After the Olympic trials race at WTS San Diego, lots of things changed for the US Men. What this means for me (in a nutshell) is that a spot opened up for WTS Madrid. Since I have been living and training in France, USAT gave me the opportunity to have the available slot. Even though the WTS level of racing is much higher than the level I am currently at, I couldn’t pass up this opportunity to see how I stack up against the best in the world.
Since I was a substitute, I was number 66 which was the 2nd to last number on the start line (at ITU races you get to choose your starting position based on your number). Being one of the last guys I didn’t get to choose where I went and got stuck right in the middle of the field. Luckily the two men I was in between were not that great in the water and I was able to be free and clear all the way until the first buoy. When the field came together at the first buoy I was slammed right in the middle of the top 10 and was bracing myself for getting crushed around the buoy. To my surprise I barely even touched another person. We all went around the buoy in a very formal fashion! I couldn’t believe it! After that first buoy it started to string out a bit and I made sure to have good positioning leading into the lap two. On the second lap I was being very cautious about how hard I was swimming and where I was positioning myself. I found myself right next to Johnny Brownlee after the second turn buoy and decided I’d be safe there and just swam right next to him the rest of the swim.
I exited the water in 5th and had a solid transition and was in 2nd by the time I got my feet in my shoes. The bike course is uphill for the first 2.5k with a steep 800m climb right out of transition, then downhill the second 2.5k and you do this loop eight times. I couldn’t believe how fast the pace was the first time up the hill! Somehow I managed to stay with the lead group and was able to ride the entire first lap with the breakaway of 10 men. On the second time up the hill I positioned myself at the front of the group leading into the climb so that by the time I got to the top I could afford to drop back nine places and still be on the back of the pack. But at the halfway point of the steep section the pace was too high for me. I did everything in my power to stay with the group but could not hold on. My body was numb from head to toe as I was out of the saddle trying desperately to get on the last persons wheel. After that effort I was completely shot. My body was useless. I was giving everything to stay with any chase group that came by, but after exhausting ALL my energy I kept getting popped off the back of each group. I was not able to recover, it was just effort after effort after effort then finally, after getting dropped off 3 chase groups, the large final chase group of about 20 men came through and I was able to jump on that train. Once I had about a minute to catch my breath, drink some fluid, and get in a rhythm with that group I was fine. The last 4 laps of the bike ride were extremely easy. That chase group ended up catching the first chase group by lap 8 and I was able to enter T2 with the entire field (except for the breakaway of 9 who had a 2:00 gap by this time).
My claim to fame at this race is that I had the fastest T2 of the day! But that was definitely it. I ran solid and came back at the end and passed quite a few people but ended up finishing 42nd. Not only was this my debut WTS race, it is one of the hardest courses in the series, and was the final Olympic qualification race. So after that combination I can’t be too bummed about the race.
If I hadn’t tried to stay with the lead group on the bike and just been satisfied sitting in with any of the chase groups I probably could have run about 2 min faster, but as Jono Hall would say “that’s not putting your head in the lions mouth”. Every race I do for the next couple years is to learn and to develop myself. I played my cards by trying to stay with that group and am now a stronger, more confident athlete because of that risk. If I could go back, I wouldn’t change the way I raced. I dove into the unknown not knowing what to expect, and now having raced at the highest level with the best guys in the world, I am definitely more privy to where I need to be and what I’m going to have to do to be competitive at that level.