Mont-Tremblant is an event I look forward to all year long. It’s probably the best Canadian event on the circuit, with an almost-circus like atmosphere of fun and spectacle. The race organization is always top-notch, and everyone is into it.
Mont-Tremblant is a couple of hours north of Montreal, and about a six-hour drive away from my Canadian training base in Guelph, just outside of Toronto. The event attracts a lot of the Ontario guys, including top-notch talent like Cody Beals, Lionel Sanders, and newcomer Jackson Laundry. Quebec favorites are almost always on the scene, such as Antoine Joliecoeur-Desroches. The crowd cheers just as loudly for hometown favorites as they do for the eventual winner.
Given its proximity to my hometown and the prestige of the event, I consider Mont-Tremblant something like my “hometown” Canadian race. I think some of the other Canadian guys think similarly, seeing as how they tend to turn up year after year. This year in particular, Mont-Tremblant turned into something like ‘Canadian Nationals’ or at the least the ‘Ontario championship’.
The Canadian Contingent
Mont-Tremblant tends to attract Canadian athletes, mostly because it’s a world-class event in one of Canada’s populous eastern provinces. Quebec tends to provide great support for athletes and athletic events, and the province is adjacent to Canada’s most populous area, Ontario. Other events, such as Victoria and Calgary, are in the west, and the Muskoka race, just north of Toronto, hasn’t reached the same prestige as some of the other Canadian races. In an unfortunate turn, the 2017 version of the Muskoka race won’t feature a pro field, although some hope that will change in the future. I really would love to race there some day.
There’s a strong group of triathletes from Southern Ontario, many of whom frequently compete at international events and often podium (or win). It’s little wonder the event attracts so many Canadian pros. The event’s organizers always do a spectacular job, and the spirit of triathlon is strong in Tremblant, which goes out of its way to welcome triathletes. There can be no question why we love Mont-Tremblant so much. They start the race with an F-18 fly by for heavens sakes that is just cool.
Mont-Tremblant is one of my favorite races. Even if it’s not a World Championship race or an Oceanside, it has a special place in my heart—and a special place on my race calendar. In fact, the entire Third quarter of my season is built around Mont-Tremblant. All of the work I do, from the start of the year through to the end of June, is building toward this race. There are other races, yes, and they are all important to me. But Tremblant is one step above and A race for sure.
In 2015, I placed second, giving Lionel Sanders a good run for his money. Hopes were high when I returned last year. It was an almost dizzying experience. There was a lot of fanfare, despite the fact I wasn’t the returning champion. But I was seen as a contender, a challenger who could force Sanders to a showdown. It was our rematch.
Unfortunately, I was still pretty green, and this was the first time I’d been so built up before a race. While there wasn’t necessarily external expectation, I was placing a lot of internal pressure on myself. I was perhaps overconfident in my abilities—and I paid for it dearly on the course. A series of missteps, from a literal misstep on the swim start to a miscalculated strategy to ride to the front against competitors like Chris Leiferman and Trevor Wurtele saw me finish 2016 in a disappointing fifth place.
This year was about rectifying those mistakes, about showing how well I’d learned my lessons. I was a whole season older, a whole season smarter.
Despite 2016’s lackluster finish, there was no less fanfare this year. My sponsors were still excited to see me. Interviews were still scheduled. People were still keeping their eye on me, like they knew last year’s performance wasn’t the true measure of my mettle as an athlete.
I knew it too. I did things differently this year. I gave myself time and space. I put my training first, and I practiced those things that could trip me up. I went down to the beach Friday and Saturday morning to practice coming in and out of the water. I practiced taking off my wetsuit. I ran the new part of the run course. I biked part of the course. Everything and anything to give me an advantage.
It’s gratifying when hard work pays off. Every triathlete works hard preparing for their race, and, sometimes, it just doesn’t pay off. You trip on the swim start, you flat on the bike course, you blow up during the run. Shit happens, essentially. It’s racing; anything and everything can happen. A lesson I learned when I crashed into a photographer in Oceanside one year.
That’s what makes it even more satisfying when it all comes together. I practiced my swim starts, and I’ve been working on my swim. It’s my weakest discipline, and although I’ve been seeing improvements, I know I’m still not going to be the first guy out of the water.
I swam with Joliecoeur-Desroches, a guy known on the circuit for being fast in the water. I exited the water third—a shock, even for me. I swam under 24 minutes, my second-fastest ever. The only time I’ve completed a swim course faster was in Austria during the 2015 World Championship race.
I raced into transition with Jackson Laundry and Antoine Joliecoeur-Desroches. I got out on the bike quickly, and the three of us traded the lead multiple times during the first thirty kilometers. We all knew what was coming behind us.
Sanders caught us just after thirty kilometers, riding by us like we were standing still. I had to hold back; I’d tried last year to jump on his wheel when he came by, but Sanders is something else on the bike. I sacrificed my entire race—a better finish—to ride with him last year. It was a gamble that didn’t pay off—a mistake I refused to repeat.
I let him go, as I had to. Maybe, maybe I could have ridden with him for a few kilometers, but I knew I’d pay for that kind of foolhardiness. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me for not learning my lesson the first time.
I had other problems—Laundry passed me too. Now I was riding in third all the way to the seventy-kilometer mark as we entered the last climbs. Laundry was gapping as we finished the bike. He led into transition with a 15 second lead.
A quick transition let me leap-frog him, getting onto the run course in second place. But he wasn’t going to let me go.
Where the Race Is
The real race is for second. I always am striving for the top step but you need to make sure you do not scarifies your best performance by making a tactical error.
With a guy like Sanders, you know he’s going to get out front as soon as he can and simply lead the rest of the race. He’ll eventually win it, barring something catastrophic happening. Fans of F1 know this scenario well: Michael Schumacher was notorious for it, and Lewis Hamilton has become something similar in recent years.
The 'race' is actually going on behind the leader. That’s where all the action is and tactical moves are being made.
And so it was with Laundry and I as we duked it out over the first five kilometers of our run. I couldn’t find my legs after the ride, so I was having trouble with the descents. Mont-Tremblant is a hilly course through the Laurentian mountains; the village initially developed as a ski resort, which it still is in the winter. It adopted triathlon as a way of stimulating tourism during the summer months.
Laundry gapped me on the ascents, but I reeled him back in during the descents. I knew we were running a pace we couldn’t sustain, and I knew Cody Beals was close in behind us. At the same time, I knew I couldn’t slow down, hold back, and let Laundry get away.
At five kilometers, he asked me for a split time.
I had no idea. But then knew it was time. I put in a surge and began pulling away from him. From there, I increased the gap, pulling further and further ahead of him.
As I came into the final stretch of the race with about 600m to go I ran past Tremblant village and the crowds just light up. I was over come with emotion and close to tears. But I still had to hold it together for the last 500m. As I came own the finish shoot I made sure to take it all in and embrace the crowd. I was so over joyed to finish second, six minutes or so back of Sanders. Beals was only a couple of minutes behind me, having passed Laundry who, couldn’t maintain the pace he’d set during the first five kilometers. He’d known it too, but had pushed on, and finished in a hard-earned fourth place, I respect his guts racing style for sure. Joliecoeur-Desroches rounded out the top five.
It wasn’t a perfect victory. But it was a return to my 2015 form, a return to the kind of racing I expect from myself. The IronWorks film crew was on site so there should be a condensed race video aired on TSN or other sports networks in the near future. When I know the time and place I will put up a post.
Now the challenge is to push myself even further.
Once I got back to my lovely home stay Mikeal and I had a little fun with the Champagne that the race provided.
Next I will be racing against some top European athletes in Spain on July 9.