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An exhilarating trio of races took place in Costa Rica’s Guanacaste province at the beautiful Hacienda Pinilla resort community. Unlimited Productions, Costa Rica’s premier event production company, hosted a Saturday afternoon non-drafting sprint triathlon and both Olympic and 111-distance draft-legal race formats on Sunday as part of the Triathlon Series BMW Costa Rica. Light cloud cover limited the intensity of the Central American sunshine, yet the tropical humidity delivered its usual soupy and sweat-inducing conditions in spades.
The Saturday afternoon sprint race start time–in place to allow athletes time to travel to Guanacaste, register and ready for the event–coincided with an unusually high swell, thus prompting race organizers to shift the event to a 2.5km run/20km bike/5km run duathlon format. Given the large number of rookie triathletes in the field, the relief of the group was palpable. And while the sprint race was an ideal opportunity for many first-timers to experience the excitement of endurance sports, it also highlighted some of Costa Rica’s top talent. Local favorite Leo Chacon, a 2012 London Olympian well-known for his heartfelt and all-class response to being an unfortunate victim of Canadian Simon Whitfield’s crash during the London games, cruised to an easy win. Costa Rica’s up and coming female Olympic hopeful, Alia Cardinale, also claimed an uncontested victory.
Saturday’s race served as a warm up for the two beloved local athletes, however, as both would go on to earn back-to-back titles in the sprint and Sunday’s Olympic distance event. The roar of the crowds as the draft-legal peleton made each pass on the looped circuit course made clear the fervor with which Costa Ricans admire their sporting figureheads, especially world-renowned Olympian Chacon.
The day’s marquis event was the 111-distance, consisting of a 1000m swim, 100km bike and 10km run. Boulder, Colorado-based Michael Lovato, in town not only to compete but also to serve as coach for Race Quest Travel’s Costa Rica Camp, experienced his first ever draft-legal competition. Although the pre-race favorite, Lovato’s inexperience with drafting strategy, coupled with muscle cramping he later attributed to the unfamiliarity of racing on a road bike setup, derailed his hopes for the win.
PHOTOS: Racing In Costa Rica
While Lovato was the swim leader and also first into T2, he simply could not shake the strategic Central American cyclists that smartly stayed to the back of the pack for the majority of the ten 10km bike loops. Two athletes–Emmanuel Lemma and Eduardo Espinoza–flew out of transition and onto the run course ahead of Lovato, and the normally fleet-footed North American would only gain one position as he battled his cramping muscles, thus settling for a hard-fought second place. Lemma, an Argentinian elite residing in Panama, proudly crossed the line victorious. Especially notable was Lemma’s dedication in reaching not only the finish line but the start line as well–he drove over 20 hours from Panama to Costa Rica, only arriving at the venue at 8:00 p.m. on Saturday evening prior to Sunday’s 5:45 a.m. start. Costa Rican Ernesto Espinoza completed the men’s podium, while Team Newton’s Diana Fernandez, also a top Costa Rican triathlon prospect, scored the women’s victory over Panama’s Georgette Cianca.
Post-race, the media flocked to Lovato to learn how the three-time Ironman champion viewed the 111-distance race format and his first go in a drafting competition.
“That was so much fun!” exclaimed Lovato. “But I’m telling you, I’ve never experienced cramping like that in any race. That was brutal! I’ve never raced on my road bike, so that was a little different. And those guys would do maybe 30 second pulls, then I would do five minutes. I wasn’t being very smart, just drilling it and trying to keep the pace. Espinoza and Lemma were the smart ones, resting at the back and then they just crushed me in transition. I’ve always been terrible at drafting in training or in bike races. I just get to the front and ride as hard as I can, then maybe take a short rest–that’s just me. But in 20 years of racing this was my first draft legal race, so I’m not going to learn it in a day.”
Raving about the race distance, Lovato continued, “It was really fun. That was the first time I’ve been first out of the water! The guy I came out with started to outsprint me and I was like: No, no, I’ve got to have this opportunity. So the swim was great–I love a short swim like that because you can really give your max effort. The bike is a good distance. It’s basically a half Ironman with a little extra taste at the end. And then the run is unique. I actually tried to get Espinoza to go three laps, since I’m used to going longer! I’m used to having 5km to warm up and then I go, so it was unique and a challenge for me. But I think it’s the perfect race distance to do to boost your training, because you can recover from 10km run off the bike. It’s a perfect half Ironman training distance. You can test your pacing, your nutrition–everything. I loved it!”
For more from Costa Rica check out Bennett’s “Dispatch” columns.
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