This was the first year the ITU (International Triathlon Union) has organized a World Championship event in the offroad discipline. The ITU is the governing body for mainly the Olympic draft-legal format of triathlon and to date has only organized a European Championship edition of offroad racing that they have called Cross Triathlon rather than XTERRA (which is a brand like Ironman). Their World Championship was of distances shorter than what we were accustomed to with a 1km swim, 20km bike and 6km run where the bike was 4 laps of 5km and the run was 2 laps of 3km. It was a super spectator friendly event and evoked memories of short track racing in mountain biking with the fast and furious race format.
The XTERRA events are generally a 1.5km-30km-10km format so the favourites for this event were not immediately evident. I am so happy that the top three women and men were all very familiar faces from the XTERRA tour with me earning the first ever World title and USA pros Shonny Vanlandingham and my Specialized teammate Emma Garrard taking the next two steps on the podium. It is only fair that we should own the first ITU titles in our off road discipline of the sport. I was stoked for Christine Jeffrey of Canada who was the first athlete out of the water and then the first athlete after the podium in fourth. It was a solid day for Canada as for a long while Canada was leading 1-2 in the race. In the men’s race my Specialized teammate Conrad Stoltz won with Seth Wealing and Olivier Marceau finishing the podium.
This was the most challenging race week I have ever experienced. I left Canada the Monday before the race to arrive in Heathrow decidedly unhealthy. With chills and bad cough from a terrible flu I was in bad shape for our first day off the plane for sure and was really worried about the race. However, when our bikes did not make the connection at Heathrow I had something else to focus on other than my poor health . The bikes never did make it in time for the race. In hindsight, it may be that the forced inactivity from lack of equipment was what allowed me to be healthy on race day. It certainly worked out!
I would be lying if I said that I was 100% confident during the whole leadup that I thought I could win no matter the situation I was facing. Honestly, it is a big deal to not have your bike in triathlon and in particular, for mountain bike events. I would waffle between “nothing can stop me” and “why is this happening to me??” I had a complete meltdown the morning of the race when I was leaving without my bike to go race and reality sank in that I was truly using someone else’s equipment. I am so fortunate to have Ross to help me get it together and to have Bev Enslow genuinely happy to loan me her bike (it is like loaning your sports car- they cost about the same!).
Ross reminded me that I said I was in very good shape when I left, that I was fresh and that I had a chance to do something even cooler than just winning. I had a chance to set an example. I have been in this sport a long time and now I am proving I am at the top of my game. For the athletes I coach. other athletes in the sport and the kids that I encourage to participate in triathlon I needed to show that you can never, ever, ever give up. I wanted to prove you could win even if things don’t go your way. If I wallowed in self pity I would basically lose before the start so I decided to get it together and get really mad. I think 50% of my sadness and frustration was for me and 50% was because I asked Ross to come on this super fun riding vacation in Spain that never materialized. I was angry about the entire situation so I kept telling myself that it wasn’t fair and I was going to exact my revenge. I was going to make it right.
Normally I have a sparkling clean bike with tire pressure measured to perfection. I normally choose to ride tires I had tested for countless hours in training before the race and then again after many practice laps on the race course to be sure of the lines to take and to have confidence in anything technical. I was so excited to again be part of the Specialized Triathlon team as we are riding the fastest bikes on the planet. My mountain bike is a Specialized with Brain technology where my shock and fork work perfectly to absorb the bumps in the terrain while allowing me to pedal as hard as I can knowing that all my power goes straight to the bike. I normally have so much confidence that I have the best equipment from my bike to the Shimano XTR components to my Maxxis tires and even the ESI grips I use on my Titec handlebars. Everything I ride in races is hand chosen by me as THE ABSOLUTE BEST POSSIBLE ADVANTAGE I could have. Racing comes down to seconds a lot of the time… I want those seconds. Not having my bike was costing me time, period. Nothing could replace it. Normally my bike has been fitted down to the millimeter and I throw my leg over it and it is as comfortable as a Gabriel Ross couch. That is the professional and normal approach to a race of this importance. I arrived early hoping to enjoy a few days of relaxed training to adapt to the time zone and get my head set for race day.
This was not normal, relaxing or in any way the kind of preparation to get my head set.For this race I had a bike that was still gritty with dirt with about four pulls left in the rear brake pad’s lifetime. The bars were probably 6-8 cm PER SIDE more narrow than I ride and the bike was probably 10cm short along the top tube. After cleaning the bike with a muddy rag with the help of not one, but two awesome ladies from the US age group team (thank you so much for the bike Bev and thank you for the help Jamie!!), I was unsuccessful trying to put enough air in the shocks and the front fork (Bev weighs 20lb less than I do and has her bike set at maximum squishiness which isn’t what I would choose to ride). I forgot to check the tire pressure at all. I raised the seat which constituted a bike fit, put my number on it and by then had no time for a warm up. It was go time. That is not a normal and professional approach to a race.
I realized I had my ITU tattoos on incorrectly when I got my timing chip and had to change those as well, cutting into my swim warm up which would normally be about 10 minutes. It was the worst ever, ever, ever preparation before any race in my life. Kids, it goes to show you. If you are prepared it just doesn’t matter, at all, what happens before the race. A Joel Filliol quote that Simon Whitfield sent to me after the race: “Fitness trumps all.”
It doesn’t even matter what happens during the race, for what it’s worth. Nothing went smoothly. They had randomized the start positions because we don’t have ITU rankings yet so as #18 I was late to choose my start position. Fortunately, there was still room next to Christine and Carina on the far left (best) side of the pontoon. At the start I swam onto CJ’s feet and off we went clear of the pack. I thought I was going to have the swim of my life unti my swim cap flew off. I put my goggles underneath to keep them from getting knocked off but then the silly orange swimming head condom fell off! (It was really loose…) Maia has layered my hairdo into a wonderful bouncy mess of curls when it is dry and stylish but when it is wet it is a matted mess covering my eyes. The rest of the pack actually passed me on either side when I started swimming in zigzags. Finally, I found some feet and they were the feet of my Specialized teammate Emma. Thank goodness and way to go Emma!
The left side start was way better…that is me halfway in the water already
Out of the water I was on a mission. I figured I could still turn it around even though that swim was less than ideal. When I got on the bike I put my head down. I went from 14th out of the water to second in one lap of 15 minutes. I was in first place by the second lap and still with a comfortable lead by the end of the bike. Although Bev’s bike did not fit me well it was mechanically awesome and worked flawlessly the entire race so all I needed to do was focus on pedaling hard. I am not sure I have ever been of such a bloody mindset to get every last ounce of whatever I had out of myself. It was a good feeling.
On the run I felt like crap. I had sore quads because Bev’s seat was too far forward for me so my turnover wasn’t great. At the end of the first lap I saw I had a penalty so I slowed down and stopped at the penalty box and, I will admit, I was yelling “what for??” Turns out that although I rode into transition with my shoes in the pedals, one fell out at some point (I didn’t see it). I would like to note that the bike racks were designed for 26 inch wheel bikes, not 29, so anyone on a 29er had to spin the bike around and rack the REAR wheel in order to not get a penalty for the bike falling over. Probably when I was turning the bike the shoe fell out? Either way, a super unlucky turn of events because a 15 second penalty costs more than 15 seconds by the time you slow to a stop and then get going again. It made the finish quite a bit closer which is good for excitement but bad for the stress I was having wondering if I could shut it down by the end. So happy I did and had enough time to savour the last few meters at the finish line. Good memories.
Running out of transition (Photo Antonia Frau)
I get to be the first ever ITU Cross Triathlon World Champion. I like the sound of that. I also like the fancy ITU medal, the fresh triathlon world title (it has been too long) and the fact I could make what was looking like a disaster turn into a success. Yay! I was very relieved to hold off the super fit and storming Shonny Vanlandingham and I was so happy that Emma had a breakthrough race making the podium. That ITU Winter Triathlon stuff is making her a force to be reckoned with!
Finishline (Photo Ross Taylor)
Thank you to my supportive and totally understanding sponsors! Specialized, Maxxis and Shimano, thank you! AVIA, wow, nice sweep of the entire women’s podium! Nathan, Sundog Eyewear, Powerbar, Profile Design, Titec, ZeroD, USANA, Genuine Innovations, Saris, Saltstick, ESI Grips – thank you very much for helping me get back to the top step again. I love you all!
We had rented a villa with a big group of awesome chicks: Christine (4th elite race), MelRad’s Katie Button (4th in her age group), MelRad’s Jo Markham (overall women’s age group world champion), Emma Garrard (3rd elite) and Sara Tarkington (sadly injured, also no bike, not her best day ) so I had lots of positive attitudes to feed from. Thank you for a great trip you guys and congrats on all of your races! So many happy memories in the end of our week at our Casa de Fast Chicks and Ross.
So I am home for a week and then back to the US XTERRA Tour while racing a number of half Ironman distance road events to qualify for 70.3 Worlds. Here’s hoping these lessons help me to find success at the next World Champs in the 70.3 distance in September!