Paris Grand Prix 2009
Video -> Grand Prix de Paris – 30 août 2009
August 30, 2009 Paris, France 4:00 pm.
Ending the summer racing season with a bang in Paris’s Grand Prix Triathlon was a reward for years of hard work. While enjoying every step along the journey, today, Kevin’s training would be put to the ultimate test. The world’s fastest triathletes stood with their toes curling over the starting pontoon ready to dive into the Seine. He studied his emotions and thoughts from a far or from somewhere deep within. Each breath took minutes, his eyes focused on the subtle currents and reflections in the water. He studied the tree line with leaves shuffling in the slight breeze. He felt electric with energy. His heart beat forcefully and slowly and his muscles relaxed loosely yet ready to contract on the spot. Today was the culmination of a dream. Knowing his thoughts and emotions; there were no thoughts, only joy.
March 23, 2003 Boise, Idaho.
Like most weekends, Kevin spent heaps of time watching sports on TV. This Sunday was a particularly long day with eight games of the 2nd round of NCAA’s March Madness. Having won four national championships in NCAA swimming in his younger days, he was now living vicariously through these kids and reminiscing about the hard work, team play, and level of focus that comes with it. Relating to the underdogs his heart rate jumped while 12th ranked Butler was giving 4th ranked Louisville all they could handle. He was turning 28 in a couple days, moving him shockingly close to the ripe old age of 30. This realization gave way to a sudden sense of urgency. He considered himself active; playing water polo, whitewater kayaking, mountain biking, and skiing, yet adding 35 pounds to his frame from his standard 155 pounds in college was a sudden surprise. Deep down, his soul yearned for a challenge and restlessness took over. He did not want to pass his prime and be saying, “I could of, should of, would of…” Lost in thought his mind drifted back to the TV as Butler started celebrating in grand fashion after having upset Mississippi State in a close first round game and now surpassing Louisville for a ticket to college basketball’s promised land; the Sweet 16. It was exciting to see this team do the unthinkable and it no doubt paid tribute to hours of sweat and focused training. While sitting on the couch seeing the joy in the Butler player’s faces, Kevin decided to stop being a spectator; it was time to feed the soul.
The next day, he went to Idaho Mountain Touring in what was to be an all day tour of the local bike shops to see what’s out there and get some price comparisons. Thirty minutes later he was walking out of IMT with a striking yellow Trek Hilo TT. It was a revelation to discover triathlon had its own style of bike; a time-trial bike (TT). On Tuesday he turned 28 and celebrated with his first ‘road’ ride. The speed was exhilarating. Later that week the complexities of training for three sports at once sunk in. He created a training log and started doing two-a-days (two practices a day) for the first time since March 1997.
May 8, 2004 Funchal, Madeira, Portugal.
A whirlwind tour of local triathlons culminated in a startling 5th place finish at USAT Nationals complete with a gratifying fastest swim split and qualifying slot to the World Championships in Madeira. This turned out to be Kevin’s first trip off the North American continent and being accompanied by his fiancée made for a remarkable trip. Again, having an excellent swim with the 2nd fastest overall time of 18:43 (Tejero Vakquez Ivan from Spain passed Kevin in the last turn after enjoying the draft for 1400m) and being one of only three athletes to break 19 minutes (Joseph Gonzalez from the USA went 18:58 in the 20 – 24 age group). Unfortunately, leading out the swim in a World Championship puts you in an all together new level on the bike and he had the displeasure of seeing close to 30 cyclists whiz by on the steepest hills he’d ever encountered. Yet, the trip and sharing the experience with Hortense made for an amazing experience. Watching Bevan Docherty edge out Ivan Rana in a brutal sprint finish for the World title the next day only emboldened his love for this new sport. Kevin made two goals that day; to continue traveling and to toe the line and compete with the best athletes in the world.
August 30, 2009 Paris, France 2:55 pm.
Diving into the Seine to warm up, Paris came alive in a new realm. The city transformed forever. Taking a few leisure strokes while revealing in the comfortable temperature, Kevin couldn’t help but be stunned by the beauty of the river. Swimming upstream against the soft current along the shore he passed several house boats. Across the wide river to the other side a patio full of hungry patrons enjoyed a late lunch. The day beckoned Parisians to come outside while basking in the warm sun and Kevin now found himself in the most desirable spot in all of Paris. A barrier had been breached where the resonance of the city fell away. It was calm, peaceful, and quiet with only the sound of water moving. He noticed cars crossing over a bridge far up the river and was happy to be disassociated from that world. Swimming in the Seine, preparing for the difficult challenge of racing many of the world’s best athletes, Kevin was thankful for the moment and focused on staying in it.
With close to 90 thorough-breeds including over 10 Olympians and the prevailing Alistair Brownlee (winning every World Cup race he entered so far in 2009) the race promised to be brutally fast. Unfortunately, Saint Jean de Monts being ranked 13th best team meant their spot along the start line was hugging the shore. Swimming downstream in a weaker current and having to angle to the middle (where the top ranked teams where) to make the first buoy would prove influential. Essentially, the teams on the left side of the start line had a head start.
The horn sounded and the weeks of envisioning a sound dive complete with a few dolphin kicks to propel Kevin ahead of his competitors vanished. The combined thrust of 90 athletes diving into the water threw the pontoon backwards and he fell into the water with little impetus. Coming up even, maybe slightly behind the field, he sprinted to get into some open water. Being hindered by a swimmer on the left was difficult to cope with as these momentum killers slow you down and take up valuable energy. Three groups started to form with the left side (middle of the river) taking the lead. Saint Jean de Monts group on the far right had to start merging left to make the turn buoy. Merging into a sea of froth made for tricky maneuvering.
Coming into the 180 turn is the most critical part of the swim. The first 10 are barely impeded while the main group slows to a crawl trying to squeeze 40 athletes at once around the best line. Not being in the elusive top 10, Kevin’s speed slowed as athletes hindered him from all directions. Coming out of the corner he utilized a strong six-beat kick to start moving towards the front. Swimming up current while other athlete’s endurance suffered, it was time for him to exploit his strength. He began passing swimmers and felt his goal of finishing the swim in the top 10 and making a possible break-away in reach.
Exiting the water to start the 400 meter run to transition spikes the heart rate; the body suddenly upright. Aurelien Rapheal ran by and hovered just in front of Kevin entering transition. Rapheal, finishing 2nd in the swim at Hamburg’s World Cup, was good company to be with. Getting to Saint Jean de Monts bike rack all Kevin had to do was strap his helmet on and he was off and in contact with the first group. But his fingers betrayed him as he fumbled with the strap not once, not twice, or even three times, finally on the fourth attempt it clicked. Aurelien got out of T1 eleven seconds faster (in 11th position) because of the mishap. An eternity.
Accelerating like a thief being chased by a hand-seeking man with a sword, Kevin operated in another dimension. A pack had formed on the horizon about 150 meters ahead while his solo effort would have to match that of many. The gap had to be closed and it had to be now. Months of disciplined training poured out of the crank with each pedal stroke. A calm determination focused on fierce breathing and a strong heart beat. The muscles in the legs stayed supple until the exact moment a formidable firing was needed. He enjoyed it. The speed, the effort, the warm sun, the cool breeze, the sound of whipping through the wind, the challenge of chasing down a pack of many of the world’s best triathletes. He was going to succeed because he loved what he was doing.
A couple minutes later he enjoyed the ease of effort while sustaining the same speed of being in the pack. Looking around the small group of ten bikers he was in some good company. However, he noticed there were some key players missing from the group. A lead group of nine had gotten away.
French Grand Prix’s are a team event. Five racers start but only three count in the results. Further, only one non-European is allowed to score. Saint Jean de Monts had two Americans on the team and only one of them was going to count in the standings if both placed in the top three for the team. For this reason Kevin’s main objective was to domestique for the team. If someone got a flat, they get his wheel; if the bike had a problem they get his bike. He was also to speed up or slow down a pack depending on who from the team was in it.
Only Alfred and Kevin made the second pack so Kevin sat in for the next two laps awaiting a development or instructions from his coaches. In the 3rd lap the third chase group bridged up to the second and now Nicolas and Ethan were together with their teammates as well as about 50 other racers. Having most of the team together, Kevin could now drive the pace to limit the loss to the first pack. For much of the 4th lap he pressed the pace, even pulling away from everyone. Upon seeing his gap he eased off the pedals and coasted.
The pack was loaded with world class athletes and too many fast runners saving their legs. Apart from those lead 9 racers this Grand Prix was coming down to a total foot race. The last lap was a dangerous one with everyone surging to the front but not wanting to be on the front. It would have been easy enough to get there but the timing had to be just right to get around the swath of cyclists. Kevin managed to get in the top part of the group and have a much improved transition. Guys like Tim Don, Sebastian Rank, Tony Moulai, Filip Ospaly, Steffen Justus and Gregory Rouault (to name a few) took off at a scorching pace on their way to sub 15 minute 5k times! Alfred passed him a couple minutes into the run and then Ethan (the other American) passed around the 1k mark essentially ending Kevin’s race as a potential scorer.
Nicolas was now the third man for Saint Jean de Monts as far as the scoring went. Kevin held up so that he might pace and physical push Nicolas to the finish. He did this for about 2k until Nicolas had had enough and asked Kevin to, “Go”. With a sublte surge he went away but the will to fight to the finish was no longer there. Instead just lingering in front of Nicolas, quietly urging him forward.
He had competed with the best athletes in the world in one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Kevin crossed the finish with a soul felt smile.
A video from last year’s race: Paris Grand Prix 2008