Before diving into information about the race, first I’ll tell you a bit about Huatulco [hwa·TOOL·co]. Prior to the trip, I had not heard of Huatulco, located within the state of Oaxaca [wah·HAH·cah]. Huatulco is approximately 150 miles north of the Guatemala border.
Huatulco is one of those coastal cities that have the ocean as a front yard and the mountains in the immediate back yard. It is worth noting that some of best surf waves in Mexico are in this area. Additionally, the Huatulco National Park contains the “most important coral communities of the Mexican Pacific”.
Large portions of the Huatulco resort area are located within an "ecological zone". Good portions of the area is protected from future development and is serviced by modern water and sewage treatment plants so that no waste goes into the pristine bays. Huatulco has been awarded the Green Globe certification, and it is the only resort in Mexico to receive this prestigious award. (Green Globe is the worldwide benchmarking and certification system for the travel and tourism industry across the triple bottom line of economic, social and environmental management).
Beautiful beaches and mountains translated to a tough, hilly, technical bike course for elite racers. Most racers were happy that the race organizers planned a relatively flat run. The course was a two-loop swim, eight-loop bike ride and a four-lap run. The women’s race went off at 8:oo am and the men’s race at 10:45. As you can imagine, as the day went on, the temperature went up.
I traveled to the race to help support the ITU Sport Development Team. The Sport Development program is rooted in Olympic Solidarity. My role is to help athletes with questions on issues such as pacing, nutrition recommendations, pre-race strategies for dealing with the heat and generally giving support to individual athlete goals. The athletes were:
Yuliya Sapunova – Ukraine
Emma Davis – Ireland
Fabienne Aline St. Louis – Mauritius
Leonardo Chacon – Costa Rica
Min Ho Heo – Korea
Medhi Essadiq – Morocco
Michel Gonzalez – Cuba
Race goals varied greatly:
- Complete their first World Cup race
- Place top 20
- Place top 10 to remain on their home country’s funding program
- Place better than at any previous World Cup events
- Podium place
On race day, I am usually found arriving early at the transition area with the rest of the support team (Libby Burrell team leader, Jeff Donaldson bike mechanic and Diana Palmer athletic trainer/medical). I help with all pre-race issues and watch the swim start.
After the swim start I made my way to the hill on the bike course. I’m not sure how long the entire hill was, but the grade on the lower section where I stood had to be at least 15 to 18 percent. (It is similar to the steepest section of Old Stage Hill for those that have done Boulder Peak triathlon.) From that section, the course levels some before it kicks up again to the turn-around island. In the sweeping downhill section, riders were easily going in excess of 50mph. Do this eight times.
It was the hill that took the toll on racers. Athletes running a 39 x 25 had to be out of the saddle and powering up this hill to keep in contact with the pack. If the uphill isn’t enough to crush you, the high speeds on the winding downhill section would. I saw several athletes grabbing brake on that section of the course. Only those with good bike handling skills and a dare-devil need for speed were able to benefit on the downhill.
The women’s lead pack stayed mostly together. It was a different story for the men as Matt Charbot from the U.S.A. made a gutsy move about midway through the bike ride. Other riders tried to make a break, but his stuck. Ruedi Wild from Switzerland saw that the pack was not responding to Charbot’s move, so he broke too. By lap 7 of the bike, Charbot had built his lead to 3 full minutes on the main pack and 2 minutes ahead of Wild.
Equally as impressive, both Charbot and Wild held their leads on the oppressively hot run.
Congratulations to all the athletes that achieved their goals.
What I do as race support is but a small part in the overall scheme of this excellent ITU program. The ITU is coordinating a world-wide effort to grow the sport on multiple levels. This is an enormous task; but it is producing results – measureable results. Kudos to the ITU Sport Development program that is enriching a number of International Federations, their respective athletes and coaches around the world.
1) Athletes in the swimming pool at the Las Brisas resort
2) Athletes waiting for the pre-race briefing, left to right: Min Ho Heo, Emma Davis, Fabianne St. Louis, David Bardi (coach), Mehdi Essadiq, Leonardo Chacon, Michel Gonzalez
3) Libby Burrell, ITU Sport Development Director in the foreground with incredible Huatulco shoreline in the background.