The first couple of domestic races are always fun to compete in. Clermont and Sarasota have become a good one-two punch for early season racing, with not only a contingent of talented US athletes, but a respectable international group as well. These were an important couple of races for me because I hoped to test out my fitness, and set the tone for the rest of the season. It was also a treat because I got to race on US soil, and my parents were able to join me for the week.
After Tritonman, and my last blog, I was able to put in a couple solid weeks of training before heading out to Clermont the Thursday before the race. I arrived late at night, but travel was made easy once I arrived because my parents had everything already set up! It made the next day a breeze, and I was able to focus on performing on Saturday. I had not done the Clermont Continental Cup, but always watched the live timing, and I knew there were always a few people firing on all cylinders for it. My strategy was to keep the pace high the entire race to make it as honest as possible. I had a good start position for the wetsuit swim, and I immediately found myself near the front of the pack. I tucked in behind a couple of swimmers who got out faster than I did, and enjoyed the ride. I did not make much of an effort to go to the front until we approached the swim exit, where I came out in about third. I made sure to get through T1 quickly, and I was the first out onto the bike course.
I pushed hard that first half a lap to establish the front group as fast as possible. From there I had two objectives: 1. Keep the front group organized and working hard 2. Get ready for the run. The group worked extremely well together, and we held off the charging chase pack for the entire 4 loop bike. There was a slight technical section of each loop through the transition area that I used as a bit of a test a couple of times. I went to the front and hammered this section to see if anyone would be popped off the back. The group stayed together though, and I did not make any real attempt to go solo. I pushed into T2 hard to be the first off the bike, and the first onto the run course.
I tried to keep the pace at a fast pace, and try to get rid of as many people as possible early on. Our group split up pretty fast, but there were a couple of Canadians who hung with me. After the first lap, Talavera (one of the Canadians) took the lead. I stuck on his shoulder, and hung on for the rest of the run. He upped the pace enough to hold off some of the runners from the chase pack, and he started his sprint to the line with about 400m or so to the line. I told myself he went too early, and dug to stay with. I could feel I had just a bit more in my legs, and went with a little more than 200m to the line. It was a bit early, but I was able to hold him off for the win! It was a solid day of racing for me, but I did not celebrate for too long. I had the CAMTRI championships in Sarasota the next weekend.
I spent the week training in Clermont, which served as a great base for my stay. The weather was good, and I was able to find everything I needed to have a good week of training. My mom stayed with me, and made it super easy to get around and get the work done that I needed to. My dad met us on Friday in Sarasota. I had raced here before a couple of years earlier, and actually thought that it suited me a bit more than the Clermont course. I wanted to back up my win in Clermont with another solid performance in Sarasota to show that my form was good. It looked like it was going to turn out to be a hard day with heat, a non-wetsuit swim, a windy bike, and a slightly hilly and windy run. I love hard races, and the conditions were ensuring that it would be one.
I was pumped to race again, and my plan was pretty much the same as the week before. Go fast, and make sure when you go hard, others are going harder. I got myself excited for a fast swim, and I led around the first buoy fairly comfortably. There was a long straight that was fairly choppy, and I had to concentrate on keeping the pace high, but also on keeping solid form. Sometimes small chop can be the trickiest to swim in, and it also gives a better draft when swimming into it to the people behind. I was able to keep the swim fast enough to come out of the water first, and to have a gap with a couple of guys. We ended up not having enough fire power to hold off the group of about 7 behind, so we sat up and joined them.
Most of the contenders were in this group, and I kept the pace aggressive. Looking back at my power, I was surprised that I did not have any huge power spikes throughout the bike, despite going off the front more than a handful of times. I also was surprised to see that my power was not really that high for being off the front so much. Mostly, my efforts were focused on guttering people at the back (guttering: moving to the side of the road people want to draft on in a crosswind so that farther back in the pack there is no more room to draft. They are in the gutter.), pushing with a tailwind (not as much draft), or going hard through transition (technical) to try to pop a few people off the back. I felt like all of my moves were calculated, but none of them had me off the front for more than half a lap. The last half a lap I sat on the back. I did this to recover from going off the front with Hunter Lussi for a solid period of time. I then “attacked” (it was more of a seated acceleration), into the technical section that led to T2. I left T2 first, but with a solid group of guys right on my heels.
It did not take long for Eric Lagerstrom to set the pace at the front. I was happy to let anyone set the pace, especially since it was into the wind. Andrew Yorke and Matt Sharpe also shared the lead on the way out to the turn around, and I took over once we had the wind at our back. This stretched the group a bit, and I led for the next lap (through transition, and back out to the turn-around). I tried to keep it an honest pace, but I also kept in mind that I was leading into the wind on the way back out to the far turn around, and I did not want to give anyone a free ride while I cooked myself. At the turn around, Talavera (2nd in Clermont), was apparently looking for revenge, and took off at a pace that to me felt like a full on sprint. I saw this as the winning move, and one that I thought I could go with since we ran together the weekend before. However, with about 800m to go, my legs were just about cashed. I told myself to regroup and get ready for a sprint finish with the guys chasing me from behind. There were a series of counter-attacks as we neared transition, and Andrew Yorke broke away first. Then it came down to the straight away with me and Godoy. He got me by about half a foot for 3rd place, and I ended up in one of the hardest places to finish, 4th. Looking back at it, I probably cost myself the podium by going for the win. I am more than okay with this at this point in the season, and I am glad that I took a chance to test myself.
I am very happy with how my week or so went in Florida. I got in a couple of strong races, and some solid training. This was a great start to the season, and set me up well for my upcoming races in New Plymouth and Gold Coast. Thank you to all of my sponsors who supported me, and gave me the best opportunity to perform well! I am looking forward to improving on my results in the coming weeks and months.