in the triathlon world outside of the French Grand Prix system. The guys in the squad mainly race ITU stuff so I’ve basically been travelling with the same bunch of guys since Cagliari, which has been really nice. I’m living with a guy from New Zealand in a homestay near the city centre, so the trip has worked out pretty well for us both!

Training has been basically all easy to be honest. Since I’m racing 5 ITU/ETU races in 5 weeks there’s very little in terms of training that can be done in between races. It’s simply just a case of maintaining the aerobic fitness I have while using the races to improve my performance each week. So, after I got set up in Mechelen it was 4 easy days before heading over to Weert in the Netherlands for the race briefing. I linked up with fellow Irish athlete Ailbhe Carroll there and stayed with her the night before the race. It had been a while since I’d seen Ailbhe so it was nice to have a catch up. Brian Glynn was also racing so I had some company on race day!

Antwerp World Cup Swim

The swim is 2x750m swim laps with a beach start. It took me a good while to warm up into the race so I spent most of the swim chasing and just managed to bridge onto the back of the pack at the end of the second lap. A couple of gaps on the bike meant I had to chase hard to get into front pack but made my way safely over to it after about five kilometres. More guys came from behind to make a front pack of about 60 guys.

The bike course is essentially six laps going down one side of a canal, across a bridge and back down the other side of the canal. About as flat and straight as you could possibly make a bike course. We averaged 44kph but my Normalized Power for the bike was 259 watts which tells you pretty quickly that nobody was willing to do much work on the bike.

The run was 4 laps with a couple of technical bits but very flat again. I got off the bike towards the back of the group so it took a while to get moving past people but I tried to run a negative split and eventually moved up to 13th place. My best senior international result so far and my fastest 10k off the bike (32:25) so all in all it was a good day out! Ailbhe got unlucky with a puncture and Brian managed to go so hard he suffered a nice dose of heat exhaustion but they both have plenty of races left this season.

Antwerp ITU World Cup_Darren Dunne Bike1

From Weert it was back to Belgium for another couple of easy days. We hit some intensity in the pool and on the bike midweek to keep the engines turned on but again mostly just steady miles. Mechelen is about 25 minutes away from Antwerp so it was just a quick trip up the road to last weekend’s Antwerp ITU World Cup. This was my second World Cup so I felt more confident in myself and I knew I could hold my own on dry land. I was still a bit nervous about the swim as it’s usually where I get smashed.

Towards the end of last year, I kept getting obliterated in the swim in ITU races and I was beginning to doubt myself, but after last weekend the fear of being dropped in the swim has been removed from my mind completely. I started on the very far right (I didn’t really have a choice with this because I was ranked nearly last), beside Chris Mintern. Chris had a really good start and flew off. I decided to stick to the guy on my left and go at a pace I could handle. I got on some good feet and swam steady in the group for the rest of it. I got out beside Casper Stornes, who won WTS Bermuda, and 20 seconds down on Marten Van Riel who was first out of the water. Holding my own with these guys in the water is something I have never done before but something I feel I can do consistently now that I have the confidence from last weekend.

The bike course was 22.4k with over half of it on rough cobblestones and technical sections through transition. It was a super exciting bike course and an experience I won’t forget anytime soon. Leaving T1, I got onto the wheel of Jelle Geens and knew he would bring me up to the front pack, and thankfully I was right. We bridged up to the leaders after about four km. Once I got settled into the pack and had time to have a look at the names I knew I was on a good day. Seeing names like Van Riel, Jeens, Mislawchauck and other World Cup winners and Olympians was a cool feeling. It was made even better after being joined by another Irish guy once Con Doherty managed to bridge across with Kyle Smith (the Kiwi guy I’m living with) on the second lap. Con actually shouted “yeah boyyyy” at me when he caught on which was pretty funny.

Antwerp ITU World Cup_DDunne Finish

We worked pretty well as a group. I felt really comfortable for the first 15k on the bike and even took the 2k technical section through transition in the lead on the third lap. Going onto the last lap though, I got caught behind one of the Americans who dropped the wheel and left me chasing for the next two minutes. It pushed me into the red a little but I got back on okay and got settled before heading back to T2. (You can check out my power file from the bike course here

Leaving T2 with the pack was short lived. I had some bad stomach cramps which pretty much ruined my day. Absolutely gutted to ruin such a good opportunity for a good result but there was nothing I could do. Big shoutout to Con for nailing his own race and bumping his world ranking even closer to the top 100! And to Chris and Ailbhe who fought all the way to the line in one of the toughest races of the year.

Up next for me is Wuustwezel ETU Cup this weekend in Belgium. Next week I’m racing a premium ETU Cup in the Netherlands before I fly home for a few weeks. I’m ranked 33rd this weekend so I’m slowly climbing up the ITU rankings. After my run in Weert and Swim/Bike in Antwerp its about time I put a race together, and I know if I do I’ll be up at the pointy end of the race so that’s what I’m hoping for over the next two weeks.

Thanks to everyone for the support so far 😊 I’ll have another blog post up in two weeks but you can keep up with me on my social media channels in the meantime.

Thanks for reading, Daz.

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