Road to Olympic Trials: Vina del Mar

Posted on January 24, 2012


ITU Vina del Mar Pan American Cup Race Report

I kicked off my 2012 quest to get to Olympic Trials this past weekend at an ITU points race down in Chile. Vina del Mar is a tourist town right on the coast where I have raced once before in 2010. The South American Continental Cup scene in January is always a tough one. The South Americans tend to be in top shape in the height of their summer, they are used to the heat, and they race often. It seems like there’s always some random guy from Columbia or Uruguay that you’ve never heard of that drops a 30-minute 10k and beats you (and then you never hear of him again). Conversely, most Americans are stale from the offseason and not acclimated to the warm conditions. Luckily it was pretty mild for our race – high 70s and sunny. It was a wetsuit swim, eight-lap bike on a dead flat out-and-back circuit, and four run laps on this same circuit. I was the 12th ranked athlete in the small (35 men), but highly competitive pro field.

I chose a starting position next to fellow American Ben Collins, and when the starting horn blasted he took off fast and I got right on his feet. It didn’t last long, however. Collins proceeded to swim right away from me, leaving both me and Mark Fretta, who was on my feet, out in no man’s land. We merged with the main pack as the first buoy approached. I was comfortably in the main group after navigating the first turn. I enjoyed the fact that this swim was a lot less violent than the World Cup swims I did last fall. The swim began to pan out such that there were about five guys strung out off the front followed by a massive main pack, led by Barrett Brandon. This main pack contained all the main players. I sat in comfortably towards the top of this group. This is how everything stayed up through the swim exit.

I transitioned onto my Parlee z5 and then immediately bridged up to a string of guys as the main pack began to form. 1.5 laps into the bike we had chased down all those fast swimmers. I made my way towards the front and did my best to stay there. Our pack strung way out each time we made the two narrow 180-degree turns per lap. Being near the front minimized the amount I had to sprint. Throughout the 40k ride there were a series of periodic attacks. A couple Brazilians and a Columbian took turns taking flyers off the front but never getting completely away. The fastest runner in the field, Ritchie Nicholls (GBR), stayed away for almost two laps with Barrett Brandon around the midway section. We were content to leave Nicholls five to ten seconds off the front in hopes that he would fry his legs. At any rate, I rode strong but smart. I took my pulls, did my fair share of chasing, and just tried to stay near the front of the group and out of trouble. I felt good as we came into t2. I got trapped in the back of the pack coming into that second transition but kept my focus and went about doing some damage on the run.

I was one of the last guys from my group out onto the run course. A couple other stragglers sprinted past me. I went out hard but not way too fast. I was a bit unsure of my fitness at such an early season race. Seeing a long string of about 20+ guys in front of me was a bit demoralizing, but I just focused on one at a time. Sure enough, less than halfway into the first lap, I was making up some serious ground. By the time I came through transition to complete the first lap I was in 6th place and feeling very strong. I tried to keep the forward momentum going and passed Fabio Carvalho of Brazil to move into 5th place. I pushed the pace on this second lap, but Carvalho was able to stay right with me. We have almost identical run speed, so I knew this would be a close one. However, at the start of the third lap Carvalho found a burst of energy and began to open up a small gap. Damnit Fabio! To make matters worse, the #1 ranked athlete in the field, Diogo Sclebin, also from Brazil, was flying when I got a glimpse of him at the third lap turnaround. Up front Ritchie Nicholls was pulling away from the field followed by a Spanish guy and then a string of South Americans. I did my best to maintain pace, but Sclebin flew by me just before we started the final lap. He eventually went by Carvalho, too. I was now in 7th. Behind me there was a huge gap to 8th place. I knew I could shut it down a bit and cruise to the finish, but I also knew I had nothing to lose by giving it everything I had and blowing up with a K to go. So I went for it, but I honestly didn’t have a lot left. I ran strong to the finish, but Carvalho held his ground on me and I crossed the line in 7th place 10 seconds behind him. Our run splits were 30:06 and 30:09, respectively, on the very short run course. I was about 80 seconds behind the winner Ritchie Nicholls.

All in all, it was a well-executed, consistent race. It was the type of performance I need to continue to have to make the starting line in San Diego. When you throw in the fact that I came from a cold climate and traveled over 24 hours to get halfway around the world, it makes the ITU points-earned seem even more valuable. As for the other Americans, Ben Collins finished 11th, Barrett took 23rd, and poor Mark Fretta got a flat tire on the last lap and DNF’ed. A solid start to the year for me! This race moved my ITU points ranking up to 72nd in the world from 105th. I’ll be back on the starting line in three weeks for the Barbados Pan American Sprint Cup.

Posted in: Race Reports