Youri Keulen: ‘Totally destroyed, but as proud as possible’

Youri Keulen wins PTO T100 Singapore (Picture: PTO)

He doesn’t really even remember the last kilometer and after the finish of the PTO T100 Singapore, where Dutch Youri Keulen won in sensational fashion yesterday and perhaps recorded the most spectacular Dutch triathlon victory ever, he was given a liter and a half drip and lay in an ice bath for thirty minutes to cool down sufficiently, but by now the athlete has landed back on earth. However, he does not yet truly realize what he has accomplished. “But that will come later, when I get off the plane and am back home.”

At least Keulen won’t have to wait long for that then, because during the interview with Triathlon Today, he is already on the plane, on his way home and also on his way to ‘a week of recovering and enjoying victory’. “I am totally destroyed, but as proud as possible as well. I am immensely proud of my team and the people around me. I actually have a really hard time realizing exactly what happened.”

‘I couldn’t go back; the race developed like this’
Keulen caused quite a lot of surprise – in the most positive sense of the word – yesterday when he broke away from a sizeable leading group after only about 20 kilometers on the bike, leaving big names like Sam Laidlow, Alistair Brownlee, Kyle Smith, Josh Amberger, Daniel Baekkegard, Ben Kanute, Jason West and Mika Noodt behind. Incidentally, Keulen somewhat surprised himself with that, too. “It was not my intention to break away; I just wanted to push the pace. The pace was too slow and I didn’t want to go with someone like Jason West to the run, or be caught up by someone like Sam Long. When I pulled through and looked back, no one appeared to be following. Then I couldn’t go back anymore: the race just developed that way.”

For Keulen, it meant a special situation, in which he wondered several times on the bike what he had actually started. “But there was no turning back. I really wanted this, so then you have to push through and not hold back. According to my power meter and heart rate monitor, I didn’t do anything special; I mainly think the others waited too long. They suddenly had to close a minute and that’s almost not doable in this weather conditions.”

‘The last run lap was hell’
Indeed, that turned out not to be doable and so that minute was exactly the margin with which Keulen began his final 18 kilometers of running. For outsiders, there might have been some question as to whether Keulen had not blown himself up on the bike or would succumb to the heat, but for the athlete himself that was not a question at all. “The first two laps I was incredibly in control,” he looks back on the first 12 kilometers in which he extended his lead over everyone except an unleashed Sam Long, who was rapidly closing in and approaching to two minutes. “The last lap was hell. At one point I started setting myself intermediate goals to get through the course. I held on to the thought, ‘I’ll run as hard as I can and if they come to get me, so be it. Then I gambled and lost.'”

So, even though the last lap was “hell,” Keulen knew things had to get crazy if he wanted to give up victory. Long was given a 30-second time penalty, which meant he was falling behind. “Then I started calculating. I knew he had to run about twenty seconds per kilometer faster than me. I was running 3:35 minutes per kilometer: so Long had to run 3:15 minutes per kilometer, but that’s not doable in these conditions. So for me, the main thing was to not succumb and just get to the finish line.”

‘I kept my word’
That Keulen went deep to get to that finish was evident from the footage across the line. “The medical staff did a good job. I told my coach beforehand that if I had to go into the ambulance to win, I would. At least I kept my word,” laughed Keulen, who was briefly transported to the hospital after the finish for a checkup, but is now completely okay again.

Keulen calls the victory undoubtedly the best of his career as a professional athlete, although he is thus the first to admit to not actually realizing yet what he has accomplished. “I am now looking forward to being home for a while with my girlfriend and being back in the same time zone as my family,” he said.