Kicking off the Season in Chile

Posted on January 14, 2010

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My trip to Chile can basically be summed up by three adjectives; difficult, tiring, and unpredictable. I was detained and nearly had to pay a $240 fine upon arriving in Santiago for possessing bananas, Steve Sexton and I were price gouged by some obnoxious taxi drivers, our hotel room seemed to amplify the nearby street traffic making a good night’s sleep impossible, and I didn’t get the race result that I’d hoped for (and neither did Sexton – he wound up in a Chilean hospital!). I at least felt good in training during the days leading up the race. I was the #1 ranked athlete, which was a first in my 4.5-year ITU career.

The ITU meeting the day before the race was definitely the most interesting of any I’ve ever been to. Things promptly started a half hour late. When we finally thought it was getting underway we were unexpectedly treated to not one, not two, but THREE traditional Chilean dance performances. After that, they decided it would be a good time to serve everybody a pasta dinner. Sexton and I went back to our hotel room, watched tv for a half hour, finally came back to the meeting and it STILL hadn’t started. Then things got interesting. The ITU technical delegate announced that the 8-lap bike would be a total of 33.6km – REALLY?! This set off a string of heated debates which basically brought the meeting to a standstill. They also informed us that they wouldn’t be lapping people out. Was this even an ITU race? The ultimate conclusion of this 2hr 45min race meeting was to increase the bike to 9 laps and not lap people out after 6 laps. I guess that’s fair (even though it’s clearly a violation of ITU rules)… now onto the race.

The race started a half hour late, no surprises there. The ocean was cold and choppy. We had a 2-lap triangle swim. This was one of the most non-violent ITU swims I’ve ever done. (This was probably in part because I had the best starting position). Anyway, by the time we reached the first buoy (250m) things were starting to spread out and I was in the mix. By the end of the first lap things had really strung out and I was in 7th with someone sitting right on my feet. I felt strong in the water, moving up to 6th place by the swim exit. This put me in a weird position: I was 40 seconds down from the lead pack, but 50 seconds ahead of the giant 2nd pack. I entered transition, hopped on my bike, and began riding at a fast but sustainable pace. I wanted to see how things would play out – would anybody come back to me? Or should I simply conserve energy and wait for the 2nd pack. At the first turn around it was clear that the front pack was moving and I was only going to lose time to them riding solo. I eased up and allowed the 2nd pack to swallow me up. This was a big group of about 20 guys. We were uncoordinated in terms of taking pulls, and having a big group certainly didn’t work to our advantage on the technical parts of the course. The breakaway group of 4 continued to put time on us.

On the 2nd lap of the bike there was a random ambulance on the course blocking our lane. Everyone in the pack had to swerve around it. Pretty sketchy! Then things got really crazy. Nearing the end of the 5th lap a spectator wandered out on the course. He was watching for bike traffic in the opposite direction and never saw us coming. At the last minute someone screamed at him, he saw us and froze, setting him on a collision course with Steve Sexton. Sexton hit him full on going approximately 28 mph. I’ve never seen such an awful bike crash in my life. Sexton went flying over the handlebars, his bike scattered across the road in a few different pieces (his front wheel rolled along side me for a bit). I swore I just saw Sexton break his neck, or worse. At that point the danger of this Chilean race really sunk in. I went to the front of the group and never fell behind 3rd wheel. Even if I had to expend extra energy, it would be worth it to stay safe. Coming into t2 I put in a surge and led my pack into transition. [Sexton turned out to be just fine – he only had a few scrapes. I still don’t know how he came away from that crash so unscathed.]

I was the first guy from my group out onto the 4-lap run. I didn’t feel very fresh or fast, but I wasn’t falling apart either. I quickly settled into a rhythm. Guys started passing me. It was a demoralizing feeling. I finally settled into a group with two Chilean athletes. On the 2nd lap I tried to get away from them, but they had reeled me back in by the start of the 3rd. We picked up a Brazilian and our group became 4. We were positions 11th-14th. It was tough to stay in the race mentally – I mean geez it’s only a continental cup and I wasn’t even in the top-10! With 800 meters to go we caught up to another athlete. One of the Chileans, Filipe Vande Wyngard, surged ahead. I lagged behind our little group sitting in 14th. I finally got it together, passed two people, and went after Filipe. I went to the front of our little group, which was becoming more strung out. “300 meters!”, I heard someone yell. I managed to turn on the jets and found another gear. I wasn’t pulling away from the guy right behind me, so I kept taking precautionary glances over my shoulder. Finally with about 150 meters to go, it was clear I’d hold my position. I crossed the line in 10th place.

Obviously a 10th place at a race like this isn’t exactly what you’d call a “great start” to 2010, but based on where I’m at in my training right now I performed pretty close to where my training indicated I would. My main objective with these early season races is to earn enough ITU points to ensure a start at the Sydney World Champs Series race in April. My racing will only better from here. I’ll finally start some speed work over my next training block, and I ought to be much sharper for Ecuador on Feb 6th. I’m also coming back to Boston for the Harpoon Indoor TT on Jan 30, which should be a blast. These past two weeks have been quite the adventure – driving 2600 miles from Lowell, MA to Tucson, AZ, getting settled there for 2 days, then flying down to Chile and back in a 5 day span. It’s crazy, but I wouldn’t rather be doing anything else!

Posted in: racing, Traveling