Racing on the Road Grand Finale (a bit late)

Posted on January 3, 2012

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[Nov 21st] After one week at home it was right back to Logan International Airport to board a plane to New Zealand. The ITU Auckland World Cup was my final race of the season. I slept surprisingly well on the 13-hour flight from LA to Auckland and got to my hotel Wednesday morning feeling refreshed. The race was scheduled for Sunday. I felt good during my training leading up to the race. I enjoyed riding along the scenic New Zealand coastline and had fun exploring the Auckland shops and cafes.

The view of Auckland from across the Harbor

When Sunday rolled around I had the luxury of sleeping in due to the 2:45 PM start time. I was the 30th ranked athlete on the start line. Of all the World Cups I’ve raced this year, this would be the hardest and most competitive. The bike course was eight laps through downtown Auckland with three steep hills per lap. It would be a true test of all-around strength. When race time approached, the athletes were called onto the pontoon, which bordered Queens Wharf. The starting horn blasted and we dove into the cool, wetsuit-legal water. From the get-go it was a rough swim. I couldn’t get out faster than the guys next to me, and we began knocking each other around more than we were swimming. I jockeyed for position in the mess of bodies. I could tell I was further back in the field that I wanted to be because the pace was slow. We made the chaotic turn at the first buoy, but the field didn’t string out very much. I was more or less trapped in the middle of the main pack. I hunkered down and swam defensively for the rest of the 1500 meters. I threw in a surge just before the swim exit and was able to pass about five guys. I exited the water with a sore nose in about 30th place.

I was happy to be out of the chilly water and hop on my bike. The top-ranked athlete, Laurent Vidal of France, had an uncharacteristically bad swim, and I found myself sitting on his wheel over the first kilometer of the bike. I felt very strong, but I was happy to sit on Vidal’s wheel and let him bridge us up to the pack ahead. Midway through the first lap we had made it into the main pack. There was a breakaway group of about six guys that included the top Kiwis Bevan Docherty and Kris Gemmel. There were a couple guys between that breakaway group and our group who we began to catch. I felt amazingly strong and when we hit the first hill I powered past my whole group. I may have gotten a little too excited as I continued on solo. For a minute I thought I might be able to bridge up to the breakaway. But after about half a lap I was reeled back in by the 20-man main pack. I began to settle in with this group. I was in a great position and feeling strong. I was leading the chase pack two laps into eight lap bike when I was struck by some bad luck: At the base of one of the hills I dropped my chain. I tried to shift back into the big ring quickly, but it wouldn’t catch and I had to stop and manually put it back on. I only lost about 15 seconds, but at those speeds riding solo I had no chance of catching back up. I rode by myself for a while until I was caught by the third pack. This pack of a dozen included a couple strong Brazilians and my US teammate Steve Sexton. We worked hard for a while and held our gap with the second pack steady, but in the second half of the 40k things deteriorated as people fatigued, and I came off the bike two minutes down from that chase group.

Leading the chase

Despite the mechanical problem I was able to keep focused. I knew I still had a shot at a top 25 finish with a strong run and could earn some valuable ITU points. I went out strong but held back just a tad on the first lap. By the halfway point on the run I was the fourth place guy from my bike pack behind an Italian, Brazilian, and Japanese guy, and I was also starting to reel in some stragglers from the main pack. I gave it everything I had and was able to continue passing the slower runners from the pack ahead. I crossed the line in 23rd place with a bittersweet feeling. I knew I had a good race being ranked 30th and finishing 23rd, but without that mechanical I may have been top-10, which would have been the biggest result of my career. Nevertheless, I close out 2011 as the 5th-ranked American on the ITU Points List and with three solid World Cup finishes that I can be proud of. Additionally, I got my first ITU win this year in Coteau-du-Lac. I’m in a good position as 2012 begins and hope to make that Olympic Trials start line this May.