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  • Felix Köhler

2nd at the European Championships, Vejle (Den)

Last Sunday I competed at the European Championships in Vejle (Den). As defending champion I set myself this race as the first real highlight of the 2018 season.

The build up to Vejle was bumpy, to say the least. The last month of preparation went really well, but due to some unplanned interruptions during the late winter period, I wasn´t sure where exactly I was standing with my form.

We decided to drive on our own all the way up to Denmark. We split the way to Vejle into two days, which was definitely the better decision. We arrived on Friday, so there was still some time to recover and put the legs up.

On Saturday we went for a recon of the bike course with the Swiss Duathlon team. Knowing this bike course in advance was very helpful. With some nice short and sharp inclines, a rather bumpy cobblestone section and the fact that there was traffic on the roads during the race, it was good to know what we where up against.

On race day I felt surprisingly relaxed. Even though I won the title one year ago, I didn´t feel too much pressure. I knew that it was a strong elite field, and with the run course being flat, everyone was expecting a fast start. We were sent on our way about 5min late (this would later have a little upsetting influence on the elite race). Immediately after the start I found myself in the middle of the front pack. The pace was around 3min/k, and I felt pretty good. After a couple of hundred meters I went to the front where I kept the pace about the same. Only three other athletes where able to follow this pace (Fabian Zehnder, Kaspar Laumann Hartlev, Simon Joern Hansen). We came into the first transition just seconds apart, and left it together. Soon after Kaspar wasn´t able to keep up with us. Gong into the first and steepest climb of the day I still felt pretty good but was a little unsure how to execute the bike. I knew that Soeren Bystrup was not far behind, and I considered him the strongest biker and the man to watch on this day. I stayed in front of the group (which grew bigger and bigger) basically throughout the first lap of 30k. Going into the second lap the five minute late start paid off negative. Because the starting times for the age-group athletes weren´t moved, their fastest athletes went on the bike just when we where going into the second lap. Some of them squeezed into the drafting box of 12m which forced some of us to slow down and let the gap open up again to 12m. Suddenly the group went from five elite athletes to about 10 athletes mixed with age group athletes.

Starting the steep climb for the second time, I was expecting Soeren to make a move at some point. And indeed he made his move on this climb. I managed to stay with him over the top of the climb. He kept on pushing and I was considered trying to push on but maybe risking to blow up a little later or stick to my pace and let him go. I more or less "decided" (well, Soeren was just much stronger at this point, and I couldn´t keep up) to stick to my pace. At this point Seppe Odeyn had joined our group and we were again about six people. But Soeren and a Dutch athlete where off the front and towards the end of the bike leg, out of sight. Going into second transition the gap was about 1min 6sec (pretty much the same gap Soeren had last year in St.Wendel). I went on the second run in 5th position. Shortly after I passed Fabian Zehnder, who cheered me on to carry on. I struggled for 2/3k to find a good rhythm and Fabian passed me again and at first I couldn´t stay with him. At this point it got mentally tough, not feeling sublime, being defending champion and maybe not being able to fight for a podium spot. But I fought back, pushed the negative thoughts aside and went on. My running legs started to feel "better" and I gained more speed. I went past Fabian and carried on to catch Simon Hansen, who was already clear on 2nd place after 6k. The gap to Soeren suddenly started to decrease too, so I tried my best to catch him. I think I came as close as 8sec to him, but he was fighting and with 300m to go I realised that I wouldn´t catch him. Seeing him winning, I wasn´t disappointed at all. I was more than happy to put out such a good race and fight. This is the kind of racing I enjoy the most. After a race like this, when I gave my best but didn´t manage to win, there was someone else stronger than me. On this day it was Soeren, who did what I did the year before: winning the Europeans in his home country. After finishing I congratulated Soeren on his great race. Not only was he the strongest, he also is a well deserved winner and I´m proud to compete in a sport which has such great athletes in it.

After being traditionally last at the doping test (I always feel sorry for the chaperons who have to stay with me for hours after the race) I could finally celebrate with Flora who was the overall age-group race winner and European champion in her age-group. Without her advice and knowing me best, when to relax a little more and hold me back from overdoing it, I wouldn´t be able to perform as well.

All of it would´t be possible without my sponsors and supporters. Thanks to all of you.

I will take a couple of day easier before starting my "Road to Zofingen" and try to stay on my bike until then.


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