Let me set the stage: Oceanside California. Just a few miles up the coast from San Diego, Oceanside is a small town that has managed to preserve the old-California feel that many believe to exist only in the writings of the beat generation. The town is lifted up from the beach by a tall bluff, on top of which runs a street buzzing with bike cruisers, weekend warrior cyclists and wetsuit-clad surfers heading down to the sand below. At the base of the bluff is a boardwalk, which was converted for a day into the first course in what will prove to be the most exciting triathlon series in the United States â€“ the Super Sprint Triathlon Grand Prix.
Marc Lees, the owner of Race Day Wheels, and the director for the series decided to mimic the Australian Grand Prix series from ten years ago because of the drama rich, made-for-television format. This series is made to showcase the pros. The course, which was just one of several different Grand Prix formats which all take less than an hour to complete, was a 400m swim through surf and chop, an 8-lap 8km bike and a 4-lap 2.4km run â€“ twice around. That meant that during the bike and run stages alone there were 24 laps, but the course was so small that the athletes were really only out of sight from the grand stands when we were duck diving waves during the swim. The race was set up for the fans, and it made it incredible for the athletes.
We started the race from the sandy beach to a vocal â€œGO!â€ by Marc Lees. Beach starts have never been my forte (short legs donâ€™t get me very far before I have to start swimming) but as soon as we hit a couple waves I was moving forward. I thought the roughness was over after I made it past the breakers, but I found myself swimming next to a big guy with a death wish (Iâ€™m not 100% sure who it was, and if I said who I thought it was some people may think I have a problem with World Champions â€“ I donâ€™t). Iâ€™m not one to back down when someoneâ€™s being overly aggressive, and my line was perfect, so it wasnâ€™t me that needed to turn. I hit back, rammed back, and eventually left the guy behind when I dove and dolphin kicked around the first buoy. From there I started catching the guys who had gotten away from me on the start, and by the time we were swimming in (looking over our shoulders in hopes of catching a wave) I was up near the front. McClarty and Zaferes (both excellent swimmers who live near the beach) managed to catch waves ahead of me and they had a sizable gap heading back across the beach toward transition. To my surprise, Jarrod Shoemaker came out of the water with me. It turns out he used to do beach lifeguard competitions and â€“ while he does hate cold water â€“ heâ€™s quite good at surf swimming. I hopped on the bike and cleared transition ahead of everyone else. The first lap I thought I could catch Zaferes and McClarty, but the firepower of Cameron Dye, Shoemaker, Brendan Sexton and Chris McCormack behind me made my mission suicidal. I backed off and let the group catch me so we could work together. My plan was to go hard the first round, and hit it on the second, so going all kamikaze in the first ten minutes of the race would have been the dumb choice. We caught up to the leaders, but Dye and myself were the only ones working for the first few laps. I turned to Macca, who was sitting comfortably third wheel and said, â€œcâ€™mon you lazy [canâ€™t remember the noun I used, but it wasnâ€™t nice]â€. That seemed to light the fire because he came around with an acceleration that was all I could do to hang onto. I havenâ€™t been able to look at the lap data from my Garmin Edge 705 yet (it automatically laps by position, so I have lap splits and wattage data for all 16 bike laps during the race â€“ Iâ€™ll upload it to Garmin Connect when I get back to Colorado), but Iâ€™m pretty sure our laps with Macca at the front were the fastest laps of the day. Hitting T2 I had a transition so fast that I started the run in the lead. If youâ€™ve followed my results you know that my T2 times are rarely exceptional, so this was a good sign for me (especially considering we had to set up our bike and helmet so that it would be ready for the second round). I lead for about two laps before Brendan Sexton came past me. The run course was really fun. It went 100m out of transition into a 180, then back 20m into a right turn up a steep ramp to the top of the pier, then a 180 and half way up another ramp toward the top of the bluff, then a 180 and back down to the boardwalk the way we came, a right turn 200 meters to a 180 and back to transition to start the next lap. This meant that we were visible to the fans and TV cameras 100% of the time during the run.
My lead lasted for the first two laps of the run, then Brendan Sexton passed me and stayed just ahead of me until we dove back into the water out of T3 (run-to-swim). We managed to gap the group behind us in the second swim, despite the pain we all had to endure to get out past the waves. Believe me, swimming after a full-tilt 1.5 mile run is not easy! Out of T4 (swim-to-bike) Sexton and I had about 15 seconds over the chase group of Dye, Shoemaker and Filip Ospaly (who managed to run and swim his way up the ranks after a terrible first swim). Dye is a beast on the bike and Sexton and I couldn’t hold him off. Ospaly and Shoemaker sat on Dye’s wheel doing as little work as possible (with sixteen 180 degree turns in five miles the accelerations hurt everyone, no matter how well you draft), and when their group caught us it was pretty clear that their legs were fresher than ours. As we lapped Zaferes and Brian Fleishmann (he was sick, this is not normal for him to get lapped) the two of them recovered on my wheel for a lap then took over in the lead and blocked the wind for the final two laps. It was definitely helpful, but I wish they’d joined in a little sooner to hold off Dye’s group. (a quick aside, lapped athletes were allowed to stay in and even join in groups ahead of them. It made for a unique strategic opportunity if you could lap a strong cyclist). Out of T5 I was in the lead again, but this time it only lasted until the first hill. Ospaly and Sexton came by me fast, and it was all I could do to hang on Sexton’s heels for two laps. In the meantime Jarrod seemed to be accelerating from behind us and it was when he passed me that Sexton’s pace became more than I could match. I feel back with Dye right on my feet, ensuring that I kept the accelerator floored all the way to the finish line. I placed 4th, just seconds ahead of Dye, and not far behind Sexton and Shoemaker. Ospaly put together a blazing fast run that left us all in the dust.
That race was by far the most fun I’ve had racing professional triahtlon. It was the proximity of the fans, and the energy of the day that made it so much fun. This series will a lot of fun to watch next year!!