One of the things I love about triathlon is the challenge of racing my guts out for 4 hours over three different sports. A bit of a sucker for punishment, I prefer to race those courses that are made even more difficult due to their terrain or location (such as Wildflower.) Challenge San Gil is one of those races, set at 6500ft in the Sierra Mountain Range in San Juan del Rio, near the city of Queretaro in Mexico. The bike course even goes up to 8600ft, making this a very challenging ordeal for someone from sea level! Last year marked the first time in my professional career I made an international podium (and a ‘champagne podium’ at that), placing 3rd in a strong field of competitors. I knew there would be some strong competition again this year, most of which come from altitude of at least 5500ft, making it sure to be a hard fought day.
To prepare for the altitude, I travelled to the race site 9 days ahead of time to try and give my body a little time to acclimatize. I can’t say it made a huge difference, but it certainly made somewhat of a difference. Last year I had the absolute pleasure of staying with the President (Javier Villesenor) of the San Gil Golf Club, where the race swim and run venue are held, a small golf club community of about 1000 people. Javier and his wife Tere took me in and took great care of me, ensuring I was as prepared as possible for the race. After over a week of hanging around and doing a few taper workouts, I was excited to get into the action of race day and get onto the pain train! Here’s how the day unfolded.
The Challenge San Gil swim venue is in a man-made lake situated in the middle of the San Gil Golf Club, and isn’t all that deep or large, so the water temps were above the wetsuit cutoff, making this a non-wetsuit swim for the pros. I’ve been making some gains this year in the swim, and I knew with my Nineteen Wetsuits Rogue SS swim skin I would have the best advantage I could get without a wetsuit. As we lined up for the swim start in the pre-dawn light, we anticipated the starting gun. With a BANG we were off, and although I held onto the front pack about halfway to the first turn buoy, I fell off the pace and swam the rest mostly solo, except for when the women’s leader Lauren Goss came by about 1000m into the swim.
For the record, I’m pretty sure AJ Baucco still owes Lauren Goss $20 for passing me in the swim, after a friendly bet at the carbo dinner on Friday evening.
After a quick transition, I was finally onto the bike.
I’ve worked a lot on my bike power over the last two years, and it’s been really setting me up well to make it to the front of the race lately. Once I hit the road, it was head down and I went to work. Pushing strong, I made it up to the first big group within the first 25k, surging hard to make the pass and put a gap between them and myself. There was a lot of drafting going on in this group, so I made sure to dig deep so none would try to tag along for a free ride. I managed to pull away, and eventually had one of the stronger riders in that group bridge up to me, and I rode with him as we caught up to 3rd. As I suffered like a dog up at 8600ft, closing in on the the final turnaround, I knew that once we hit the turnaround for the 34km descent back to transition, I would be able to make my move and pull away. I don’t know how many people have tried to push race pace over 8000ft, but I can tell you it will burn your legs like nothing else! After the turn, I punched the gas and quickly built up a large lead, with my sweet Quintana Roo PRsix bike and Easton EC90 Aero55 wheel combo giving me some serious aero advantage, coming into transition with about a 4 minute gap on 3rd place. I knew Davide Giardini was ahead of me, but I didn’t know by how much. All I knew was I would have to put out a good run to catch him for the win.
So far this year my run has been a bit lackluster, as I’ve been testing out my cycling ability by consistently pushing harder and harder on the bike, and I’ve had to overcome a quad injury in April. I knew that Davide isn’t the strongest runner, and if I was gonna catch him I would need a great run like I had last year. As I set out onto the run course, I was already feeling the altitude and fatigue in my legs and lungs. The run became an emotional rollercoaster, having some good miles and some bad miles. It was beginning to get hot out there, and as I fought to put time into the leader I went through a myriad of positive and negative thoughts. Everyone suffers on the run course, but it’s how you deal with the suffering that decides how well you do. I pushed through the negative and fought on, giving everything I had to try and catch the leader. As I came through the finish chute for 2nd place, I was elated as I knew I left it all out there and I couldn’t have possibly gone any faster.
Although I came to try and win, I’m proud that I didn’t reserve anything on the race course that day, I went in with a plan and executed well, but just didn’t have the run legs to go any faster. Davide Giardini had a stellar race, and had the first international win of his career, and I’m stoked to have been so close at the end.
I highly recommend going to Challenge San Gil and racing, they put on a spectacular event with a beautiful course, and their goal is to make sure every athlete has a world-class experience, which I know they delivered again this year. The weather is always temperate and warm, and it’s been dry so far the last two years. I can’t thank my homestays Javier and Tere enough, for allowing me to stay with them over a week out from the race, and treating me like family. I like to think they’re my Mexican family, and I look forward to coming back next year to try for the big W!
If you want to watch an amazing, short preview video of the race, click HERE!
Massive thanks go out to my wife Jennifer, who puts up with me disappearing for weeks at a time to go race, I’m one hell of a lucky guy to have her never-ending support. Big thanks to every one my support team and sponsors, for making sure I have all the gear I need to be successful in my racing. Thanks to coach Björn Ossenbrink for the guidance to make sure I’m at my best on race day, and ensuring we deal with the demands of racing at these challenging locations. Last but not least, a huge thank you to everyone who gives me the motivation and inspiration to continue my passion for racing, to everyone who sends their good vibes on race day, and everyone that gives me the positive messages that are so appreciated every day! Y’all make racing that much more rewarding!
Next up on the block is Xterra Victoria next weekend, where I’ll be putting a myriad of new Easton components to the test on my MTB, battling it out in the dirt and mud of Victoria’s ‘The Dump’! Stay tuned for updates from that race, it’s gonna be a messy one!!
Have fun training and racing, and stay safe!