Thursday, December 30, 2010

2010 Redux: Hell of a Year

Every so often I haul out a jacket and find a boarding pass stub. Abu Dhabi to Chicago. Knoxville to San Diego. The ever-hilarious Las Vegas to San Diego, where seatmates ask “how’d you do, I still have a quarter left.” “Sounds like you did better than me!”

But for all the travel this year, just one trip to the wind tunnel (with Felt and Terenzo Bozzone as he was fitting to the new DA). Remarkable. Of course, I have two tunnel trips already lined up for ’11. God bless the fan….never get tired of it.

The year started with lots of new events. Abu Dhabi, Rev3 Knoxville. Ironman St. George, my new favorite most beautiful course, and stuff I didn’t get to, like the TriStar races. Love seeing the balance of events out there.

Of course there were the standby Ironman and ITU events. I found myself up many nights in hotels, the night before covering a race, watching WCS races on the Internet. I sure hope I get to one or two WCS events in 11, as I miss these races; it’s where the Maccas and Raelerts came from, but also where the Whitfields and Snowsills reside with authority. 

While the expected dominance of the Ferraris in Gomez and Brownlee were expected, I’d say my race of the year in short-course came out of Stuart Hayes (above), who rode away from the pack and stayed clear to win at Kitzbuhel in August. Awesome.

A trip to Eurobike with my boss John Duke was remarkable. We had just one German meal (I had a nice plate of spaetzle), because our hotel was on the far north end of Lake Constance (meaning a significant drive to/from the Eurobike venue). As such, I ate most meals of wonderful local fare at….. McDonalds. The only draw to the golden arches was that it was the closest place with a wireless connection. So after we ate, Duke went back to crash, and I wrote and filed gear stories for the LAVA website at McDonalds… up till 2 a.m. most nights.

I love driving in Europe. And I love driving there with a Garmin’s Nuvi. Driving rental cars 105mph, the auditorial direction telling me to turn on Dresdnerstrasse, with Duke yelling at me in the passenger seat “DON’T DIE ME!!!!”

The week before Eurobike I was on my own for a trip to Italy with Giro. One of my all-time fave trips. (Shit, any time I go to Italy and eat pasta carbonara it’s a favorite trip). Riding flow tracks with Hans Rey, doing shit on a mountain bike in the Italian Alps that were past my skill level, doing a nosedive into an air pit off a quarter pipe (see the below vid). Great new shoes from Giro, and fun as hell testing them by climbing the Stelvio. Taking that one to the grave.

I’d have to say the close to the year was one of the most memorable in my career. Kona was remarkable, as ever. Macca versus Andi was Ironwar II, I don’t care who you ask. So good to see Macca take a second title, reiterating that he’s one of the greatest champions in this sport, period.

I got to watch him race short-course, make the transition, suffer, take his lumps, learn his lessons and make it to the top.  I think these two images of mine below speak for themselves. (And man, I felt terrible documenting Chris’ rough time that day in 2004…but he was cool with it.) His time came. …twice now.

Macca, 2004, 0 Ironman World Titles
Macca, 2010, 2 Ironman World Titles

It was great to be there with my wife Donna racing, of course. But to capture the moment when the women’s pro field gasped when hearing that Chrissie Wellington wasn’t going to make the Kona start was remarkable; it was like a sonic boom. So too was Mirinda’s solid win. All year, she was a beast. My fave moment was at Oceanside 70.3, waiting to take splits, as the O'side Police ran the speed gun on her. "Wow, that little lady's runnin' real fast, huh?"
Caught Speeding
The chaser came with Chrissie’s utterly stunning display at Ironman Arizona.  Every time Chrissie races, I know I’m privy to a front-row seat to an amazing display, and her comeback from being sick was f’ing awesome.

To say she goes “fast” just doesn’t cut it. Max Longree had to gather himself to re-pass Chrissie early in the run and hold her off the rest of the marathon, lest he become part of the many pro men who were “chicked.” He crossed, looked over his shoulder and said “amazing… that girl is just amazing.”
Watching her race was fantastic… as always, a front-row seat to history.

But the best part of that race was getting to see Jordan Rapp throw open the throttle again. The last time I’d seen him race, he was dragging a huge group around at Abu Dhabi Tri. After Abu, Jordan was left fighting for his life roadside after a collision with a vehicle. After a hard spate of rehab, I saw Jordan at Rev3 Knoxville, and couldn’t believe the knot in his collarbone, or the scars that were healing. He’ll always bear those scars, but he’s really put the event behind him pretty damn well. Well enough to score a sweet fourth-place finish. To see him tearing up as he came up on his wife Jill before crossing, was like witnessing a personal moment I shouldn’t have been privy too. I can’t wait to see him get after it again in ’11. Plus it’s sweet having him contributing to our mag. The dude knows shit…. Not many of those people around.

A look into a private moment for Jordan.
 Finally, the year kicked off with the launch of what was just an idea a year ago. I left Triathlete magazine to help Dave House start a new title called TRI up in the L.A. basin (though he was nice enough to let me work from home). Just two weeks later, John Duke, who left Triathlete just after me, was walking with me in the parking lot at the Y to masters and said “you jumped too early.” I asked “what are you talking about” to which he replied “I can’t talk to you about it now, but let’s have coffee in a week or so.”

That coffee laid out what John had up his sleeve: a magazine very much in the same vein as what I was going to do with TRI. He offered me a place on his ship. I’d worked with him for 10 years and was grateful he thought of me to be part of his new project. With Duke at the helm, and with the WTC as owners backing it, I knew I would be fighting a tough battle trying to produce a title against that. So I joined him, as well as many others, who I generally considered the crème de la crème of our former employers, and collected some great freelance writers that we believed in and had strong relationships with (though we considered firing Ben Greenfield for his boxershort-and-tie rendition of the Village People's YMCA at the Ironman 70.3 Phuket after-party). So great working with Duke, Brad, Susan and Erica, Heather, Laura and Lisa, Wattie and Kayla again, with a few other talented new faces on board; we're having a blast making the mag we always wanted to see. The results speak for themselves.... we're a proud lot, and hope you like this new offering to the market.

What do we close the year with? Lance announcing his first tri DNS at the Rotorua Tri (via Twitter no less, not sure why he refuses a relationship with the endemic tri media, but I digress), leaving me feeling terrible for the poor race organizers, who probably poured a ton into that race. At least they have good national heroes in Bevan Docherty and Bryan Rhodes, and a possible showing by Peter Clode, who will make that title a hard-fought one.

Oh yes, gear? I’ll get into it on our website, but my top five for 2011 were the Trek Speed Concept (No. 1 by a long shot, for so many reasons), the Garmin Edge 800 (touchscreen!) The Timex Global Trainer (finally stepped up with true GPS, without needing an arm transmitter), Zipp Firecrest carbon clinchers (aero aside, the design just makes for easy-to-install tires) and Giro, entering the bike footwear realm with brilliant road kicks. I can foresee a tri shoe in the works…soon.

Looking into 2011, I’m sure there will be as many amazing elements as came stock with 2010. Already planning coverage for LAVA that will continue to make it all look as awesome as it truly is. If you want a sneak peek and our next issue, visit the blog of our photographer Donald Miralle, who joined me on my last boondoggle. (You'll find a shot of me at the Mercedes Benz Berlin museum, chillin' by my wings-up ride with the ice cream paint job.) If you call three days in icy Germany a boondoggle. It’s a piece I’m proud of, and proud to have Don’s work accompanying. A hint: It involves this guy, who put the entire men's 70.3 field in his rear view mirror in 2010.

I’m stoked my wife will be around a fair bit more. She just joined an old friend in Siri Lindley and will be training with Siri’s group in Santa Monica and Borrego Springs, so I’m checking Amtrak train schedules to L.A. Gonna be a fun year for her, with new teammates and new sponsors. I hope to update this space a bit more, but LAVA is taking much of my time, and Donna taking the rest of it. And training too….I hope to actually race at Oceanside 70.3 instead of just sitting on the back of a moto taking pics. Lucky I don’t forget to feed the cats at night!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Back in the Land of the Living

Back in San Diego from Vegas after Interbike, and getting my mojo back. Sorta. I'm trying to keep my fitness somewhat intact, and while my swim and run are nowhere, my bike has been solid. It was fun going out with my wife Donna last week for a 90-miler. This Saturday I scaled it back to 66 miles, but the ride was twice as hard, with 105 degree temps and headwinds that were just beating me down... but not Donna.Not sure how the race in Kona will sort out (it's a pretty stacked field, if ya haven't heard), but I do know she'll have a solid bike time if nothing else. Never seen the girl ride stronger. Should be fun to watch her rip it up, coz she loves the heat, and she loves the wind. Pretty ironic, considering she's from the cold climes of St. John's, Newfoundland. The blood has permanently thinned. In fact, while I finish the ride looking like a salt lick, with helmet straps looking like they've been dusted in snow, she has not a bit of salt on her; years of training in the Philippines and Thailand have clearly tempered her body.

With a coming trip to Kona taking place next week, I may file a post or two here (maybe lift this blog off the ground again for a bit!) that may not be cogent or applicable at the LAVA Magazine site.... which is where you'll find a plethora of activities in the days leading up to the Hawaii Ironman on Oct. 9.

BTW, above is a shot of Donna headed up to Ramona, tearing me up Saturday. After a few 5.5hr rides with her, I'm very, VERY familiar with the look of her rear wheel...

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Gu Launches Savory Gel Line

On the heels of the wildly-successful Roctane line, Gu debuts a new line of savory gel flavors for 2010. I didn't realize there was a market for this, but clearly Australians and Kiwis will eat anything (see Vegemite and Marmite, each of which are supposedly discernable varietals of yeast extract), so I reckon this will be a hit with Down Under athletes. GU's PR agency said LAVA will be receiving a delivery tomorrow of samples of the new line for test. I haven't seen the nutritional count for some of these, but I would be very curious whether Mushroom Rush could integrate the cordyceps sinesis that has has been an endurance benefit in the supplement end of things.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Abu Dhabi Starts Saturday: Who’s gonna be crowned Arabian Prince (and Princess?)

Pundits and experts are doing odds on who’s going to win the inaugural Abu Dhabi International Triathlon and its $50,000 first prize. (Am I missing that they’re taking odds in Vegas by spending too much time at the blackjack tables?) Normally, they'd be good educated guesses. Not here, not tomorrow. As the first race, we contend that a long shot could beat the oddsmakers, and I'm not even going to venture a guess.

Why? For many, it’s the first race of the year. For many, they’re coming out of winter. For some in the Southern Hemisphere, they’re coming into the race at year’s end. Who’s ready to go? Good question.

“That’s the exciting thing,” said Rasmus Henning (pictured below). “Nobody knows how anyone else is doing. And it’s the first race of the year for me—I don’t even know how I’m gonna do!”

Yvonne Van Vlerken of the Netherlands said it’s not about worrying about anyone else other than yourself. “I feel rested, and I felt like this before setting the world record,” she said. “I know the course is made for me—but that’s on paper. I don’t know what will happen outside.”

Then you’ve got folks that are playing their fitness down, maybe sandbagging a bit. “People are playing it down like ‘aw, we’ll see how it goes,’” said Trek/K-Swiss Aussie Joe Gambles. “But when that gun goes off, it’s going to be on. As soon as this race was announced last year, people would have put this on their front burner—forget back burner.”

Being the first race of the year, there are so many variables that I don’t think many are considering….like:

Who’s coming from Southern Hemisphere? Raynard Tissink (South Africa), Bryan Rhodes (New Zealand), Leon Griffin (Australia)

Who’s coming from heat? Tereza Macel, Rebekah Keat (Thailand) Faris Al Sultan (Abu Dhabi), Yvonne Van Vlerken (Fuerteventura), Eneko Llanos (Lanzarote)

Who’s coming from cold? Rasmus Henning (Denmark), Bjorn Andersson (Sweden), Rutger Beke (Belgium).

If this was Kona, we’d all know where everyone was; at either heat (Kona camp, Canary Islands) or altitude (Boulder). But with everyone converging from their personal Bermuda Triangle, this one’s gonna be interesting to say the least.

Friday marked bike check-in for all athletes, (preceeded by a splash in the Arabian Sea for most folks) and gave us journos a good first look at athlete race rigs for 2010. Take a look at some goods from today’s check-in.

Belgium's Rutger Beke racks up for Saturday's race.

Dutch pro Yvonne Van Vlerken get in for a splash.

Locked and loaded are Phillip Graves' Specialized Shiv, and Julie Dibens' Trek Speed Concept.

Canadian Sam McGlone practices her beach start entry Friday morning.

Australian Joe Gambles is one of the other few Trek/K-Swiss pros lucky enough to have an early version Speed Concept.

Gambles (far left) chats with fellow competitors on the shuttle from T1 to the hotel Friday.

This caught our eye; Simon Billeau of France figures that the course is flat enough to run a single large chainring, using a custom-fabricated chainguide. Note the absence of a front derailleur shifter on the aerobars. For all that attention, he has a frayed rear derailleur cable, absent a cap.

Leanda Cave's Pinarello sports a set of the new Easton EC90 race wheels.

Abu Dhabi International Tri Press Conference: New Season, New Opportunities

Change is here. Saturday marks the debut of the inaugural Abu Dhabi International Triathlon, and by all accounts, a new event, in a new venue, with new distances is being very, very well received.

Absent is the pre-race stress, the uptight, the cards-close-to-vest aspect. Maybe it’s the fact that it’s March and Kona isn’t until October. Maybe it’s the nice, warm temps and the hospitality that this first-year event is putting forth for the 800-plus athletes taking part in Saturday’s long-distance and short distance races. Thursday morning at the hotel restaurant resembled a class reunion as athletes from across the globe re-united after a winter off.

“This is the way for me—to be relaxed,” said Hawaii Ironman third-place finisher Virginia Berasategui of Spain. “I like it that way—things like Lava Java, things like that that help me enjoy the race."Great Britain’s Philip Graves echoed the sentiment: “It’s been grim at home—it was negative 6 (Celcius) when I left for here,” he said. “To get here, it’s the first time we’re all seeing people again. It’s great to come here and hang out.”

Of course, with a $115,000 pro prize purse on the line (including a cool $50,000 going to the mens and womens race winner) we can be sure that demeanor will change Saturday. It’s what drew arguable the finest, deepest pro field outside the Hawaii Ironman to Abu Dhabi. “Baring a few ex and current world champions, it’s the toughest field of the year, no question,” said South African Raynard Tissink.

Certainly, it’s great to see new investors in our sport, and the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority is to thank. With German Faris Al Sultan as a catalyst (as someone who has spent tons of time training in the area) as well as the success of a recent success of a race that Richard Ussher won here, the tourism authority’s Faisal al Sheikh (above) has taken the sport into an arena that is accustomed to hosting Formula I racing, horse racing and cricket on a much larger scale.

“We’ve always created an initiated diversive, exclusive events in Abu Dhabi, and triathlon is a mass event that can be seen worldwide. We believe in this kind of sport,” said al Sheikh. “We firmly believe that triathlon, set against the backdrop of Abu Dhabi, will be a wonderful platform to showcase our city to the world.”

For Al Sultan’s part, he’s enjoying seeing a world-class collection of athletes on what is, in effect, his second home. “It was 11 years ago when I first came here to train and race,” he said. “It was my dream to have a world-class race in the emirate of Abu Dhabi."

The athletes have been nothing short of impressed.

“It’s certainly a great place to race,” said Team Trek/K-Swiss Aussie Joe Gambles. “I’ve never been to this part of the world, and it’s amazing to see the area, and see all the best athletes here. They’ve done a great job pulling this together as a first-year race.”

What’s the race going to be like? Being the desert we can expect to see lots of sand, and it’s fairly flat on the bike and run. But what we do have that is going to shake things up is a long two-lap 200k bike, preceded by a two-lap, 3k swim, and followed by a short 20k (two-lap) run. This is certainly a cyclist’s race, and it has some licking their chops.

“I’ve been waiting for a race like this my whole career, with a short run—I can’t be more excited,” said bike specialist Bjorn Andersson of Sweden. “Between me and Philip Graves, I think we’ll have a strong group at the front of the bike, and for those of us that aren’t very good runners, we need to build a gap on the bike.”

For starters, the swim will likely be under a light fog layer. This morning, a layer of cool fog blanketed the city. By 9:30 a.m. it had burned off, exposing a fairly harsh sun and temps in the upper 80s F. That should be good news for early starters on the bike, who may take advantage of the cool temps to nail in a solid gap to open the 200k bike.

It’s that long 200k bike, followed by short 20k run, that has everyone suggesting “what-if’s.” What if Phil Graves and Bjorn Andersson strike out to an unassailable lead on the bike and make it a two-man battle to survive the runners over the 20k run? What if the runners like Eneko Llanos is keeping things close? What if the short swim puts poorer swimmers like Yvonne Van Vlerken and Heather Jackson to the front of the bike in front of the likes of Sam McGlone and Julie Dibens? Or what if Tereza Macel’s heat training with TeamTBB in Thailand turns into her ace-in-the-hole?

Yes, there will be one constant: heat. “You won’t have an advantage by riding the course; your advantage comes from training in the heat, and that can be anywhere you can get it.”

Said Tissink: “I expect a lot of walking, and maybe some tears out there.”

Considering that many athletes here are coming out of their winters, one of those guys who did some heat acclimatization was Spaniard Eneko Llanos, and he’ll likely be one of those who aims to stake his claim on the run. The question is, there be enough real estate to reel in any potential runaway riders?

“It’s great to have a race this big, this early in the season,” Llanos said. “It’s a new format for everyone, and for me, I don’t know what to expect. There’s a lot of strong cyclists and maybe the run is not long enough. But it won’t change my race. I’ll ride my pace, stay as close as I can to them.”

Who’s gonna win? Check in tomorrow for a look at why all the oddsmakers with the various online publications are wrong, and every one should be “PK” (Well, that’s my bet anyway.)

Scot Fraser Cartmell of the Trek/K-Swiss Tri Team does some late checks over his Trek TTX on Thursday.

The swim venue for Saturday's race has been foggy and cool in the morning, as athletes test the waters at the foot of the opulent Emirates Palace (in right background).

Great Britain's Leanda Cave prepares for a Thursday dip at the Emirates Palace Hotel beach.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Under Cover of Darkness....

... I've made it. After a four-hour flight from San Diego to Chicago, and the 13-plus hour flight from Chicago to Abu Dhabi (with pretty decent sleep thanks to a bulkhead aisle seat), I woke ready for breakfast. Too bad it was sundown (and thus dinnertime) when we touched down. Gotta get my mental clock readjusted.

The lion's share of race staff and athletes are staying at Park Rotana. Running into my homeboy Herbert Krabel from Slowtwitch at the airport, we taxied to the hotel, checked in, and went straight for food.

Food? No surprise to find athletes around that. Virginia Berasategui, Hillary Biscay, Heather Jackson, Sam McGlone and Rutger Beke were all milling about after a meal. Seems Sam's bike is AWOL, as is that of Leanda Cave and Julie Dibens. And to think we pay premium for the chance to have the idiots in baggage not only toss our fragile rigs around, but toss them on to flights points unknown. Don't get me started about my recent run-in with TSA, who took Donna's Zipp VumaQuad crankset out of her bag, and forgot to put it in.

Signing off for now. Tomorrow morning, race organizers are taking several press members to the swim start to check it out and stretch out with a swim.. perfect post-flight activity. That will follow with a late morning press confererence. Check in later with a report from the conference.

Monday, March 8, 2010

UAE: C U Soon!

Im'ma keep this short and sweet since I have an early morning flight, but watch this space for some updates, news and images from the Abu Dhabi Triathlon in the coming days. Since my new venture (yes, my NEW new venture) with LAVA Magazine, doesn't have a website live yet, the next best thing is to deliver you some behind-the-scenes content here, as well as at our Twitter locale,

Arriving Wednesday night, keep an eye out Thursday as soon as we get on the ground and see the middle east for the first time. Experiencing new cultures will certainly be a wonderful experience, race aside.

A huge thanks to the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority for hosting LAVA; we appreciate the opportunity to cover this truly exciting race with a twist on distances (2k swim/200k bike/20k run) that may shake up how the pro mens and womens races shake out, and see a pretty exciting, progressive part of the world at the same time.

And fret not, you'll certainly hear from me about Yas Marina Formula I race track (part of the race course for the tri) and Ferrari World. You'll be sick to death of it, in fact. Especially if they decide to shut things down to let me do a hot lap in their two-seater F1 car. You'll never hear the end of it. Whatever. I don't know if visiting the track is on my itinerary, but I'm going there anyway.

Check in with you later. سلام