The race season is finally over, at least over here in North America. I've just attended and covered the last race of the season. I love covering the trips international, but it's always nice having one in my proverbial backyard, which was the case for Ironman Arizona part deux.
Despite being the last race, it didn't fail to disappoint. I got to see a few things I think few have picked up on, including a prototype Bontrager/Hed wheelset aboard Chris Lieto's ride... which is above. I'll be doing a blog update soon on a recent trip with Steve Hed to the San Diego wind tunnel, the day before he provided councel to Lance Armstrong. With Bjorn Andersson there, and lots of prototype work going on (some of which I'll be permitted to show you), you can be sure Steve is pushing Zipp to be top brand in the market.
I also saw this guy. I think maybe he was confused that it was the new Ironman Sahara. We saw no sand dunes (or coyotes, roadrunners or rattlesnakes on the Tempe course for that matter), so I think we can be sure his grill stayed grit-free. I ran into Fletch Newland from Cervelo roadside on the race course, who did a bike count at Ironman Arizona, and he said he saw a BMX bike in the racks at Ironman Arizona... right down to the race number plate on the front of his bars, held by a gooseneck. Not a stem, a gooseneck.
He said he talked to the guy and he was not only an Ironman first-timer, he was a first-time triathlete. Talk about trial by fire. We saw him cruise by out on the Beeline Highway, and as I marveled, I should have tried to catch up and have him pop a wheelie and do a tabletop off some berm.
I observed several other things. First, the race was the deepest* pro of the year outside Hawaii, with nearly 90 pro men and women. Note the asterik—for pros, there was some pack fill. But as always, the cream rises to the top. My wife Donna, who did the swim and bike and passed on the run due to a calf tear, knew that "depth," particularly on the mens side, would off the ratio of the seven available Kona slots. With about 60 pro men, five spots went to the men, two to the women. It wasn't surprising when she came out ahead of many of the pro men. But when she found she was passing several "pro" men on the bike, that spoke to the fact that of the 60-something pro guys, maybe 10 were real contenders. The rest? I just wonder how they got a pro card.
I think Jordan Rapp is on the creep-up. He raced in Tempe both times it was on this year, and had solid podium results against solid fields. For as skinny as he is, he's unbelievably strong. I think Joanna Zeiger will be sticking to 70.3s for a while—she admitted as much that as much as she loves them, Ironmans aren't her bag.
I think people are pathetic. Kona was awesome, with drafters getting pinged. I think we all heard Clearwater was a challenge. But with the multi-lap format on the bike, I saw lots of good, but wham, I saw three instances of pack riding that was abysmal. Jimmy Riccitello is doing a good job, and I know some courses, like Arizona, make it hard to put multiple motos out there—one wobbling rider caused a rider behind to swerve into the path of a course moto, ending the athlete's day and breaking the front cowling off the moto. It's tight out there.
I'm sure there's those who are cheating for that elusive Kona slot. But these mid-pack guys (and girls mixed in) have nothing to gain. I think the four-minute penalty is too slack. For many, it's just a nice rest, with little effect on their day on the whole. Eight minutes would be a proper first offence. 10 minutes would be brilliant. When people get caught now, they figure it into the minutes they saved being in the pack—it's a net-zero loss, a wash. If the rules could change, if officials would err on the side of being too harsh, well, the world would be a better place. And less people would be capable of cheating... themselves. Honestly, I wonder how they can smile as they sleep, knowing their new PR was the result of cheating. I couldn't do it.
I think the rockstar award for the day in Tempe goes to Kieran Doe. Everyone has their reasons for finishing a race. But from mile one, he was experiencing foot pain and decided to pull off his race flats and did the entire run in just a pair of socks. For those that don't know the Arizona course, half is on cement path, and the other half is on crushed rock. Either way, it was painful.
He said he did it for friends and family, he had to finish for them, tearing up a bit as he told me. Clearly, it was more that being that simple. Whatever the reason, it was an impressive show; being first out of the water, leading most of the bike alone, then soldiering through the run. He'll have more Ironman wins than his first in Canada a year ago, but this year, Arizona wasn't in the cards for him.
The last thing I noticed was German Andreas Raelert. This guy is like so many that have segued from ITU racing, and found out they have a natural affinity to distance racing. He was an Olympian in Sydney and Athens, and quite honestly, I only remembered him by name from short-course, because the sport is so.... so not our sport, as competitors.
But he made a bit of a name for himself by almost running down Terenzo Bozonne in Clearwater at 70.3 Worlds. Then he firmly made a name for himself with a balanced, dominant race in Tempe. In the finish chute at Ironman Arizona, representatives from different brands were approaching him—I'm sure to congratulate him, but also to pass their cards and interest in sponsoring him. As a journalist I found him to be a great personality, excited about this new chapter in his sport, with the same excitement that we heard from Andy Potts about racing Kona. He nearly earned it by winning in Clearwater, but he removed any technical doubt in Arizona. This guy is a rising star.
Now it's on to winter (which has already seen snow with a trip to Halifax to see family), will be tempered by several projects, and which is also the perfect time to play with the new positons I found in the wind tunnel, as well as tweak and adjust to changes with Donna's setup. Granted, Ironman Western OZ is on soon, as will Ironman New Zealand, Pucon and the rest of races going on Down Under. But soon enough, the season will start again.