Monday, July 2, 2007

Vancouver Triathlon Recap

It's been a few weeks but since I live in the neighbourhood I decided to check out the Triathlon World Cup event held here in Vancouver on June 10.

First let me say that the race organization seems to be first rate. The transition areas look to be safe and are give the race a very professional look. The crews were very efficient at setting up stands, transition, VIP and press areas --generally it reminded me of road crews at rock shows I've seen set up. Very efficient and professional. The course selection was challenging. Having a point to point swim may be less audience friendly but it seems to me opens up greater opportunity for a break to get away during the swim(start hard and get into a good rhythm). The bike also provided the opportunity for a break to get away on the bike course with the short but relatively steep climb up Thurlow to Davie (8 times). The only problem I could see in the course was the sharp right turn from Davie to Denman -- that could have been a problem it the roads were wet and the main group was really motoring.

The only other criticism I would have of the race organization was PR prior to the race. I saw only one article (an interview with Kirsten Sweetland, who I guess decided she was going to save herself for the big money race in Des Moines the following week) in the local papers and nothing on TV or radio. If the World Championships are going to be here next year then the PR has got to be better -- this event deserved a better turnout, it was first rate. There was so little knowledge of the event in the neighbourhood that a couple of passersby asked if it was Pride Day. Oops. Also Kudo's to Barry Shepley and the broadcast crew -- the live broadcasts are pretty good and they get race video up on the ITU website so fast it almost makes your head spin.

Now to the race itself. I was a triathlete for about 15 years from the early 1980's to the mid 1990's. While I've seen one or two local triathlons since then this is the first world class race I've seen since the World's in Orlando so it's been a while. Generally the format is OK. Olympic events made drafting on the bike years ago but I've never seen one so this was my first exposure. Good move but given the dynamics of this race and the video I've looked at since then (Des Moines and Edmonton) makes the bike somewhat irrelevant -- at least in my estimation. Part of that is the absence of any tactics, which may in part be due to the organization of the teams.

In the women's race, Sarah Haskins and Sara McLarty (U.S.) were first out of the swim. They worked well together and got increased there lead to almost 2 minutes at one point during the bike. In my estimation, that would have at least given them a shot at winning given that the first chase comprised only 7 or 8 riders (about right given the margin that Samantha Warriner beat Haskins by). I had grabbed a prime spot on Thurlow (pretty easy given the sparse crowds). I was pretty impressed with the lead the 2 Americans had built and was pretty vocal in cheering them on. Imagine my surprise that over the last few laps I saw 2 Americans in the chase group (Sarah Groff and Becky Lavelle I think) driving the chase group. Smart tactics would have dictated that these to sit in 3rd or 4th position to moderate the tempo of the chase and let the 2 leaders build up a solid lead into the run. These two were hammering up the hill (to the point where on one lap they gapped the rest of their group). Huh? What the f***?

I saw an American official further down the hill so I went down to ask him what (tactically) was going on. He indicated to me that there were no tactics, that each athlete on the American team were in it for themselves. Again huh? I guess this may make it simpler for the athletes (me, me, me) it can make for pretty confusing and/or dull racing. In this case all that hard work by Groff and Lavelle probably helped Warriner to a first place. Oops.

On the men's side same deal. In this case a small group of 7 or so got away. They worked pretty well together and worked up an even more significant lead -- over 2 minutes by my estimation. The group even seemed to be forcing Simon Whitfield to the front (at least on Thurlow) in an attempt to soften him up for the run. So far, so good (although I couldn't understand why Colin Jenkins and Simon Tichelaar weren't countering this tactic by protecting Whitfield -- I guess it was the same every man for himself). Now for the bad news. The chase group was pretty big (maybe 15 or 20 riders). There was absolutely NO organization in this group. Again huh? What the f***? A group of 15 or 20 should be able to at least put some time into the lead. But no.

My point is that this makes the bike kind of boring. Get a small group (with some decent cyclists)with a lead out of the water and you're good to go. Get a big group out of the water and I can only imagine that the bike would become a little more than a site seeing tour of the host city.

What could be done? How about a bit more innovation? Why not introduce trade teams as in cycling. It would provide some financial stability for the athletes, and might introduce some interesting new tactics into the races. If you allowed each team to send 6 athletes per race you could have a lot of interesting options. Teams could be selected to suit the course. For example on a hilly course you might pick a couple of good all rounders, 3 bike/swim specialists (who would act more or less as domestiques) and one run specialist. That way the all rounders could work to get in an early break. If a "domestique gets in the break as well they can do more of the work on the bike. On a flat course maybe you pick a couple of run specialists and 4 domestiques.

My point is that this would add a lot of dimension and make it alot more interesting for spectators. The other thing that could be done is to lengthen the bike course to 50 or 60km given that it's now draft legal. Given the potential you'd think the ITU would at least consider some changes to the format.

Wanted: A Canadian politician with integrity and ethics

I haven't written here for a few months for a variety of reasons. Nevertheless I continued to follow Canadian politics with increasing anger, frustration and disappointment. The only thing you can say about this past session in the House was that it was extremely disappointing and in my opinion showed that all parties share a single minded lust for power. The welfare of the country and its citizens is purely secondary.

Like many Canadians I was filled with a sense of hope and anticipation (and even excitement!) following the Liberal leadership race last fall. There was a palpable sense that there would be a new guard who would make the Liberal party more open, responsive and transparent. In the end this was not to be. This might partly be due to Stephen Harper's continued use of U.S. Republican style tactics and his Stalin-like grip on the Conservative party (isn't it good to see that this is finally backfiring). Nevertheless the return to politics as usual (propaganda and rhetoric versus discourse and consultation, form versus substance) has been disappointing.

If the spring session weren't depressing enough a recent story run on the national (Somosa Politics) made me want to run to my doctor for some Prozac. The story shows every political party as more concerned with securing political support than with doing what is ethically right. One of the focal points of the story was a Vaisakhi parade held in Surrey this past spring. The parade was organized by a supporter of the Sikh terrorist organization Babar Khalsa. Many at the parade openly sported shirts with the International Sikh Youth Federation, a recognized terrorist organization. Other children appeared with guns on the back of their shirts. At least one of the floats displayed a picture of Talwinder Singh Parmar who is suspected to be the mastermind behind the Air India bombing.

While this is upsetting enough, the attendance of politicians at the event really shows their true colors. Hedy Pretty (NDP), Sukh Dhaliwal and Gordon Campbell (Liberal) and Nina Grewal and Jim Abbott (Conservative) all attended the event and only Gordon Campbell made any statement objecting to the open display of support for terrorist organizations. This is really mind boggling and completely unacceptable. If there isn't one yet there should be some code of ethics for these jokers. You'd think that considering that Ujjal Dosanjh was almost beaten to death by these goons and that he has recently been threatened in an extremist Sikh publication the Liberals should have been very loud and clear in their objections and their refusal to participate in the future. But no, nothing. From the leaders to the rank and file all political parties seem to becoming increasingly beholden to these terrorist groups who are abusing the political system.

Another example was the Liberal leadership convention where, according to Tarek Fatah, blocks of Sikh delegates were in fact moved to support Stephane Dion (from Gerrard Kennedy). Many of the delegates didn't have a clue which delegate they were supporting. Again this is incredible. How could the Liberal party allow the selection of delegates who had no clue about the candidates? No wonder why Bob Rae was so furious with the outcome. If this is democracy then maybe we should just return to the early days of Canadian politics and allow politicians to ply voters with alcohol and bribes to secure their vote. This is pretty much the same thing.

That the supporters came from the Kennedy camp is equally disappointing. Kennedy is one of the politicians I felt could move us into a new era. But if he knew and/or participated in this sham then he deserves only our scorn.

Thank God for summer the World Cup, Toronto FC, the Giro and the Tour. Maybe I can forget all of this by the fall. Or maybe we can convince Robert Kennedy Jr. to become Canadian!