I decided months ago to race in Sardinia at the Challenge Forte Village at the end of October because I heard it was a beautiful island, a well organized race, and most importantly a fun and challenging course, especially on the bike. And it definitely did not disappoint. It was twisty, very hilly (2h20 bike split) and technical. It was made even more challenging by the very high winds that day; it was a “real” course, and you had to have the complete package as a cyclist to ride well there.
The start list was the strongest it’s ever been at this race. At least 6 guys had the pedigree to win the race, and another 5 had a legit shot at the podium. The field was strong at this final race of the year for Challenge held as such an iconic destination.
I’ll be honest: I wanted to win the race.
The swim was two loops of 950m with wetsuits. The water was 21 celsius (69-70F) but due to the winds wetsuits were allowed. I started well, was in 5th-6th at the first buoy, and I stayed in that position for the first loop. I must have lost a few meters towards the end of the first loop because running out of the water there were a few guys with a 2-3sec advantage. We pretty caught back to them, but unfortunately, during the second loop we started catching all the Age Groupers and it became complete chaos. Somehow, and I don’t know how it happened, I exited the water in 8th with 20sec gap to the lead. I didn’t want to be 20″ down so I had to have a fast T1 and ride very hard for a couple km’s.
My helmet fell off my bike and the visor came off and I couldn’t ride fast enough at the beginning of the ride so I found myself alone on the bike, chasing 8 guys. After 5km I was 30sec down on the group.
At that point I was already disappointed with my race, but I had no other choice but to keep pushing, there was still a long way and I had to fight for as long as I could.
Little by little, my legs felt better. It was nothing amazing, but it became ok.
On the climb at km25 I caught 3 guys. In the technical descent following the climb, I was able to drop them and continue my journey towards the front. At 50km, Bart Aernouts came by me riding like a madman and I couldn’t stay with him. He was impressive on the bike on that day with the best ride time by more than 3min. From 50km to 90km, I caught another 3 guys and dropped each of them. By the end of the 90km ride, and after 2h20 of riding, I entered T2 with a 35sec deficit to the 3 leaders. All that for that!
I had to run down some strong guys upfront if I wanted to finish on the podium. The first 10.5km loop wasn’t great and I kept a steady pace but lost another 25″ on Aernouts and Molinari. By then, the eventual winner, Vicente Hernandez was already 2min30 ahead and cruising to victory. With a 1′ deficit on 2 guys, I knew I could catch them and finish 2nd, but 1′ is still a long way to catch up. When Trevor Wurtele caught me starting the second 10.5km loop, I started feeling better, and I told myself it’s now or never. I stayed with him for 2km, and then went for it. I ran pretty fast for 3.5km and caught Molinari who was still running pretty well. Aernouts was another 20-25sec ahead and I had to push push push to catch him in the last 4.5km. At 2km, I was 6sec behind him. At that point, I told myself I had to pass him and drop him right away. But I was running all out, and It stabilized at 6sec for 1km. I kept on trying to close the gap but just couldn’t. This went on for the last 1.5km of the race, and I stayed within sprinting distance but never could actually catch him. I was maxing out. I finished 7sec behind him. Bummer. But I gave my best, and with how the day started, I didn’t think I would have the legs to finish on the podium. But you have to keep fighting and I was pleased to come third!
1st – Vicente Hernandez (ESP) – 3:57:15
2nd – Bart Aernouts (BEL) – 4:01:08
3rd – Rodolphe Von Berg (USA) – 4:01:15
Now it’s time to fly back to Boulder in two days and prepare for IRONMAN 70.3 Los Cabos in two weeks. That will be another solid race with a stacked field. No more cherry picking in professional triathlon.
Thank you for the support: family, friends, agents, sponsors, it obviously couldn’t be done without all of you!