First race of 2019, belief and patience earned a 4th Place finish at Challenge Salou

Upon writing the title of this post, I am reminded that I have finished 4th place a lot in the past couple of years. I decided to take a look and see just how many 4th place finishes that is. Since the start of 2017, I have now finished 4th 9 times out of 25 professional starts, perhaps the most of any triathlete in the world in that time? I wouldn’t be surprised. Although it sucks to narrowly miss out on the podium, Salou was a good start for me to the 2019 season.

I decided to race Challenge Salou instead of one of the Ironman 70.3 races in the USA that were on the same weekend simply to have a “practice run” at coming over to Europe. My A race for this season is 70.3 World’s in Nice, France, which is not too far past Salou, Spain. I arrived in Salou on the Wednesday before a Sunday race, 1 day earlier than usual. This seemed to work out well, it gave me time to adjust to the time difference and to get my faulty rear derailleur replaced. I did some swimming in the choppy waters of the Baltic sea which got me a lot more comfortable in those conditions, and I ended up feeling really good before the start.

This is the only picture with me in it, I'm the furthest from the photographer. Photo by Marcos Cabrera Sport Photography

This is the only picture with me in it, I'm the furthest from the photographer. Photo by Marcos Cabrera Sport Photography

The swim start went well and I managed to get on some feet pretty early on. I was in what I thought was the second pack and it looked like there was a group about 1 minute ahead towards the end. It turned out I was actually in the 3rd or 4th group and we were over 2,5 minutes down from the leaders. This is just a standard swim for me when it comes to choppy water, something I intend to work on in training a lot more this year.

The start of the 3 lap bike course is where I could see a lot of guys ahead of me on the highway. A small group hammered past me on the first hill putting me in 25th place for a few seconds. I couldn’t help but laugh to myself, even experienced pro athletes can’t help but smash first hill at 100 watts above FTP.

Although I didn’t know my exact place at the time, I knew I was not even close to the top 15 at that point, I could see so many guys ahead. I had to take a deep breath and stay calm, it is always the guys who are the strongest in the second half of the bike who have the fastest times, and run the best off the bike. It would be easy to go out and hammer the first lap trying to catch everyone, then fade badly by lap 3.

I settle into my solid but not too crazy effort, around 310 watts, and I soon passed the group that went by me up the hill, along with many others on the first lap. I ended up catching another strong rider who set a good pace for me on lap 2 of 3. ( ASIDE: Lap 2 is when I noticed the lead moto interference was blatant, I’m currently working on a separate post discussing lead vehicles in general and how they ought to change). At the end of lap 2 we caught a group of 3 or 4 riders, so on the climb I put in a surge and only my original riding ally was able to hold the pace. I stayed in front for the whole 3rd lap, finishing the bike in just under 2:09. My power data wouldn’t upload, but I know it was in the low to mid 290’s. It was a relatively slow time compared to many others I’ve done, but with 5 U-turns per lap and the course being slightly long, I put it on par with my best 70.3 ride from last year. I got off the bike in 9th place.

Through transition I worked efficiently and passed 1 more guy, so I started the run in 8th, though I had no idea what place I was in due to all the congestion with age group athletes on the bike. The run course was 4 laps of 5km plus an additional 1.1km partial lap to the finish chute. There was a small out and back section at the start of the run that allowed me to see about 1.5-2 minutes up the road, but there was nobody in sight. I had to take another deep breath and stick to my plan, I had to believe they were close enough for me to catch them, but not go out too hard chasing. I settled into my pace, and I could tell I was moving well, keeping the turnover high but not pushing too hard. At the first full turn around, I saw I was in 8th which was a pleasant surprise, I had thought it was closer to 12.

I moved past 7th and 6th place before the end of lap 1, then I refocused on catching more. They were gradually coming back, and I kept the foot on the gas from 5km to 10km. I went by 5th and 4th at 10km and 12km respectively. I had my sights set on third, and counted 45 seconds to make up at the 12.5km turn around. This is where the fatigue started to set in, and the pace dropped down a notch. I tried desperately to make it happen on lap 4, but 3rd place athlete Tom Davis was holding very strong and I barely made up any more time to the finish, coming in 27 seconds behind him.

Initially I was pretty disappointed with the result. I knew I had biked and ran well, but I was disappointed with yet another 4th place finish. I baby stepped back to the Air B and B where coach James messaged me saying “it says you ran a 1:11:55”. I started feeling a heck of a lot better about the race at that point! That was over 3:37 faster than my previous best run! I didn’t get GPS data on the race, but the strava segment for the course shows it as 100m or about 20 seconds short.

Despite yet another 4th place, I’m very pleased with how this race went for me. Objectively, it is my best season opener since I started in long course. At my first races of the season in 2017 and 2018, I finished 7th at both, with 7:36 and 10:03 deficits to the winner respectively. In Salou I was just 3:06 behind the winner peter Heemeryck (5th at World’s in 2018). The race was just as competitive as my previous season openers, with the largest field of the three at 53 pro men on the start list and at least 40 who actually started.

A huge run PR bodes very well for this season, my bike was solid and the swim was not bad considering the conditions. Now I know I can travel overseas and still race well, and I know where I need to focus to be better prepared world’s, mission accomplished.