Triathlons in Montana can be pretty inconsistent as far as level of competition is concerned. With a relatively small population to draw from, most races just don’t have the depth that you see often in more populated areas. There is, however, one annual exception, where the triathletes come out of the woodwork in search of a spring proving ground, to figure out how their winter training has worked out. The Grizzly Triathlon always seems to draw a pretty solid field of racers.
This year, though, some key perennial powerhouses were missing from the start list. Last year’s champion, Dylan Gillespie of Bozeman, was out through the winter due to injury. Runner-up Kory Burgess is a new dad and hasn’t had the time to get in triathlon training. Matt Seeley broke his hand in a mountain bike accident several days prior to the event. Andy Drobeck decided to sit out the Griz this year. Elliot Bassett would be out of town for the weekend. Out-of-state champs Ben Hoffman and Matt Lieto wouldn’t be there. On the women’s side, Amanda Hunter was on the start list, but planned to drop out after the bike due to injury. Erika Ackerlund was busy kicking everyone’s butts at Collegiate Nationals. No Linsey Corbin or Jen Leubke. The favorites were dropping like flies.
On the men’s side what we were left with were five racers who could conceivably contend for this year’s title.
Brendan Halpin, of The Cycling House, always strong, would be racing the Rocky Mountain Roubaix in the morning before the afternoon start at the Griz, and also had not been swimming for quite a few months. Those two factors put him essentially out of contention. He did win the “most miles ridden” division for the day.
Evan Eck, of Helena, has always been strong late-season and in open water races, but has yet to have a breakthrough race at the early-season Grizzly Tri. He has always been competitive, but usually not quite vying for the podium.
Nick Dorsett, from MSU’s triathlon team, is often a strong runner, and is capable of a good swim split. Historically, he has had a bit of work to do on his cycling to become a contender.
Daniel Mazza races for the UM triathlon team. Both Dan and Nick are young racers, and they have both gradually worked their way into the “top contenders” category over the last couple years. Dan I knew would be tough this year, as he has been riding very well all spring. He is also always a strong swimmer. If I had any chance against him, it would have to come down to the run.
In the swim, I did my best to start out conservatively and stay smooth. I succeeded in those goals, but the problem was, I wasn’t going fast enough. Last year, I went through the halfway point of the swim in 5:46, which seemed too fast, but was encouraging. This year…6:08. Dan was swimming my lane, and he started to pull away from me about 500 yards in. I tried to respond and just didn’t have the extra gear. Evan was just ahead of him in the next lane over. Meanwhile, on the other side of me, Nick was in a lane with a 16-year old high school swimmer named Darragh Mahns, and they were both wiping the floor with all of us.
I ended up coming out of the water in 12:33, 46 seconds slower than last year, with Evan and Dan not too far ahead. Nick took a little extra time in transition despite out-swimming all of us by at least 30 seconds, so we were able to catch him in the first couple miles of the bike.
I am on a new bike this year, and it is a big change from the old one. I will be posting a review shortly of my impressions of the new Orbea Ordu OMP frame, which boasts a whole lot of interesting changes from their past designs. Since this was only my third ride on the new bike (and my third ride on a time trial bike period in the last 7 months), I am still getting settled in on it. Regardless, you can check out some of the cool features of this bike here.
Some shuffling took place in the opening miles as we passed a couple faster swimmers, and after some passing and re-passing, it ended up shaking out with Dan and Evan out front with a bit of a gap, Nick riding in third, and me just trying to keep everyone within striking distance. Meanwhile, Brendan had come out of the water a little over two minutes behind me, and was working his way through the field.
I had not anticipated Nick and Evan riding as fast as they were, which was nerve-wracking because I knew they could both be strong runners on the right day.
Dan came off the bike first, but struggled in transition. He and Evan headed onto the run course together. About a minute later, I was able to pass Nick in transition and we also headed onto the run together.
Nick took off fast on the run, on a mission to hunt down either or both of the two guys ahead. He blew by me and I did what I could to stay within striking distance. When we got to the long straightaway maybe half a mile into the run, we could see Evan pulling away, and Dan losing ground. I started to feel comfortable with the pace. My running mileage has been great this year. I passed Nick right before the big hill about a mile in, and tried to stay in my comfort zone up the hill. I could tell Nick was struggling, and just before the top of the hill, he dropped off the pace. Then I was alone to try and chase down Dan. Evan was clearly running away with the victory.
At the turnaround, Dan was around 25 seconds ahead of me, and it seemed I was gaining fast. I dug deep. He dug deep, too. It got harder to close the gap. I scraped back a second or two here and there, but there wasn’t enough time. With half a mile to go, it became a reality that he would hold on to second through the finish. I cruised my way in. By the time I got to the finish, the gap was 19 seconds. Nick held on for fourth, and Brendan did end up working through the field to secure 5th place. On the women’s side, Sue Huse cruised to an easy victory with no serious challengers.
And with that, another year in the books. Final finish: 3rd place, 1:02:42. Certainly not my fastest time, but I’ll take what I can get. I suspect my longer-distance fitness is a bit better, so I look forward to testing it out at the Troika Half on May 21st. In between, looking forward to the Montana Hell Ride and Bloomsday this weekend. Stackin’ em up!