A week after my season opener in Monterrey, Mexico, and armed with a far better strategic plan, I finished 10th at the Ishigaki World Cup, held on the southernmost island of Japan. Ishigaki is an idyllic setting for triathlon, and itâ€™s no wonder that this particular race is the oldest World Cup on the ITU circuit. And with 15 years of experience, the race organizers have gotten the details finely tuned.
The swim, a two-lapper in the fishing harbor (protected from the hammerheads by shark nets) set off at a surprisingly fast pace led by an Australian swimmer. For the second week in a row I was 4th from the water and found myself in a small breakaway on the bike. Unlike in Monterrey, however, this group showed animosity towards each other from the start. Every time someone pulled, another person would attack. This led to a situation I can only think to call â€œdead fishâ€. When the first chase pack caught us the situation didnâ€™t change at all. When the second chase pack caught us it became clear that one of the other athletes was planning to attack. When he did, I followed his lead and took off after him â€“ dragging a Japanese athlete with me. When that Japanese athlete came by me and took a pull it became clear that he was not breakaway material. But when I started to come around him he showed that he was also not qualified to ride in a group – he turned to look back, and in doing so he turned his bars and took his bike clear across the road and into me. Because he was ahead of me at that point, when our bikes met it was a losing position for me. I leaned against him in hopes of saving myself, but my bike flipped forward and I rolled to the ground.
Standing in the road bleeding as I looked at my crooked handle bars, all that went through my head was anger that I had traveled way too far for my race to end like this. I began to walk my seemingly broken bicycle to the side of the road, when a spectator handed me the bottle that had been launched onto the sidewalk. I took it, but must have given her a strange look â€“ I was confused as to why I would need my bottle back when clearly my race was over. The streets were lined with thousands of fans, and there seemed to be a consensus that I should suck it up and start pedaling again. I took the bottle, grabbed my chain to put it back on the chain rings, and mounted my bike to the thundering cheers of the crowd.
Within a lap I caught back on to the group, but I had missed my breakaway opportunity. I did my best to recover from the effort, and to ignore my swelling hip as we started what would prove to be among the most difficult run courses on the World Cup Circuit. I suffered a bad transition â€“ a trend, which I have struggled to improve â€“ and began the run with a small deficit. I sprinted up the bridge and nearly caught the leaders, but then proceeded to suffer through the next lap and half â€“ being dropped from the first, then the second, and then the third running packs. Beginning the final lap I was in roughly 20th position. I looked ahead and forced myself to focus on every individual step â€“ to ignore the distance remaining and inch my way back to the group in front of me. Slowly I came back to the runners ahead, passed a few, and then a few more. In the final kilometer I passed a pack of 4 runners and never looked back. I emptied the proverbial tank and found myself crossing the line in 10th. To give you an idea of how competitive these races are, I was 6 seconds behind 7th, and 10 seconds ahead of 13th. 40 seconds faster and I would have been on the podium, which is what I had hoped for. Still, tenth at a world cup is a very strong result, and one that has moved me from 100th in the ITU rankings up to 57th (my highest ranking to date), and much better than letting a bad cyclist hand me a DNF.