July 9, 2012

Paris French Grand Prix

After some of the most hectic travel I’ve ever dealt with, plus the smallest hotel in the world, I got to the race site and set up my transition. Had there been sun I would have finished setting up my transition in the shadow of the Eiffle Tower, but alas, the clouds came and the rain started to fall. It was cold and wet for the entire women’s race and that trend carried on through the men’s race.

To get to the swim pontoon every team had to dive into the 22c degree(non-wetsuit) water and swim about 50m and climb up to choose their spot. Our team is ranked 4th in the series so we were up on the pontoon all wet in the freezing cold waiting for the other 10-12 teams to get announced and swim over. Once everyone was on the pontoon it was a very quick start and we were off. The swim was an out and back in a canal that has a fairly strong current, so the 350m to the first buoy is very fast and coming back is extremely slow.  I had a great warm up and was feeling the best I have felt pre-race in a very long time, and luckily this feeling carried over to the beginning of the swim.

When we started I was just cruising and was right in front. I didn’t have to battle for position or anything. My team mate Raoul was pre-determined swim leader so I backed off and got on his feet. Around the buoy I was being polite to my other team mate Igor Polyansky who was caught on the inside, and I took a wider line then normal around the buoy so he didn’t get crushed. This turned out to be a mistake. I ended up getting kicked pretty hard and pushed to the outside. I lost Raoul’s feet and found myself in about 6th position heading back against the current. 

It was pretty nice being in the middle of a group in this swim scenario because the draft going against the current was amazing! I found myself next to multiple world champ Javier Gomez and knew that my position in the pack was fine. The line everyone takes coming back is RIGHT next to these large boats that are docked at the edge of the canal, so about 200m from the swim exit (and since I got pushed to the outside around the buoy) I found myself nice and secure in the pack, but too secure! I was boxed in between two people on my left and a massive boat on my right. The lead swimmers started to creep away with the last 100m to go and as I saw this unfolding I couldn’t do anything about it. I wanted to get around the swimmers in front of me and to the side of me but I was blocked on every side. It was pretty frustrating not being able to swim harder and having my best leg of the race nullified by poor positioning, but I was telling myself, “It’s ok, your HR is like 130, you’ll just be able to run faster”. “Don’t worry, you’ll make the lead group!”

After the swim I ended up exiting the water in about 10th position a full 15 seconds down from Raoul and a small group of 5 others. This was the first time I have been panicked in T1 to try and catch the front group. I had a solid T1 and got on the bike with a long string of athletes right behind me. I ended up riding away from everyone except Pierre LeCorre and one other athlete (Don’t know who it was)who were in front of me and I yelled at them “Allez Allez Allez!!! Let’s go!!” Looking up the road there was about a 10 second gap to the lead group of Raoul Shaw, Javier Gomez, Fred Bulaubre, Aaron Royal, Vincent Luis, and Alois Knable who were already in a smooth pace line. I rode extremely hard with my feet on top of my shoes for about ¾ of the first lap with a little bit of help from Pierre Le Corre and the other athlete. After ¾ of the first lap (There were 4 laps of 5k) I finally got onto the back of the lead group. Once I was there I was able to sit in a few rotations and get my feet in my shoes, drink some fluid, and recover a bit. Once I got settled it was like a team time trial on the bike. 

The 9 of us (even though we were all from different teams except Raoul and I) worked extremely hard and very well together. No one was missing a turn, and we knew we needed to keep up the high paced effort on the flat course to be able to stay away from the chase pack of about30 men. We all thought we were doing well until we looked back on the final lap and saw the chase pack had brought us back (which was crazy because for the first 3.5 laps we had a fairly large gap). That was extremely frustrating for me after the swim situation forced me to put in a mega effort to catch the lead group on the first lap of the bike and then how hard we rode the rest of the ride to not have a gap into T2. Once our group was caught the pace slowed a bit and the bike leg became a battle of positioning going into T2. 

I placed myself well and was top 10 going into T2. As I was running to my transition area (which was at the opposite end of the dismount line) I was on the left of another athlete and apparently in between him and his transition spot. It all happened so fast but all the sudden he and his bike turned straight into me (as I was yelling “Whoa whoa whoa!!”) and I was instantly tripping over his bike. My bike got stuck and then hit by another athlete from behind which spun me around and by the time I got un-hooked and racked my bike I had lost about 8-10 seconds in transition. 10 second may not seem like a lot, but in these high paced races 10 seconds is like an inception dream! So with the combination of the extra effort I had to use to catch the front group on the bike, and with the T2 mishap, the prospect of a top 10 was gone before I even started the run.

I found myself starting the run in around 40th or something. I had already lost the front group, which looked like they were miles away already, and ended up having to run solo the whole time. I passed quite a few guys the second lap, and was trying to motivate myself to run harder, but it’s very hard to push yourself into that kind of pain when you aren’t in a group and are racing for top 30. I held my own and ended up finishing 22nd. Not exactly the result I was looking for as this was my last French Grand Prix and I was perfectly tapered for it, but I didn’t crash and I have another solid experience in the books!

July 3, 2012

Canary Wharf Super Sprint

After being in France, Italy, and Spain it was time to go to London to race the Canary Wharf Triathlon. Canary Wharf is a high paced, draft legal, super sprint, trials and finals event. The race consists of a 400m swim (1 loop), 10k bike (9 laps), and a 2k run (two laps). The race starts off with 50 men divided into two individual heats of 25 and the top 8 men from each heat, plus the 4 fastest losers, are combined for a finals heat. Trials start at about 6:30pm and finals are at about 9:00pm on a Thursday evening right smack dab in the middle of town! It was an amazing experience and definitely a great race to make sure you have your transitions down!

I was in Heat 2 for trials so I got to watch the women race, and heat 1 of the men (which was an advantage, but the negative part was that we got less rest leading into finals). There was a slight curveball at the beginning of the men’s heats though and because of a major delay they had to alter our course to 400m swim, 5k bike, 1k run. It was the first time I have ever been at a race when the swim has stayed the same and everything else was changed - as a swimmer I was happy with these new ratios!

I lead the swim out and ended up riding solo for the first 3 laps of the bike waiting for the chase pack. The two guys I waited for didn’t want to ride so we all just waited for the main chase pack. Once in the main pack no one wanted to go to the front so I was getting excellent positioning into all the corners and into transition. I had a TERRIBLE T2 and was scared about not making finals for the first 700m of the run. Luckily I was able to make my way up into 4th position and hold it there to qualify for the finals.

Finals was a whole new ballgame. Everyone was bringing out their A game and it was back to the original full distance. Now that the finals heat was a combination there were two other strong swimmers I knew could get away, and one of them was my team mate and countrymen Ben Kanute.
Ben and I got extremely lucky by getting spots right next to each other on the far side of the pontoon. When the horn blew we were off and had a solid 10 second gap by the time we got out of the water. Another bonus for us was that Aaron Royal from Australia was able to get out of the water on our feet and make it a three man breakaway on the bike.

We all had solid transitions and from then until T2 it was just head down on the bike. We worked fairly well together, but after about four laps on the bike Royal started skipping pulls and/or taking very short/weak pulls. Ben and I were stuck in a tough position because we needed the gap to the main field, but as Ben and I kept riding hard (especially Ben, that dude is a BEAST on the bike), Royal was getting a chance to save his legs. I tried forcing him to ride through a few times, but that was just leaving Ben out in the wind longer and ruining our rhythm. I figured it was better to have a bigger gap to the field then to play around with Royal, so strategically Royal ended up getting the best of us, but that’s what comes with experience – well played sir!

The three of us came into T2 together with a 20 second gap over the rest of the field, but Royal and Ben were off like a shot. I think after Banyoles I was a little nervous about going out too hard, so I ended up holding back too much, especially for a 2k!

I held my position in 3rd until about 1.5k when Jarrod Shoemaker passed me. The guys from the chase pack were running extremely fast, and mentally I couldn’t get myself to go with any of them. I ended up running with Tim Don, Aaron Harris, and Adam Bowden for a bit and that helped me bridge up to Ben.  With 100m to go the others were well into their sprints and all I was able to do was hang on for 6th. Aaron Royal was able to hold off Jarrod Shoemaker in a very close sprint finish for the win which made me happy that someone from the breakaway won!

Overall it was an amazing experience, great racing, great people (I got to see my cousin who I haven't seen in forever), and I got a little bit of prize money which is always a plus!