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Edmonton ITU Triathlon World Cup: Alex's Race Report

by Pro Triathlete Alex

Alex Libin's Edmonton ITU Triathlon World Cup transition areaGetting onto the start list for my first international race made me giddy. The fact that it was a World Cup level race made me feel like I was moving up in triathlon simply by being at this race.

In 2009, ITU draft-legal racing was divided into three levels of racing. World Triathlon Series (WTS) races are at the top with 6–8 races per year in some of the most iconic cities on the planet. This is the crème of the crop in triathlon: high-caliber, fast-paced racing. On the middle level are World Cup races with about 10 per year scattered across the globe. Then there are the entry level Continental Cup races of which there are a whole lot.

Clermont, Sarasota, and Dallas, which I did earlier this year, were all Continental Cup races. But now I was stepping it up a notch, racing against a deeper field at a higher level.

This was my first trip ever to Edmonton and my first time staying with a completely random homestay set up by the race director. Things couldn’t have gone better. I knew I was going to like Edmonton the moment I walked off the plane and saw a bunch of ads bragging about random facts about Alberta. Facts like… Bison used to repopulate wild populations all come from Alberta. Alberta has the most diverse number of dinosaur species anywhere in the world.

Edmonton was a great city, the race organizers had put together a difficult and fun course, and my homestay was incredible. Gunther and Mary were extremely helpful and accommodating. They were both heavily involved with the race. Gunther was providing the beer for the post-race festivities, and their home was a quick bike ride from the race site. Overall I was left with an amazing impression of the city, the people, and the course.

Edmonton will be the site of the Grand Final Championship next year. It will be an amazing race and who knows… maybe I’ll even get to be a part of it.

Edmonton Bike CourseMy first taste of the Edmonton ITU Triathlon World Cup course came on Friday morning, when all the elites were able to have a police escorted ride-through of the course. Just like on race day, all the streets were closed off for us as we rolled through. World Cup races are on a whole other level.

Since the race meeting was on Friday and the actual race wasn’t until Sunday, I had some time to familiarize myself with the area as I continued to train leading up to the race. I even got to watch some international water polo at the Kinsmen Sports Center as Canada and Serbia battled it out.

In the days leading up to the race I had a slight equipment snag to overcome. The bearings and freewheel in my rear hub were super tight. Riding around I could feel the loss of power, especially when coasting downhill. It was maybe only a 5% loss in power, but that was 5% I was definitely going to need come race day. My homestay came through for me though: Their daughter raced on the Junior circuit years ago and they still had her tubular all carbon Reynolds in the garage. After checking that they still held air and swapping the 9-speed cassette with my 10-speed, I decided to go for it and use the wheels, hoping that the eight-year-old glue would hold in the tight corners of the Edmonton bike course.

Alex warms up for Edmonton ITU Triathlon World CupRace morning came around 8:00 a.m, as I slowly dragged myself out of bed. I love ITU racing! A quick jog and some stretching in a grassy park overlooking the river was a great way to prep my mind for the intense hour of sprint racing to come in the afternoon. I spent the rest of the morning trying to relax my mind, no sense in getting all amped up to early in the day. One of the biggest hurdles for this race was just being wide awake and ready to rock at three in the afternoon.

I got down to the park in time to watch the women’s race start. There was good energy in the air and I wanted to see how the women would handle the awkward three step drop/dive into the water at the start.

Edmonton ITU Triathlon World Cup: The Race

After a solid warm up prep, we were all called up onto the blue carpet for our call-ups. Jogging down to the start line I was ready to put the last several weeks of hard training to work. I felt so prepared to crush this race and was very confident in my ability to perform well across the board. One final deep breath on the starting pontoon and we were off! The 750 m swim course was in a shallow little pond. It had heated up throughout the day, and we were in for a non-wetsuit swim. There was a small island that we had to navigate around; this meant for really tight swim conditions with 50 of my new best friends.

I had what felt like a smooth and rapid start. I was swimming strong and had a bit of open water in front of me to work with. Charging ahead, I focused on a relaxed kick and quick turnover to be sure that I didn’t go hypoxic. Then I felt someone grab my butt and rip me backwards. Never have I had something like this happen to me. Yeah, I’ve been swum over, kicked, elbowed, even put in a headlock and taken down before. None of that compares to being yanked back in the critical first 200 m of a World Cup race. I came to a complete standstill as everyone surged past me. In one moment I had gone from the front third of the race to the back third. And the back third was a brutal place to be. The tightness of the course meant that everyone pretty much stayed together throughout the swim. A pack of swimmers in the water can be a lot like a pack of cyclists: There’s an organic flow with people passing and dropping, except in the water it can be very hard to tell what’s going on. It's all about skill and experience, two things that I don't have quite enough of yet.

Check triathlon.org for a full gallery of the women's and men's elite races—way better than the pictures I got.

I never did manage to move back up in the pack. Too many kicks to the face and too much clutter for me to push through. My swim ability isn’t quite good enough to come back from a hiccup yet. But still I was out of the water on the tail end of the pack and made the critical mistake of thinking this was good enough. There was a mad sprint for the 200 m to the transition zone. I must’ve lost a few more seconds getting my helmet on because by the time I got onto my bike, what seemed like such a short gap had grown a lot. I tried to strap into my shoes to get up the first climb quickly and close the gap. Putting everything I had into stomping the pedals down the gap started to close, but I had lost too much time and couldn’t close it all the way.

On the other side of the road I could see the lead pack starting to make its way down the hill. I heard wheels cross and saw several riders go down in a hard, massive pile up. As I rolled through the same spot less than twenty seconds later, the road was completely blocked off with bikes, bodies, motorcycles, and spectators everywhere trying to help those on the ground. After creeping by the crash site, I didn’t have the strength to push down the hill into the wind and catch the disappearing pack.

It’s crazy how two seconds out of the water can quickly turn into so much more than that. I was caught by the trailing pack and we began to sort of work together to catch the next group. Our group was small and unorganized. With the hills and turns of the course we didn’t have much of a chance to catch anyone after a few miles. Our group seemed deflated and my legs were destroyed from the high intensity effort to start the bike. We kept bleeding time, and I tried to stifle my frustration with missing out on that front pack. Two seconds down on the swim had turned into three and a half minutes by the end of the bike.

Edmonton Run CourseI was demoralized starting the 5 k run, but I was hell-bent on at least beating those in my group and any stragglers that I could reach. The run course was up and down the same major hill that we had to start the bike course with. I found my legs under me quickly, and got to work up the hill. But it was the downhill that really got me moved up through the field. Maybe it’s my long legs, but I really just let things fly and closed down on everyone around me. By the time I started up the hill a second time my legs felt completely destroyed, but the race was almost done and there was one more guy to catch. I got him just before the turnaround back down the hill and ran the rest of the race alone.

Edmonton ITU Triathlon World Cup Results

I ended up in 29th place, just high enough to score some world ranking points. Check out a full breakdown of splits and results on triathlon.org.

I’m happy to have completed my first World Cup race. I’m frustrated that things didn’t quite go my way—it’s tough to swallow a disappointing race like that. I feel like I didn’t perform up to my fitness ability, and that is the most frustrating thing to deal with. But it’s more experience gained and I’m happy to have been a part of such an amazing event.

Triathlon can be a very frustrating journey sometimes, but for now it’s all about getting back to training and hopefully continuing an upward trend. It was a goal of mine to get top 30 so that I could score some world ranking points, and guess who is now ranked 433rd in the world!

This may have been my last draft-legal race of the year, so I'll have to wait a bit before being able to climb any higher. Next up is the Lifetime Minneapolis Triathlon on July 13th, a race I've done in the past as an amateur. It's a great venue, on a very scenic course. I'm excited to lay down some speed and see what I can do!

 

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Katherine is our Content Champion. She has done triathlons in the past, and now focuses on mountain biking and long-distance gravel riding. She still has a soft spot in her heart for weird multi-sport events like indoor triathlon and aquabike. She also teaches indoor cycling.

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  • KP Paulson

    Man your race was an intense read! That swim, especially sounded pretty rough. Congrats on finishing your first World Cup race Alex! Looking forward to hearing more from ya in the future.

  • Patrick

    Nice job Alex. Keep working hard and pushing forward.