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Colombia conquered

By Mark Etheridge

All Africa Games triathlon champion Carlyn Fischer had her first solo travel experience out of the country last week and it was clearly an agreeable experience as she returned home with her best World Cup finish yet.

Young Fischer, just 21, jetted off to Guatape, Colombia for the ITU World Cup event, and despite miserable weather and a course shortened to a sprint distance of a 750 metre swim, 20km cycle and 5km run from the normal standard distance.

Certainly it was some baptism of fire, or make that water, for the young Pretoria University student. “Yes, it was my first trip alone, to a country where no-one speaks English,” said Fischer on her return. “Two hours before the start it was pitch-dark outside, pouring with rain and the sky lit up with lightning. Ninety minutes before the start I arrived at the athletes lounge on my bike, drenched, with a plastic bag over my bag after realising that my cycling jacket wasn’t waterproof. Even though there’s a huge storm it was announced that the race will start as scheduled.”

Competitors knew beforehand that the bike route was going to be particularly testing. “Running through the bike route in my mind ÔÇô 90 degree turns, cobblestones I realised it would be dangerous but I still put my ‘race mode’ on.”

After taping up open wounds on her feet from a crash the previous week, Fischer heard, along with the other hardy souls at the start, that the start was to be delayed for an hour because of lightning and that parts of the bike route were covered by a mudslide. “We were then told that the race will be a sprint distance because of safety precautions but will still hold the same ITU points as an ITU Olympic distance event.”

An hour later and off they went. “A slippery dive off the pontoon and I was soon in a washing machine of swimmers. The pace was fast, really fast, those girls really sprint in the ‘sprint’ distance. I pushed hard and near the exit I reckon there were only about 10 swimmers behind me so was lying about 45th. Not being one to give up I took a deep breath of faith as I exited the water, and passed about 10 girls on the way to transition.”

By the time she’d jumped on her bike and sprinted around the first turn a few more girls had been passed. “As I raced over the wet cobblestones I caught the French girl Charlotte Morel. We then caught two other girls and as we hit the hills we formed a large pack and when we turned at the peak I saw we’d dropped a few more girls coming up the hill.”

Fischer found herself in a chase pack of about 13 with 12 girls in the leading pack ahead. Then followed a hairy moment. “Leading the bunch into a downhill turn too fast, between wiping my eyes to see through the rain, my wheel slipped and I just manage to save myself from having a third crash in four races. We worked very hard forming a long stretched out line, dropping more girls on each lap. There were four laps of hills bigger than Switzerland’s Lausanne race and I was quite chuffed after surviving the 10/10 danger-rated bike, and immediately feel the hills and altitude of around 2200m take its toll as I start the run in 19th position.”

She was then running alongside Polish athlete Agnieszka Jerzyk. “I knew she was an Under-23 World Champs medallist and tried to stick with her. After 2.5km I passed a few girls and realised I was lying 13th. I got my rhythm going and pushed hard to pass four more girls and cross the line in ninth spot.”

Fischer made up 10 places in the 5km run leg to end with a time of 65min 05sec behind winner Carole Peon of France (64:11). “It’s my best ITU World Cup finish and I was very happy to get some ITU points. I’ve placed ninth at a European Cup before, in 2010, but World Cup events carry more points.”

What’s next for Fischer. “I’m heading to Zimbabwe for the ITU African Cup and another two African Cups in Pretoria and Mauritiius before the end of the year, with a few local races in the BSG/Energade Series in between as part of the training.”