Following on from the gold rush for British para-triathletes at the Eton Dorney triathlon last week, we had a little chat with Rio Paralympian and gold medal-winning champion, Andy Lewis, to hear his report on a thrilling and historic day of racing.
The Eton Dorney triathlon venue hosted its first ever ITU World Cup event last week on a boiling hot Bank Holiday Monday that saw British para-triathletes claim nine golds – commonwealth champions Jade Jones-Hall and Joe Townsend, as well as Paralympic champion, Andy Lewis, leading the charge.
At the London 2012 Olympic rowing venue, with temperatures topping 25°C, Andy Lewis drew on the home crowds to finish in first, claiming PTS2 gold ahead of Maurits Morsink (NED). For Andy, the day was a mix of nervous emotions at the start line, to sheer elation by the finish – here’s what he had to say…
Yellow Jersey: Congratulations on your win Andy, what was that feeling like crossing the finish line on home soil?
Andy: “Relief! I came to the event extremely tired, not really physically but definitely quite emotionally. I’ve never really felt like that before and it just drained me. The Eton Dorney triathlon is where it all started for me back in 2014, 2015 with Arctic 1. I’ve been involved with them as a charity ever since I started and they were actually the ones that first spotted me at an event so I owe quite a lot to them. My family were also there, for the first time ever in all the races I’ve ever done – my wife, my two kids, my mum, my dad and friends – it was a very emotional day for me.”
YJ: Could you take me through the first part of your race, lining up on that start line ready for the swim?
Andy: “I wasn’t feeling that great actually on the morning of the race – I’d been going through a few niggles, a torn calf back in February that’s only just sort of recovering so I really didn’t know what to expect and I felt very under pressure with everyone being there. I got myself ready and got onto the start line – I knew there was a fairly decent field there, a couple of guys I knew that were pretty good – but I was always under the impression that I wasn’t going to win, because of the way I felt. The start of the race was very exciting, me and a French guy battling for the front in the swim – we were literally battering each other all the way round.”
YJ: How did the bike go, were you neck and neck there too?
Andy: “The guy actually jumped onto his bike, into transition, just ahead of me but within about 200m I’d caught and passed him. It was then just a matter of staying away from him and a couple of other guys. I think one thing that’s good for me – and anyone else interested in racing – is that if you’ve got someone in front of you that you can focus on and make a target, it gives you something to aim for, something to chase. That’s what I did in the race, just went through picking people off – even if they were different categories, I just used them all as markers. After the first lap I settled into a rhythm and felt fine, getting stronger and stronger, faster and faster as the race went on. The back end of the course was actually quite technical, some sharp turns around 90° in places – but I got round just fine and then went onto the last section, the run.”
YJ: Many say the run is the hardest part, how did you manage to stay ahead?
Andy: “So, I got into transition, swapped my legs over and got onto the run. My tactic was to get a time check from the GB coaches on each lap so on the first one I asked for the time on the guy behind and he was actually 4 minutes behind – so it was a big lead, but I knew that he was a stronger runner than me and could possibly put up to a minute and a half, two minutes into me in the run. By the time I’d done the first lap I could see him, but I was still a good distance away. I then got a time check on the next lap round and he was 1:45 behind me, so he’d made up a lot of time on the first lap. I then just buried myself on the last lap, all the way to the finish. One thing that I always do, no matter where I am in the world or who it is I’m racing against, I always try and encourage the other athletes – even if I’m blowing out of my arse – encouraging them to keep going and go harder, as long as they’re not in my category of course.”
YJ: Going down that final finishing straight, what was the feeling like?
Andy: “I remember coming down the last straight, probably 200m to go and I remember seeing one of the girls, Hannah, that I used to coach – she was on the finishing run and really flagging, so I gave her a bit of abuse and encouraged her to chase me all the way to finish. You could see she was absolutely wiped out by the end, so after I lifted up my finishing tape I stood there and waited for her with my arms wide open – it was fantastic. I felt really happy for her and had a chat with her after the race – she’s actually now been selected for the next World Series which is great.”
YJ: You’ve been really behind the Eton Dorney triathlon for years, can you tell us about its success?
Andy: “It’s amazing that the event has been going on a couple of years now and this time around it’s caught the attention of the ITU and British Triathlon and they’ve since decided that it’s going to be their event for the British Championships on 28 July. Then potentially, hopefully, we want the Eton Dorney triathlon to be a World Series event next year. But overall it’s been great – it’s come from Arctic 1 and been built on everything that they do and believe in – that’s just the natural progression of someone that just wants the sport to grow.
YJ: So what’s next on your racing calendar and can you give us an insight into how you’re going to prepare?
Andy: “Italy at the end of June, it’s a World Series that holds quite a lot of points so a very big, strong field go to that. After that we’ve got Estonia, the European Championships. Training wise, it’s really just trying to stay consistent with all three of them, I don’t think I can really get any faster within the next three weeks. Because of this injury I’ve had to back off on my running so I’m going to try and build that up again, perhaps to a level that it was at before.”
Andy wasn’t the only GB athlete to taste success at the Eton Dorney triathlon. Joe Townsend also won the PTWC race ahead of a tough field stacked with talent. His fellow PTWC Commonwealth champ, Jade Jones-Hall continued her run of recent success to snatch yet another gold, despite a mechanical issue meaning that she had to cover the whole 20km, flat course in her smallest gear.
Ryan Taylor took out the PTS3 title, Hannah Moore and Steve Crowley the PTS4, Lauren Steadman the PTS5 and Alison Patrick and Dave Ellis the PTVI – making the day an extremely successful one for GB para-triathletes, the Eton Dorney triathlon one for the history books.
To keep updated on Andy’s next racing ventures, head over to his Twitter page to hear the lowdown on his racing schedule and training plans. The GB athlete is a born leader and inspiration for young, aspiring para-athletes.