Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Luke Mckenzie reports from New Orleans


I was really excited to be racing the New Orleans Ironman 70.3 for the first time. On paper it looked like it ticked all the boxes for me as a race that would suit my strengths. Typically a non-wetsuit swim with a big wade in and out of the water. A flat, open, windy ride with a few short power climbs on the bike and finishing with a one way run into the city in hot, humid conditions. Well, we pretty much ended up getting none of those for Sundays race!

I arrived at transition about 1.5hrs before race start to hear the news that the swim had been cancelled due to rough water. What? Surely it can't be that bad? I went and had a look for myself and was actually pretty disappointed the race directors had made that decision. It really wasn't as bad as they were making out and I felt at least the pro's could have swum. I understand the age group athletes and the safety issue but really, we are professional and anyone lining up could have handled those conditions. Considering we were racing for prize money and valuable Kona qualification points it didn't sit well with me we were now racing a duathlon.

So the initial buzz was it was going to be a run/bike/run, something I definitely wasn't looking forward to. A short first run at the beginning on a hard 90km TT would be torture and I was relieved that the end decision was to make it a bike/run as voted by the athletes. The plan was to send us off at 30 second intervals based on our race number from lowest to highest, so being number 7 (number 1 Andy Potts didn't race) I was off about 3 minutes behind the "rabbit" Terenzo Bozzone. I was actually looking forward to this new format and with some strong riders ahead and behind me it was going to be a real test.

My start was perfect and I settled into a nice rhythm early to the first turn-a-round at about 5km. Only problem was I saw my minute man Tim O'Donnell come past in the other direction and I thought "OK not long till the turn" but as I got to the turn still no Richie Cunningham who had started only 30 seconds ahead? Approaching the turn-a-round sign I see Richie had overshot it and was a few hundred meters further down the road. This created a moment of confusion for me and I too over shot the turn by 10-20 meters having to jam on my brakes in the process. Almost starting from a full standstill I took off back on course now but soon realized my rear brake was rubbing on my Zipp disc wheel. Damn! The force of the heavy braking must have made the brake move enough to be hitting my wheel? Now going into a full blown headwind I seemed to be going nowhere. I knew after we had passed our starting point there was a series of short climbs over bridges with a quick decent on the each side and I thought if I can make it to that I could stop on the down grade of the bridge to move my brake and then quickly regain momentum on the slope. Once I reached the first bridge I quickly stopped and moved my brake off the wheel and I instantly felt my pedal stoke was much easier. Great, I was still holding off Paul Matthews who had started 30 seconds behind me and I was back in a good rhythm. Only 5km later I heard the noise of a disc wheel coming up behind me and I turned around expecting to see Paul. I thought, considering I overshot the first turn and had a quick stop to fix my brake that wouldn't be so bad. To my horror I looked to my right to see TJ Tollakson! He had started a full 90 seconds behind me! He had made up 1.5 minutes in less than 20km!!! That rattled me. I thought "wow, I must not be riding as well as I thought"? My power and speed seemed to be at good numbers and I was feeling good. Maybe I wasn't pushing hard enough, or maybe he was an an exception day? Within a few seconds TJ had passed me and I found he had also dragged both Paul and Richie up to me so now we had four guys riding together. I though "OK, you are going to have to sit with this group and once we hit the tail wind on the way home to the finish you are going to have to make your move to regain time. That proved way more difficult than I thought!

Not long after we were about to make a right turn down a street and with TJ in the lead I followed him presuming he was on course. Wrong! ANOTHER missed turn! The police officer on the corner was pointing down the wrong street and both TJ and I had to quickly corrected our course and worked to catch back up to Paul and Richie. To tell you the truth I was now getting extremely frustrated that my day was not going to plan. I found myself thinking "I hate these races directors for canceling the swim" and a lot of other negative thoughts rather than brushing them off and concentrating on my ride. I was annoyed I didn't seem to have the level of riding I had about a month ago in Abu Dhabi and San Juan and I was thinking all I want to do is be over with this bike so we could run. It definitely wasn't the right frame of mind to be racing with on this day!

At around 55km Sebastian Kienle of Germany came past me like a motor bike, yet another blow. I was doing the math and figured he must have started at least 5 minutes behind me. His riding was impressive and he clearly was the leader on the road by several minutes. I salvaged a little towards the end of the bike feeling strong again and getting back to a better head space. I was determined to have a solid run. I got off the bike with Massimo Cigana who had caught up about 2 minutes on me and I knew I had to outrun him and hopefully catch a few more guys ahead to finish in the money (top 8). It was really hard trying to figure where you layed in the placings as we ran though the city center park. There were a few little out and back sections where we could see the competition. Trying to do the math in your head to see if you were up or down on time to the rest of the field was proving hard. I got stronger and stronger as the run progress and after having only Paul Matthews run past me on his way to the second fastest run split and moving back ahead of Massimo I felt I was in contention for a decent finish. I caught Tim O'Donnell on the finish line so I knew I had taken back at least one place there. Now it was a matter of waiting and seeing how the guys behind had faired. Within about 10 minutes the final results seemed to be set. Sebastian Kienle had absolutely crushed the field, Paul Amey had secured second and Paul Matthews and ran his way from around 10th all the way to 3rd place (an amazing effort!) My bike ride had definitely cost me. With 4th-15th place all within 4 minutes I had finished in a very disappointing 13th place. Definitely no where near my expectation but I figured in an altered format taking away my swim advantage one I would have to cop on the chin.

New Orleans on a whole was a fun experience. We had a great afternoon after the race with the K-Swiss crew and fellow sponsored athletes. We had a Crawfish boil and met lot's of interesting local characters. Then we ended the night in the French Quarter checking out Bourbon Street. It was really great fun having my mum and dad there to share the weekend and see me race in the US for the first time (excluding Hawaii). I definitely want to return to the race in the future but in the hope that it will be a triathlon!

We have just landed in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii and I am looking forward to locking down a solid month of training here leading into my next race, Ironman Texas.

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