ITU’s Huatulco World Cup is known to be one of the most difficult races on the calendar every year thanks to its hot & humid climate and a very steep hill that reaches grades of 20%. Since my first professional season in 2012, I have wanted to come down to Huatulco, thinking my skillset as a triathlete would be rewarded. 2015 was finally my year and I highlighted this race on my schedule at the beginning of the year.??Thanks to the hip injury I had earlier in the year, my cycling has been better than ever and I am finding some new confidence in my swimming. In the weeks leading up to the race, Paulo had me and the rest of The Triathlon Squad preparing for this event doing specific training sessions to prepare us for the climb. I came into this one feeling ready to go and excited for the possibility of a career best day.
The days leading up to the race were pretty wet. There was a small hurricane warning and we were hit with some pretty heavy thunderstorms. Because of the threat of a wet bike course, there was quite a lot of discussion over what kind of tire pressure to use on race day. For my readers that aren’t savvy cyclists, using a lower tire pressure increases the tire’s traction on the pavement. The downside of this is it can be a little bit slower and, if you are using clinchers, there is always the possibility of a pinch flat. I, however, race on tubular tires, which are??impervious to pinch flats. Or so I thought.
45th in 9:38, :25 behind the fastest
There is a lot of talk about the bike course here, but that’s all a waste if you don’t get it done on the swim. I was prepared to bring the intensity from the horn and the inevitable physical contact around the buoys. The consensus from the other athletes after the race seemed to be that this swim was one of the rougher ones. I’m used to the occasional whack to the head from a hand or a kick to the face, but this time there seemed to be a lot more pulling and grabbing going on. Everyone was so antsy to get to that hill on the bike, I guess.
I tried to keep toward the inside at each turn and was happy to find myself in the middle of the large group the whole way. Looking at the splits, there weren’t any breaks up ahead and a steady stream of guys continued behind me for about 10 seconds. Running into transition I was pretty confident that I had put myself where I needed to be.
55th in 36:05, 3:25 behind the fastest
Onto the bike I fumbled around getting my feet on top of my shoes properly. There were plenty of bodies all around (the benefit of coming out??in the group vs. at the back of it) so I didn’t have a problem getting up to speed once I figured it out. As we made our way towards the climb for the first time, I started to position myself about halfway up the field into a safer spot. My plan was to just ride up at the group’s pace the first time (4 lap bike course) and then consider pressing the pace on the next laps depending on how I was feeling.
As we crested the climb, I pushed up on the right side to better position myself as we quickly approached a roundabout with stone/cobbles. Almost immediately after transitioning from the asphalt to the stones I heard an explosion. I am sure the pack of cyclists collectively thought, “I hope that wasn’t me.” Pretty quickly my hopes were dashed and I realized I was having my first flat-tire racing experience.
What happened? I’m still not entirely sure. As I mentioned earlier, I had my tire pressure a bit lower than normal, but not??that low. I filled the tires up to 90 psi, only about 10-15 psi off of what I would often go with on a completely dry day. When I inspected the tire, I found a whole that had ripped on the sidewall of the tire. I suspect that I hit a sharp corner on one of the stones where there wasn’t quite enough grout between and it more or less slashed the sidewall.
I was able to negotiate the turn on the flat front tire without being run over by the big group. After yelling a quick swear word, I remembered from the race briefing that the neutral wheel stop was “at the top of the hill.” I yelled to an official on a scooter and asked where the wheels were. He pointed ahead and I rode the flat tire 200m or so to make the wheel switch. As I bent over the bike switching the wheels, the rest of the field that had missed the front group whizzed by. I struggled opening and closing the skewers and it all felt like an eternity. Finally, I was ready to go and I took off down the hill.
Pretty quickly I realized this new wheel was a different width than my ENVE race wheels. These new ones were much more narrow. When I grabbed my front brake lever at the next turn, I pulled it all the way back to the handlebar and it barely pulled on the rim. I did my best to tighten the barrel adjuster on the front brake. At best I was now racing with 1 and a 1/2 brakes.
I never thought about pulling out of the race, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t let it affect me at all. At each turnaround, it looked like I wasn’t losing much time to the leaders, and that helped motivate me to continue pressing on such a tough day. In the end I lost almost 3 minutes to the lead bunch and came into T2 towing a couple guys behind me.
14th in 16:11, :30 behind the fastest
As we got out to the run course??the heat and humidity had really turned up. Only a couple hundred meters in I could see there was some carnage up ahead. Though I was at the very back of the field, it was nice knowing that I was going to be rolling up guys all the way to the finish line and it helped to keep my head in the game.
In the end I got by about 15 guys, but that still left me with only a 39th place finish and outside the ITU points cutoff.??I’ve been a bit up and down emotionally since the race. I am happy with how I felt and executed prior to the flat, but I’m obviously very frustrated and left thinking “what if?” I felt like this was probably my best opportunity in 2015 to use my strengths and current fitness to make a statement on my ability as a triathlete. I was counting on this race to boost myself in the rankings and help me get into the bigger races ahead. Leaving here empty handed makes the coming months pretty complicated when it comes to picking races and I will have to spend some time considering what’s next.
Still, Huatulco is a hell of a race and coming down to Mexico to race is always a treat. The locals love triathlon and me and some of USA athletes were hounded with photograph requests and autographs. It’s a great professional sports atmosphere and I really hope that I have another World Cup in Huatulco in my future.