Bourne duathlon star Claire Steels (29) has added European Sprint Duathlon Championships silver to her world and British titles after setting a new personal best in Germany on Saturday night.
Claire,a self-employed personal fitness trainer now based in Peterborough, finished her first sprint race since becoming world champion last October in second place, a minute and a half behind gold medallist Julia Ertmer and ahead of another German Franziska Klein in third.
But far from being downcast about her silver medal and having posted the second fastest time overall out of all women sprint racers, Claire was “delighted with my performance” after setting a new personal best of 1hr 3min 58secs.
Claire said: “After being ill in the week leading up to the race, I then spent most of the day before the race in bed, trying to sleep off a migraine and stop being sick.
“The day of the race itself felt so long but by the time it came along, it seemed like the weather had died down after there had been stormy showers earlier in the day.
“It looked like we would have a dry race, which we did, and I found that both the run and bike courses were very flat but also incredibly windy.
Second place at the European Championships and second (woman) overall, I can’t believe itWorld sprint and British standard duathlon champion Claire Steels
“I finished the first run third in my age group and fourth overall, but quickly overtook a lady from my age group which took me up to second in age group and third overall.
“The headwind and crosswind on parts of the course were relentless and because the roads were so straight, there was simply no hiding from the wind.
“You just had to get down low and attack it hard so that, at the half-way point on the bike run, I overtook the lady in econd place to go both second in my age group and second overall.
“I couldn’t believe it and I really wanted to hold on to it, even though I could see the German lady in first position at the turnaround point with 5kms to go.
“She (Julia Ertmer) had a fairly decent lead so I tried to push hard on the last 5kms to try and close the gap for the run.
“I was also desperate to try and increase the gap between myself and third place as I really wanted to hold on to second overall.
“But I couldn’t close down on the lady in front and when I came into transition two still in second pace, my legs felt surprisingly okay despite several bouts of cramp on the bike.
“I think my legs were used to the longer distance so I still felt strong going out onto the last run of 2.5kms.
“Even though I couldn’t close down (Julia), I did manage to put a bit more space between myself and the other British lady in third (Sally Turner who went on to win the 35-39 age group).
“In the last 1kms of the race, my focus was just on trying to finish strong, with good form, and remembering to grab a flag as I came down the finish which was something I forgot about (at the World Championships) in Adelaide.
“Crossing the line felt amazing after winning another medal in my age group, at my first European championships, and finishing as second female overall.
“I also knew that my bike split had been quick (32 mins 08secs) for me, despite the wind.
“All in all, I was delighted with my performance after another tough race both mentally and physically.
“But I came out of it the other side and helped in securing another fantastic result for GB where we won lots of medals this year (62 overall, 44 in sprints).
“It was so nice to spend time with such wonderful athletes and now I have six weeks to have a little rest and then a hard training block to really focus on Spain and the World Standard Duathlon Championships on June 4.
“I’ve got a big challenge ahead of me, but I’m looking forward to it and to seeing what I can do on the day in Aviles on June 4.”
Claire’s success in Kalkar was celebrated by her family and friends, including housemate and Team GB triathlete Abi Schofield (24) who is herself going for World Championships glory in Mexico later this year.
Abi said: “I am so proud of Claire, not only for her performance but her attitude of honest hard work to racing and training.
“Being so far away when she races drives me crazy as I just want to be there to support her as I know the pain she has to go through.
“She has trained so hard with our coach Mark Griffin and it’s paying off.”
Another friend of Claire’s, Bourne Grammar School PE teacher Gemma Hempstead (31), will be going through similar “pain” when she runs in the London Marathon on Sunday.
Gemma, like Claire a member of Bourne Town Harriers and both of them former students at Bourne Grammar School, said: “Claire is an inspirational athlete and a cracking girl who was poorly in the two weeks leading up to the Euros.
“At our club’s awards night on Saturday, her coach said that Claire had told him that she needed to rest and for her to say that must have meant that she was feeling more than rough.
“She had been focusing her training on the standard distance in preparation for the Worlds so the sprint race would have been a tough one.
“In her own words, Claire was ‘schooled’ by a very talented German athlete but I have no doubt that it will put the fire in her belly to get herself fully healthy and back to the intense training program she has.
“I remember going to athletics meets with Claire as a student at Bourne Grammar School and to see how far she has come is truly amazing.”