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Triath’Long U Côte de Beauté

Or how to ride fast while looking like a dork

Riding with a bucket on my head

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I stood in the middle of the room, a normal road helmet in one hand and a sleek, shiny, black sphere which wouldn’t have looked out of place in a spacecraft in the other.

Should I, shouldn’t I?

Spoiler alert: I shouldn’t have, but I did. The race events which followed correctly reflect my way of doing triathlon: I aim for professionalism but things often go – quite literally – sideways. It’s just the way I am, and what makes race reports and memories fun and entertaining…

I put the road helmet on: it settled comfortably onto my head as it did every day of the week. I set it aside and carefully slid the high tech TT model over my ears. The visor snapped onto the integrated magnets and turned my world into my very own version of Need For Speed.

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Yeah baby! Decision made!

Why had I never ridden this thing on the road?! It was awesome!

I took the beast off, nearly ripping my earrings out in the process. The visor caught in my hair, shifted on its useless little magnets and hit the floor. I ignored my sensible road helmet glaring jealously from across the room, packed the shiny globe into my rucksack and jumped onto the train to the airport, pulling my bike behind me.

Triath’Long U Côte de Beauté

People had to keep asking me what triathlon I was doing – I could never for the life of me remember the name of it to tell them, or where it was either. “Somewhere near Bordeaux, West Coast of France” was about as close as I could get. But I wasn’t doing it justice. Stéphane Garcia and his team in Royan (you can Google Map that) put on a stunning event, another great example of a wonderful race off the traditional circuits.

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I was impatient to try out my new lid on the road – like, really, really impatient! I kept the visor in the box and used a pair of classic sunglasses for the course recce with a couple of friends on Friday morning. I wanted to keep the tunnel-vision, super-focus mega-sensations for race day! The sunnies wedged inside the helmet edges nicely (little did I know they were doing a great job of holding the whole thing up.)

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Race day dawned bright and sunny and windy and for once I didn’t shit myself as I stood on the beach contemplating the potentially jellyfish-infested swim. Off we went, all together, and I slotted in behind a group of guys and did my thing. Happy days… Can I get on the bike now please?

I kicked off my wetsuit and slid my aero bubble onto my head, immediately blocking out most of the world. The visor gave me 180-degree tinted vision, hiding my eyes and effort and emotion (as well as half my face) from view.

I did my flying superman leap onto my bike, landed with a graceless thump on the saddle, fumbled with my shoes, zig-zagged sideways across the road, narrowly avoided a crash barrier and finally got my semi-professional shit together and got moving. 30, 35, 40 km/h… that’s more like it!

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First place was 45” seconds up the road. I could see her by peering up through my personal window. Never mind that it was pressing down on my cheeks for some reason, I felt F-A-S-T!

I was gaining. My computer cranked the numbers up to 42, 43… I hit a pothole and the bike bounced. I bounced. The helmet bounced. The visor bounced. The stupid little magnets lost their grip and tilted it at 45-degree angle.

Shit.

I put a hand up and tried to set the damn thing straight. French roads aren’t renowned for their smoothness; Royan was no exception. The second pothole wasn’t far behind the first. The bike bounced. I bounced. The helmet bounced and the hand I was holding bounced and knocked my super-duper visor clean off. It flew past my right knee and disappeared behind me. The wind whistled in down the closed sides and screamed in my ears.

Double shit.
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I turned my gaze back to the road and tried not to imagine how much I looked like Toad from Mario Kart (no intentional reference to American politics…). There was nothing for it but to keep hammering down on the pedals. First place came closer and closer until I zoomed past her and she disappeared in the rear view mirror of the TV motorbike cruising along beside me.

Then the tarmac under my wheels turned to pot again and I stopped worrying about TV as I fought to keep the bike in a straight line. It bucked and bounced; I bucked and bounced; my helmet bucked, bounced and tipped over my eyes in a way Toad never had to deal with. How come I had never realised how huge it was on my tiny head??

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I spent the next 85km overly-conscious of the oversized bucket sitting upside down on my head, broadcast live on French TV… I won points for style, there’s no denying that.

Riding with a bucket on my head
Stunningly captured by Pierre Cessio

Yet despite my new trend-setting look I pedaled my heart out, jumped off the bike with time to spare, ran like a sack of potatoes and lifted the tape over my head. I took the plane home, put the shiny fancy speedball back in its box in the corner, and picked up my trusty little road helmet. I never bothered to go back and find the visor.

Coz’ at the end of the day there are more important things in life than looking good on a bike…

Photo credits: Fabien Boukla / Activ’Images, Gilles Saulnier, Cédric Vignaux

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